South Australia’s Windmill Theatre is quickly redefining what we expect of youth and family theatre – and doing it on a global stage.
The company’s early childhood work Grug played a premiere season in Hong Kong earlier this year, just weeks after its multi-award winning family musical Pinocchio finished a successful run on Broadway. Time Out New York remarked that the play, a co-production with State Theatre Company of South Australia, “totally blows your mind”.
Grug, which opens in China in October, has already made its mark in North America, with 157 performances in 13 cities during a five-month tour of the US and Canada in 2013. Negotiations are under way for two new works – Big Bad Wolf and Grug the Rainbow – to follow in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
National audiences have already well and truly taken to the second part of the Grug story. When it premiered in Adelaide, the two-week season sold out three months before opening night.
And as if there wasn’t enough going on running innovative live theatre, Windmill’s first feature film Girl Asleep (an adaption of its successful stage production) will premiere at this year’s Adelaide Film Festival in October. It has the backing of everyone from Screen Australia to ABC Arts and the SA Film Corporation.
With such a strong recent track record, it’s probably not surprising that Windmill became the first youth theatre company to be awarded the prestigious Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for Excellence in 2012. The award’s Trustees described it as “a national treasure”.
The quality of Windmill’s work is also matched by its output, with more than 27 separate new commissioned productions over the past fourteen years. They include the intriguingly named Plop!, Boom Bah, and School Dance.
And all of this comes from a full-time team of nine, plus casuals working out of offices and a rehearsal space in Sturt Street in Adelaide’s CBD. So what’s the secret?
“People ask us how we create work for young audiences and I think the thing is that we don’t try to second guess our audience at any point; we only make work that we think is great art and would want to watch ourselves,” said Artistic Director Rosemary Myers.
“And it’s in our choice of artists. We pick artists that have great imaginations. Their work reflects a great sense of play and a great sense of imagination.”
Windmill’s latest Adelaide presentation, Bear With Me, was a warm and fuzzy romp through the joy and turmoil of the life of a teddy bear, aimed at children aged three to six. Bear With Me ran through the school holidays from July 7 to 19 at The Space Theatre.