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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SA film Storm Boy to reach global audiences

It’s the Colin Thiele classic that captured the hearts of a generation and now the story of the loveable boy and his pelican has returned to the big screen.

The much-anticipated re-imagination of the 1964 novel Storm Boy will hit Australian cinemas on January 17, bringing to life the adored tale of the adventurous South Australian boy and his pelican, Mr Percival.

The 2019 Storm Boy will also enjoy international releases across New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East, Poland, Yugoslavia, Canada and the US.

The last time the Storm Boy story was brought to the screen was in the 1976 film starring Greg Rowe, Peter Cummins and David Gulpilil.

The Coorong region is again the backdrop for the 2019 remake, filmed entirely in SA using a mostly local crew as well as a number of local creative and film industry practitioners.

Jai Courtney, left, plays Hideaway Tom, while Finn Little plays the young Michael Kingley, holding Mr Percival.

The contemporary retelling features a grown-up Storm Boy, Michael Kingley (Geoffrey Rush), who has vivid flashbacks of his childhood, centred around his unbreakable friendship with orphaned pelican, Mr Percival.

Michael recounts to his troubled teenage granddaughter Maddie (Morgana Davies) the memories of his loner father Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney), the friendly Aboriginal man Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) and the how they raised three rescued pelicans.

The desolate and rugged coastal landscapes of the Coorong region are stretched across the screen, while the township of Port Elliot also features in the film.

Dramatic yet poignant scenes are complemented by natural recordings of the Coorong environment, and enhanced by pieces performed and recorded by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

The cast and crew were based out of the SA Film Corporation’s (SAFC) Glenside studios, with filming also taking place in the Goolwa area and the Coorong National Park.

Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) and the young Michael Kingley.

Storm Boy is an Ambience Entertainment production, with major production investment from Screen Australia in association with the SAFC.  The film’s post production involved the work of Adelaide creative agency KOJO and local VFX company Resin.

Storm Boy was producer Matthew Street’s first feature film shot in SA and he says he would have no hesitation about filming in the state again.

“SA has a highly respected industry with companies like Rising Sun and now Resin, these are world class visual effects companies,” he says.

“The good thing was working with the crew, they were a-list and would match anyone in the world.”

Matthew describes the 2019 Storm Boy as a “proudly South Australian film” and says he and fellow producer Michael Boughen set out to create a contemporary retelling of the classic story that would resonate with new generations and international audiences.

“Our main aim out of the story and the performance is that it would resonate globally. The human story just happens to be set on the Coorong, but it doesn’t matter in what language, it’s a story that should travel.”

Matthew says Storm Boy has brought many economic benefits including short-term business activity for the Fleurieu Peninsula communities during filming.

“We had all those people accommodated down and around the Coorong and Goolwa, so it (the benefits) spilled off into communities and secondary things let alone the tourism benefits nationally and globally for SA.”

As with all remakes and adaptations, the 2019 Storm Boy isn’t immune to the pressure of living up to the emotion, simplicity and beauty of the novel and first movie.

“We had a lot of pressure to make sure this re-imagination was worthy because there’d be a lot of critique beyond just the traditional film critique,” Matthew says.

“We weren’t going to make it unless we could deliver the heart and soul and emotional feeling you get from reading Colin Thiele’s incredible book.”

Storm Boy held its world premiere in Adelaide on January 6. It will be released nationally on January 17. Brand South Australia has teamed up with SONY to give 10 SA families the chance to see the film. Entries close January 14. Click here to enter.

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Port Lincoln cinema saved from closure

When Port Lincoln woman Angela Perin heard that the town’s only cinema would close its doors on December 31 last year she saw an opportunity to save the much-valued community facility.

The Port Lincoln cinema had been run by youth social enterprise, Youthoria, under community organisation West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS) for almost a decade.

But due to a lack of funds, Youthoria announced its looming closure causing disappointment among locals as the next closest cinema is three hours away in Whyalla.

“When the board announced that it was going to close the cinema I hoped that someone would grab it up and give it a new lease on life. But that didn’t appear to be happening and the community was really upset,” Angela says.

“I have two kids, aged 12 and 13, and we can’t imagine the town without a cinema. So I did what I’m always telling others to do and that is do something about it. I had a chat to my family we decided that we’d do it.”

Rudi Perin takes charge of the popcorn machine at the Lincoln Cinema.

As an employee at WCYCS, Angela was familiar with the running of the Youthoria cinema and had worked alongside  the youth group that took over the theatre in 2008.

