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Acclaim and applause for Strathallan’s rising star

Talented actress, gifted songwriter and star performer, Gianni-Mia was recognised as NZ's top AS-Level drama student

Recognised in the 2020 Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards as the top AS-Level drama student in New Zealand, Gianni-Mia Attrill-Dowling is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she a talented actress, but she is also a gifted singer-songwriter and a star performer across the school's music programme.

After recently delighting audiences as Sandy in ACG Strathallan's production of Grease, Gianni-Mia shares her thoughts on musicals, drama and what the future holds. 

What do you enjoy most about drama as a subject?
I enjoy how much it allows you to explore yourself and have fun. 2020 was a challenging year for many reasons, and drama gave me a constant focus. Especially with my drama teacher, Rebekah Brady, being such a driving force behind our class.

How did you feel when you were recognised as Top in NZ in AS-Level drama?
I was absolutely thrilled - after a few moments of complete disbelief. It was quite shocking because it felt like a standard I never thought I could reach. 

Do you feel it's important for students to be involved in drama and music?
I don't think it is for everyone, just like how maths was never for me, but I think it's something people should try. You learn a lot about yourself when you are trying to be someone else. It's a lot of fun once you stop being self-conscious.

With such impressive results in 2020, what are you hoping to achieve in 2021? 
I would like to improve my skills this year and hopefully work towards some more shows. I'm also aiming to complete my Grade 8 musical theatre exam. Ultimately though, getting into Brisbane's Griffith University to study musical theatre is my biggest goal. 

How delighted were you to land the lead role in Grease?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved Grease. I never saw myself being someone like Sandy, and it felt a bit surreal. I was so excited, and so was my family, seeing as it's such an iconic show.

Is it challenging to juggle your performance commitments with the time needed for study?
I rely a lot on lists. Things can get pretty hectic, so they really help to break things down. Of course, school is always the priority, my mum makes sure of this, but that's good because it lets me look outside of what I'm interested in and always try new things. 

Are you still involved in a range of extracurricular activities? 
I am! I'm involved in Strathallan's Arts Council and help with the drama and dance side of the arts. As well as that, I dance three days a week, take singing lessons and group lessons once a week. And I do a few small gigs every once and a while.

This year, I am our school's Environmental Prefect, so I manage the Environmental Council. And I like to help with our school's prefect events and at our local Marae with my friends. 

I recently worked as an intern for Girls Rock Aotearoa (now known as Too the Front Poneke), where we help women, trans and gender non-conforming youth to create friendships and music. It was such an amazing experience.

What have been your personal highlights at Strathallan so far?
Getting Sandy in Grease is still a big one for me right now. And I enjoyed the writing side of things and creating characters for our Cambridge AS-Level Devised performance. It was a fun time. I think getting the Top in Drama award gave me the boost I needed because sometimes you get so hard on yourself. It took me out of my own head for a moment.

At this stage, what are your career aspirations?
I'll never stop performing, but I recognise that I am so lucky to be able to do that. Being a performer would be incredible, especially in Broadway or London's West End but being paid for performing is definitely the goal! 

Eventually, though, I would like to have a platform, whether it's through music or something else, where I can commit to change and use my voice for others. 

Do you have any advice for young performers hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Try everything! Experience is the key to performance, and the more you try new things, the better perspective you have. Also, taking care of yourself is extremely important to avoid burnout. Get a lot of sleep, eat good meals, and balance your school life with what you love. 

What five words would your friends and family use to describe you?
I asked my family and friends, and the most common responses were – dedicated, passionate, caring, loyal and bright!

Gianni-Mia and Patrick Cheeseman (as Danny) bought the house down in the school's recent production of Grease