Windmill Theatre one of SA’s best exports

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By Genevieve Meegan

Local theatre company Windmill Theatre Co looks set to continue its march onto the world stage in 2019, building on its success as one of South Australia’s best creative exports.

Windmill, founded in 2002, creates quirky, funny, thought provoking theatre for children and families. Some of the best known shows include Grug, Pinocchio and Big Bad Wolf.

Following a recent period of growth and expansion, the company has now positioned itself as one of the most innovative and in-demand theatre companies in the world, touring productions nationally and internationally, including to New York, China, Canada and New Zealand.

December will see a new pinnacle for the company when hit musical Rumpelstiltskin plays at Europe’s largest centre for the arts, the Southbank Centre in London.

Elena Carapetis, left, Alirio Zavarce, Matt Crook and Michaela Burger in ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. Photo by Shane Reid.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” says Rose Myers, Windmill’s artistic director, who directed and co-wrote the show.

”We’re taking a company of 20 people over and we will be there for a month in the heart of London.

“It’s a co-production with the State Theatre Company which premiered in Adelaide a couple of years ago. It is a big thrill to take that on the road.”

Taking great SA productions out to the world is not just about playing to bigger audiences, it’s about building cultural ties and artistic networks overseas that feed back into the state, says Rose, who has been at the helm since 2009.

“Touring is important because we make the work and there is a lot of investment poured into it,” she says. “SA is a small state and we have a small audience, but you get into a market place like China or America where the audience is huge and you are amortising your investment and generating employment for our artists and that helps keep great artists here in SA because they know they can make a living here.

Paul Capsis, left, and Ezra Juanta on stage. Photo by Shane Reid.

“It’s also just great cultural diplomacy. We’re trying to make trade links with China and this is all about cultural exchange and taking pieces of Australia over there and sharing culture which is really important.”

Over the last 16 years Windmill has done 59 regional, national and international tours taking in 247 cities across 28 countries and five continents. So far this year the company has already toured Scotland and NZ and is at the tail end of a regional stint with a 14-town, 18-week tour of Big Bad Wolf.

Beep, a production for under fives which premiered in 2017, is currently on a nine-week, five-city tour of mainland China and returns to Adelaide for the DreamBIG Children’s Festival next May, before heading to Sydney next July and Western Australia later in 2019.

Antoine Jelk, left, Kialea Nadine Williams and Ezra Juanta star in ‘Beep’. Photo by Shane Reid.

A new production in the 2019 season is Baba Yaga (ages 7+), a co-production with Scotland’s Imaginate Festival, which will have its premiere at the 2019 Adelaide Festival, following a sold out season at the 2018 Edinburgh International Children’s Festival.

The story is a new take on an old Russian folktale and has been co-created by Rose Myers, Scottish theatre maker Shona Reppe and Christine Johnston, of Kransky Sisters fame, who also plays the lead role. The show will tour in China, Ireland and England next year.

Windmill’s 2019 season also sees the return of the award-winning production Girl Asleep (ages 14+) which was first presented at the Adelaide Festival in 2014 as part of a trilogy that included Fugitive and School Dance.

Imaginate and Windmill Theatre’s ‘Baba Yaga’. Photo by Rob McDougall.

The production went on to be developed into a film, premiering at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival and going on to achieve critical acclaim globally, screening in 114 cities across 21 countries, and winning numerous awards.

“It’s a coming of age show set in 1970s,” Rose explains. ”It’s very funny and loosely based on Sleeping Beauty. It stars a lot of great SA actors such as Ellen Steele and Amber McMahon who’s brilliant.

“There’s a lot of interest because a people have seen the movie and kids are now studying the movie at school.”

The success of Girl Asleep resulted in the company announcing the launch of Windmill Pictures in 2017, a new arm of the company dedicated to developing screen projects from its live theatre repertoire.

Rose says SA is the perfect place to create great film works.

Ellen Steele in ‘Girl Asleep’. Photo by Shane Reid.

Girl Asleep was supported by a great initiative called The Hive, through Amanda Duthie and Katrina Sedgwick at the Adelaide Film Festival,” she says. “It’s just all about innovation and I feel like in some of the bigger states you wouldn’t get that opportunity.

“This has opened up whole other dialogues and whole other ways we can generate more content and industries in Adelaide. That film was very successful and now we are exploring more film production opportunities and ways to bring more money into SA in that industry.”

Rose says it’s a privilege to be part of the team at Windmill as the company continues to be driven to make great works for young people.

“It’s always a joy for me,” she says. “I was in the audience watching Big Bad Wolf in Darling Harbour and I realised I never get sick of watching an audience get excited by the work.”

Header image features Christine Johnston in Baba Yaga. Photo by Rob McDougall.

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