Jack Migdalek: the actor and dancer mesmerised by the stage

From the stages of the British theatre scene, to the classrooms of Japan and Melbourne, Jack Migdalek has seen his love for the performing arts take him around the world. And it’s in the teaching part of his career that he’s witnessed the transformative and life-changing power of drama studies.

Jack Migdalek_Trinity College

As drama teacher Jack Migdalek explains, Trinity’s drama program has nothing to do with unearthing the next big performer. Rather, it’s about helping students build self-confidence, hone collaborative skills, and garner an appreciation for the arts – and the skills learnt in the drama classroom can continue having an impact on pupils throughout their lives.

‘It's not necessarily about becoming great actors,’ says Jack. ‘But having the confidence to open your mouth and express yourself can be a really vital tool when it comes to real-life situations for students.’

Jack can trace his interest in performing back to his childhood, where he remembers going on trips to the theatre with his family, and being mesmerised by the power of the stage – a place where big ideas and entertainment could come together.

‘It blew my mind the whole notion of performance and being able to communicate so strongly,’ he says. ‘And to go on a stage and be able to convey different things.’

From there, his love for theatre ‘grew and grew’, with his tastes and interests changing and shifting over the years. Lately, though, he’s been a particular fan of musical productions that embrace a pared-back approach to production: Chicago, Chorus Line, and the runaway hit from early 2020, Come From Away.

Before starting his tenure at Trinity 24 years ago, Jack built a comprehensive and vibrant career in the performing arts – working as an actor, dancer, choreographer, director, writer and educator – which saw him relocating to the United Kingdom, then to Japan, and back home to Australia. He spent extensive time in the UK working as a dancer on TV programs, and performing in beloved stage musicals such as The Pyjama Game, Grease, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

A keen interest in ‘embodied communication’ (simply put, how body language works in association with verbal language to shape and change meaning) led to Jack doing a master’s degree while living in Japan, where he examined how body language and physical expression differs across cultures and countries. He also recently completed a PhD researching the relationship between gender constructs and physical movement and body language.

‘It was terrific, and I actually did do a bit of fieldwork through Trinity with students, to look at how they related to and interpreted things to do with embodiment,’ he says.

Drama at Trinity is a core subject, meaning it’s compulsory for all Foundation Studies students. Jack knows there’s often some initial apprehension among pupils in his classroom, with many wondering what purpose the class serves for future academic and career aspirations. But they’re regularly caught by surprise when they realise just how much they enjoy it.

‘Often students come in very confused as to why they have to do it,’ he says. ‘But usually within a few weeks, they really embrace it – and you can see it. It's really a vital thing to do with their social and emotional wellbeing.’

The yearlong subject allows Jack to witness a remarkable trajectory in personal growth – particularly among quieter students – with many benefiting from the screen-free classes, emphasis on confidence building, and creative atmosphere.

‘Sometimes students who we might perceive to be quite shy can really surprise us with what they actually come up with [in the final performance exams],’ he says. ‘That's why teaching the course has been such a thrill because you really see by the end of the year an incredible development and growth in all the students.’

One of the parts Jack relishes most about his role at Trinity is the connection that gets built between students and staff, which often lasts well beyond the end of the school year. He regularly runs into former students, who are quick to share their fond memories of drama studies.

Perhaps the biggest highlight from Jack’s teaching career, however, was the incredible moment a few years ago when he discovered one of the doctors involved in his partner’s cardiac surgery was a former Foundation Studies student.

‘I remember walking in and this young doctor says, “Hello, Jack”,’ he recalls. ‘It turned out it was one of my ex students – and I remembered him very well. He was a delightful student.’

It was in that instance that the long-term legacy of the work done by Trinity teachers became apparent – helping young people during a formative year of young adulthood, and setting them up with the tools and confidence to follow meaningful and impactful careers.

‘That was a wonderful thing for me. Just thinking, wow, the students we teach, we have to think of them as not just for that year they're with us,’ he says. ‘They have futures that are really important.’

By Juliet Mentor


Category: Foundation Studies