Me & My Mentor: St Columba’s College’s Catherine Ohlsen and Nesceda Blake

St Columbia's College year 12 student Nesceda Blake and teacher Catherine Ohlsen. Photo: Scott McNaughton

St Columbia's College year 12 student Nesceda Blake and teacher Catherine Ohlsen. Photo: Scott McNaughton

Nesceda Blake is an avid theatre studies student and school captain at St Columba’s College. She has been performing in school productions since year 8 and will play the role of Judy Garland in St Columba’s upcoming co-production of The Boy from Oz.

Her mentor, drama teacher Catherine Ohlsen, has encouraged her to apply for numerous extracurricular theatre programs, and Ms Ohlsen thinks Nesceda will be a success at whatever aspect of the theatre world she focuses on.

Nesceda says …

I first met Ms Ohlsen at the House Performance Festival when I was in year 8 and I asked her to help me play the role of a prince because I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

I had always been in performing arts as a hobby, singing and dancing, but I hadn’t done much acting before I started at St Columba’s. Then I had her in year 9 for drama and that was when the theatrical relationship began.

I remember that I was always fascinated and excited to come to class, and having such an enthusiastic and bubbly teacher to lead the way made a big difference.

It was my first idea of a class that could become an escape for me and that first drama class in year 9 built the foundation for the rest of my time at St Columba’s.

It has helped me to gain confidence that I could apply outside school with other (theatre) performances, and it made me excited to come to school. It was one of those subjects where, with the help of Ms Ohlsen, I could just let go of whatever was troubling me and have fun, perform and step outside my comfort zone in a place where everyone else has to step outside their comfort zone.

I am hoping to complete an arts degree at Monash University, and along the way I want to audition for amateur shows, maybe write my own stuff, see what happens. I don’t know whether it’s plays or musicals: I enjoy writing, I enjoy acting, I enjoy directing, which is why I am not sure where I want to go.

Maybe after I finish I could audition for one of the specialist schools, VCA or NIDA.

There is no doubt Ms Ohlsen has had a huge impact on what I hope to do in the future. From the chats we have about life to the theatre performances, she has built my confidence and made me try new things.

I think it is important to try new things and high school is not about staying in your comfort zone. In fact, life is not about staying in your comfort zone, so if you start that early, then that sets you up for after year 12.

St Columba's College year 12 student Nesceda Blake. Photo: Scott McNaughton

St Columba’s College year 12 student Nesceda Blake. Photo: Scott McNaughton

Catherine says …

One of my strongest memories was an excursion I took to the Melbourne Theatre Company and it was incredible. I still remember Nesceda saying at the end of the show, ‘How do you do that?’ And I just remember having that moment of thinking, ‘That is why I teach’.

You hope as a teacher to inspire students, and to ignite a spark in someone is incredibly rewarding. In year 10, I had her for drama and we put on a production, which is a lot of hard work, but Nesceda’s energy and commitment were impressive.

There were times when she was practically running the class and I would be so grateful she was there. We put this show on and at the end of the show most kids would just leave but she was helping pack up.

She is animated and expressive and I could also see the talent. You are looking for the energy and ability to capture a character, but you also need this drive and personal discipline.

A lot of kids come into drama thinking it’s just fun but it also requires a huge amount of discipline and organisation. With Nesceda I could see both: she had the creative flair and is imaginative, but she also had discipline and drive.

She created a piece of work in year 10 that I thought was a turning point for her, where she had to perform a solo work she wrote herself.

It was awesome and hilarious, and she performed it to a small audience, but became scared at the thought of performing it at the Kick Arts school competition to a much larger audience. So there she was backstage freaking out and she wondered if she could do it, but she went on stage and they loved it.

This year she was voted co-captain by her peers and I can just see her life opening up. Performing arts is so tricky but just being herself and embracing all her talents will get her there; she has this beautiful quirkiness and she is embracing that.

I can just see wherever she goes, doors are just going to open because she has that drive and that energy.

St Columba's College teacher Catherine Ohlsen. Photo: Scott McNaughton

St Columba’s College teacher Catherine Ohlsen. Photo: Scott McNaughton

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