She is now running the cinema as a family business, purchasing the cinema equipment from Youthoria and leasing the 90-year-old theatre building from the Port Lincoln Council.

On January 3 the movie theatre was revived under a new name, Lincoln Cinema, welcoming 200 movie goers through its doors and continuing the tradition of watching holiday blockbusters on the big screen.

“The community has been so supportive, people have come from Tumby Bay, Cummins and Cleve,” Angela says. “The support has been overwhelming.”

The Lincoln Cinema will close from January 29 until the end of February to undergo minor renovations, with Angela hoping to expand the candy bar to create a more welcoming coffee spot and meeting place for visitors.

The Port Lincoln cinema, originally known as Flinders Picture Theatre, was established in 1929. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures, Granola.

She says the cinema is an essential facility for regional youth as it offers them a safe place to meet and socialise.

“Going to the movies is an experience,” she says.

“You can watch movies at home but going to the movies with friends and family and seeing something on the big screen – there’s nothing like it.”

Longstanding SA movie theatre company Wallis Cinemas is the booking agent for Lincoln Cinema, which Angela says will screen some of the summer holiday blockbusters including Mary Poppins Returns.

The movie theatre on Hallett Place in Port Lincoln was established as the Flinders Picture Theatre in 1929 by Mrs R. L. MacGregor.

An article in the Port Lincoln Times newspaper on Friday, September 6, 1929, reports on the ceremony where the foundation stone was laid.

The article states, “It was recognised that a theatre of the class that was being built was essential to the progress of Port Lincoln. The hope was expressed that the venture would prove a success”.

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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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New theatre course is music to ears of Mamma Mia stars

A new musical theatre course recently announced by the University of Adelaide is attracting great interest not just locally, but from interstate and international students.

The new Bachelor of Music Theatre kicks off in 2019 at the University’s Elder Conservatorium and will be run by renowned music theatre expert and educator George Torbay.

He says the benefits of such a course are not just that aspiring musical theatre stars no longer need to study interstate, but there will also be flow on effects for the South Australian arts scene more broadly.

“The whole point of a course like this here is to add to the cultural scene in this state,” George says. “However, more than just keeping young artists here, the course is already attracting applicants from all over Australia and even international applicants.

“SA has been crying out for a degree like this. Music theatre is a rapidly growing art form and incredibly popular across Australia.”

The course will include singing lessons and song coaching, classes in acting, voice and speech, song repertoire and audition technique, ballet, pas de deux, tap and jazz. Students will also have the opportunity to connect with current writers and explore new works as well as gain professional-level experience working within Adelaide’s thriving festival scene.

Zoe Komazec is now living in SA and will teach dance as part of the University of Adelaide’s new musical theatre course.

Musical theatre star Zoe Komazec, who grew up in Adelaide and is currently starring in the hit production Mamma Mia! The Musical which begun this week, is particularly excited about the announcement as she and fiancé Matt Geronimi will be teaching dance as part of the new course.

“When I was contacted about the course I thought it was one of the most exciting things to happen,” says Zoe, who has been based in Sydney for the past five years but is now living in SA.

“Adelaide has produced so many incredibly talented people in various industries, particularly musical theatre. You’d be surprised how many times I mention I am from Adelaide and at least five people are also born and bred Radelaidians.

“Not having to leave this wonderful state straight away is such a bonus, I think it will allow more aspiring young South Aussies an avenue that they thought wasn’t an option.”

Zoe began dancing at age two at her mum’s studio Barbara Jayne Dance Centre in Norwood, seeing her first musical at age eight – The Sound of Music.

Annie Chiswell.

Annie Chiswell is another local musical theatre performer who trained here, at the Adelaide College of the Arts. She too is starring in Mamma Mia! The Musical, which will be her first major production appearance in front of a hometown crowd.

She agrees Adelaide is a breeding ground for great musical theatre talent, although she says time spent interstate can be of benefit.

“For me personally, I believe in any career it is important to take risks and break out of your comfort zone,” says Annie, who saw her first musical The Lion King, in Melbourne at age 10.

“I felt for my career that Melbourne was calling my name, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I know Adelaide is up and coming in musical theatre training and so hopefully there will be more opportunities to study here.

“I’m also a huge believer in it’s not where you study, but how. I will always be thankful for the artist foundation that SA gave me, and cannot wait to come home and perform.”

Phillip Lowe is yet another Mamma Mia! The Musical star who grew up in SA.

Phillip, who plays Harry Bright in the hit Abba musical, grew up in Jamestown and had no idea as a kid that people were paid to perform as a job.

