Riverland Youth Theatre inspiring communities through the arts

For more than three decades, theatrical productions, workshops and visual arts performances have been played out in Riverland theatres and institutes.

The Riverland Youth Theatre (RYT) is the organisation behind many of the region’s creative and artistic activities, helping to boost confidence in young people and create a more culturally inclusive community.

Based out of the Renmark Institute, the professional youth arts organisation is one of only two in regional South Australia.

RYT general manager Danyon De Buell says the organisation runs an annual program of workshops and major projects and also plays a part in a number of community events.

The Tackerz group are part of Cirkidz, a circus arts class run at RYT.

“Each year more than 4000 people participate in arts projects and activities that RYT is engaged with,” she says.

“RYT participants are aged between 5–26 and come from as far as Blanchetown. We also have a number of young people who come over from the Mallee.

“We offer a number of creative opportunities including styling, makeup, technical support, so it’s not just about acting. We’re constantly amazed at the confidence building that happens.”

RYT was born in 1985 as a participatory organisation for young people, putting on drama productions and hosting workshops and performances by visiting artists in Renmark’s Chaffey Theatre.

In 1995, it became independently incorporated and since then has consistently built its reputation for promoting inclusivity and presenting opportunities for Indigenous and multicultural groups to celebrate culture through the arts.

RYT is involved in Riverland Harmony Day, an annual event celebrating cultural diversity.

RYT relies heavily on philanthropic support and receives donations from local businesses as well as funds raised through the annual RYT gala dinner.

Last year’s gala dinner was attended by well-known ABC radio personality Peter Goers as well as jazz act and former RYT performers, The Casey Brothers.

Danyon says RYT offers a non-competitive and non-threatening environment for young people to build on or develop their skills in creative arts.

“All our work with young people isn’t competitive, although team work is implicit in what we do,” she says. “At no time is any child or young person given negative feedback either. We see friendships form and it breaks down barriers between towns.”

Danyon has been in her current role at RYT since 2014 but was involved with the organisation for some years prior.

RYT’s artistic director is Christopher Bond, a Flinders University and National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) graduate who has directed and workshoped theatre performances at a number of arts education institutions.

A group of Nunga Rhythms young performers and tutors.

Highlights of the 2019 program include TECHDesign, a nighttime light and sound show enabling youth to learn about lighting design and projection.

Professional Indigenous dancer and choreographer Michael Harris will work with young people on Nunga Rhythms, a performance of traditional Indigenous dance and movement.

Six RYT participants will be selected to travel to the Melbourne Fringe and take part in Standby Cue 1: GO!, which involves a behind-the-scenes experience at the major arts festival.

Back at home, RYT will bring colour and culture to the community through its performances and creative presences at annual local events including Riverland Harmony Day, Riverland Field Days, National Youth Week, NAIDOC Week, Renmark Rose Festival and local Christmas pageants.

“RYT gives young people confidence and we make sure all programs and projects are inclusive for all young people including young people with disabilities,” Danyon says.

“RYT isn’t just for Renmark, it’s for the whole of the region.”

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Windmill Theatre one of SA’s best exports

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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Adelaide Festival Centre set for big musicals and more visitors

In 1973 Flinders University student Douglas Gautier was an extra in the opera, Fidelio, at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s official opening.

Fast forward more than 40 years and the proud Adelaidean is at the head of the city’s entertainment attraction.

The Adelaide Festival Centre was Australia’s first multipurpose arts venue when it opened – three months before the Sydney Opera House did – and now hosts one million visitors a year.

“That opening night was a very exciting time,” says Douglas Gautier AM, the centre’s CEO and artistic director.

“Then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was there and he said, to words of this effect, that the Adelaide Festival Centre was something to make people in Adelaide proud.

“But he said it would also lead the country.”

And lead the country it has.

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and artistic director Douglas Gautier.

The Festival Centre is home to events within the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and State Theatre Company, of which draw people from across the globe.

It’s involved in the production of the world’s biggest cabaret festival, Australia’s largest guitar festival and one of the country’s most prominent international festivals, OzAsia.

“We had 50,000 people attend (the OzAsia Moon Lantern Festival) in one year,” Douglas says.

“It says a lot about our city, it’s a lot different than 10 years ago, it’s much more multicultural.

“We try to open it (the Festival Centre) up to all areas of the community and OzAsia is a good indication of that.”

A recent report by Ernst and Young shows the Adelaide Festival Centre’s total economic contribution and social value hit $160m and created 1076 jobs in 2015/16.

The new look new look Adelaide Festival Centre promenade. PHOTO: Kelly Carpenter.

More recently the centre has undergone huge transformations and redevelopments, including its new northern foyers which now face onto Elder Park and the Torrens.

The new riverbank precinct has also welcomed new features including The Star Kitchen and Bar and the Walk of Fame.

Unveiled in January, the Walk of Fame features 132 plaques naming top performers, including Tim Minchin and Olivia Newton-John, who have showcased their talents at the Festival Centre over the years.

Douglas says the new features create a “very compelling package for both locals and visitors alike”.

“We do position ourselves as the main festival city in the country and it’s important that it’s constantly pumping,” he says.

Spot the celebs! The Walk of Fame recipients with Douglas Gautier AM and Premier Jay Weatherill.

The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust (AFCT) also manages Her Majesty’s Theatre (HMT) on Grote Street and is giving the “grand old dame” a facelift, growing its capacity from 970 to 1500.

HMT will close in March before reopening in late 2019/20.

This year is also a bumper year for big musicals, including The Rocky Horror Show, American Idiot, The Wizard of Oz, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Mamma Mia.

The sixth musical for the year, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, will open in December 2018, ending a record-run of big song and dance shows.

If 2017’s Matilda the Musical audiences are anything to go by, the 2018 musical lineup won’t be a hard sell.

“People are buying a lot more tickets … with Matilda we sold well over 100,000 tickets and audiences all reacted very well,” Douglas says.

“We have invested very strongly to ensure these big shows are coming here.”

Musical composer Tim Minchin alongside his ‘star’. Tim composed, Matilda, which drew thousands of visitors to the Adelaide Festival Centre in 2017.

This year marks Douglas’ 12th year being back in Adelaide after living in Hong Kong for 25 years.

During his time in Asia he headed one of the world’s great art festivals in Hong Kong and was deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Douglas says Adelaide might be the country’s smallest capital city but it “punches well above its weight” in arts and tourism.

“We believe in this city, particularly in its creative industries,” he says.

“It’s got a certain power and that’s people power.”

The Adelaide Festival Centre is holding a free public Open Day on February 11. See more information here.

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.