“There’s only room for one drama queen in the family,” laughs Nisrine Amine, “and I got that.” As the Creative Director of Parramatta Actors Centre (PAC), the prolific actor and writer can now add businesswoman to her bow. After seeing a real need for a cultural revolution in Parramatta, Nisrine decided to set up the city’s first acting school along with her siblings, Laura and George. “When we started it was so cheesy,” Nisrine says. “It was just meant to be. With my background in acting, my sister’s admin experience and my brother’s digital skills, we just combined perfectly.”
Since launching in January 2018, PAC has enjoyed a dream run in its first year – even picking up the 2018 Local Business Award for Performing Arts in Parramatta. “Oh, mate,” Nisrine says. “We had a feeling we’d win. We really had a feeling. The stuff we do on Social Media and the way we interact with customers – we knew we were doing something different and that this was making an impact.”
PAC is Parramatta’s first actors’ school, offering lessons in acting, voice and improvisation for kids, teens and adults. The emphasis is on fun and dynamic actor training but the centre also aims to promote the development of conscious and thoughtful global citizens through engagement with the performing arts. “The responsibility is huge,” Nisrine says. “The most rewarding aspect is providing a service people need. We’re not just putting it out there for the sake of it. Whether it’s parents wanting it for their children or adults wanting to come out of their shell, we’re giving our clients something they need and want to change their lives.”
35 year old Nisrine knows all about momentous change, having moved with her family from Lebanon when she was just three years old. The former high-school teacher says she always felt an enduring sense of family and community in Parramatta, but that growing up she had mixed feelings about her place in the Sydney CBD. “There were a lot of other Lebanese people around Parramatta when I grew up,” she says. “It felt like a tribe. But I also sometimes felt isolated from the rest of Sydney and there were moments when I would have a complex when I saw other white faces and I had a sense that I didn’t belong.” According to Nisrine this is “absolutely shifting”.
"By offering acting classes we’re contributing to nurturing the future artists right here in Parramatta... Together we can get the movement going.”
“Parramatta is growing,” she says, “it’s really bustling. I used to be embarrassed to say I lived in Parramatta. It wasn’t cool. But there’s been a massive shift. People don’t want to travel forty minutes to do an acting class. They want to feel that where they live has good shit too.” So what does Nisrine love most about Parramatta now?
“I get excited when I see cool new cafes,” she laughs. “You don’t have to go to Surry Hills to have smashed avo on toast.”
While Parramatta has long offered dance and sporting activities, Nisrine says that a focus on developing the acting scene has been missing for a while. But acting is just the tip of the iceberg at PAC – the real point of the centre , Nisrine says, is that it creates a space where people can come together to find a sense of community not on offer anywhere else.
“Using the guise of acting we make people feel they belong,” Nisrine says. “I think a sense of belonging is, and will forever be, important in all countries and all suburbs. This is very cliché, but I think with massive increases in technology and increasing consumerism we can more and more find ourselves very lost in external things. We don’t know where we fit in the whole.”
Having started with just two classes twelve months ago PAC now offers ten classes for adults and children, and Nisrine cites the family focus of the business as one of the reasons for its remarkable success.
“Because my siblings and I have started this together,” she says, “it’s honestly a real sense of community at PAC, where we treat everyone who comes through our door like an extended part of our family. It’s also because I know the industry so well now, and we are in the position to understand the community in Parramatta, that we are able to deliver a service that is actually tailored to what people want and need.”
Nisrine says that as much as her role as teacher and Creative Director is to contribute to the growth and cohesiveness of the performing arts community in Parramatta, she also finds her own professional life is enriched by PAC.
“I really enjoy teaching adults,” she says. “You’re getting people who are so nervous, who have no idea what they’re walking into, who have always wanted to try this acting thing. To see their scared faces in week one, and to see them totally transformed at the end, there is no better feeling. The more I teach, the better an actor I become. You’re learning about people on a daily basis.”
Twenty nineteen is set to be a massive year for PAC. The centre is up for the Australian Small Business Champion Awards in April, and as the centre grows there are going to be some fundamental changes to the business management system. But Nisrine says she’s most excited about connecting with other organisations such as the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) to bring more cultural events to Parramatta.
“We’ve still got a long way to go in terms of the arts and culture scene in Parramatta,” she says. “We’ve nailed the dining scene now but we want to see more open mic nights, slam poetry events and galleries. By offering acting classes we’re contributing to nurturing the future artists right here in Parramatta. But we’re also looking at creating partnerships with other organisations. Team work makes the dream work. Together we can get the movement going.”