Jamestown-raised actor Phillip Lowe is back in Adelaide for Mamma Mia! The Musical.

His mother was the piano player for the local production of Pirates of Penzance when Phillip was four years old and he remembers turning the pages for her and singing along as she practiced.

It wasn’t until his brother went to study at WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAPPA) that Phillip realised musical theatre was an actual career path.

However, he didn’t follow his dreams into musical theatrical when he finished school – first, he got a job at a bank and dabbled in amateur theatre.

“I thought I had to have a ‘real’ job. However, one day we got held up by two guys with shotguns so I decided that I was done with real jobs and I auditioned for drama school. I never looked back after that,” says Phillip, who also went on to study at WAPPA and has maintained a stellar career over the past 25 years, appearing in Crazy for You, The Producers, Dusty, Mary Poppins and many more.

Phillip has been based in Sydney for the past 23 years and Mamma Mia! The Musical will be his first time on the Adelaide Festival Theatre stage.

“I cannot wait. It’s a lifelong dream come true,” he adds.

Mama Mia! The Musical is on at the Adelaide Festival Centre until November 18. Click here for tickets.

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Mt Gambier theatre company immerses audience inside dark and dangerous world

A gripping theatre production that uses virtual reality technology to immerse audiences inside the world of ice addiction will premiere in Mt Gambier next month.

The stage of the town’s Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre will host an insight into how lives are destroyed by methamphetamine, a drug considered rife in some regional towns across the country.

Mt Gambier-based Gener8 Theatre will present In The Pines, a fictional, yet confronting performance that involved extensive community consultation and incorporates the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets.

Director and producer Jamie Harding says the use of VR headsets has created a highly immersive and synced experience that’s “never before been attempted in Australian theatre”.

‘In The Pines’ will premiere next month in Mt Gambier.

“In the first half of the performance, the audience sits in a circle on stage to replicate the 360-degree experience,” he says.

“Then in the second half, the audience puts on VR headsets and steps inside the film – they’re like a fly on the wall.

“We take them on a journey they’re not going to expect.”

In The Pines, originally named Cold As Ice, has taken three years to pull together and aims to create open community discussions around the impacts of ice addiction.

The scourge of ice continues to affect communities across the country and is often referred to as an epidemic.

Jamie says he was unaware of how prevalent ice addiction was until he held a week-long community forum in 2015 to discover common themes and stories from locals in his town.

“We discovered that ice was a major issue and from there we started to research and found out that it was a national problem,” he says.

“I thought it was vital to then interview people about it, so we spoke to more than 60 people, including parents of ice addicts, prisoners and police officers, about the drug.

“This show has been a great vehicle to drive discussion about the issue.”

John Crouch, left, and Jamie Harding with the VR gear.

Working alongside fellow accomplished actor and local high school teacher John Crouch, Jamie adopted a creative team to help take the issue to the stage.

He says he was inspired to incorporate VR into the performance after watching a VR production in Adelaide about the 2005 London bombings.

“The audience was taken on a trip on the London Underground, so it put you right there – it was really haunting,” Jamie says.

“There was something about it that really had me. I walked out onto North Terrace and something shifted inside me, it made me look at the streets of Adelaide in a different way.

“I joined the dots and realised that I wanted to immerse the audience inside my (In The Pines) story and get them to the point that I experienced.”

In The Pines features a cast of six actors. The plot centres around a married couple who make decisions that “draw them into a new and dangerous world”.

A scene from ‘In The Pines’.

Jamie describes the production as a “psychological thriller” that also explores how the economy of drugs can affect unsuspecting parts of a community.

In The Pines has already been shown to local audiences in its development stages to gage community feedback.

The show will premiere in Mt Gambier on August 23 with hopes of taking it to Adelaide and on tours of regional South Australia and the rest of the country.

Jamie says it’s his mantra to “turn the gaze to regional works” and to ensure country theatre productions make it to the spotlight.

Born in Naracoorte and growing up in Mt Gambier, Jamie says he was always passionate about the arts, becoming involved in the town’s now defunct Mainstreet Theatre Company after finishing high school.

Above: Audience reactions to development phases of In The Pines.

“I got to see the inner workings of a professional regional theatre company, I was like a sponge,” he says.

“It gave me the confidence to audition for Flinders University’s Drama Centre, so I gave it a go and never looked back.”

Jamie was lured back to Mt Gambier by John Crouch and together they worked on the Ruby Award-winning Colour Darker Than Black.

Jamie is also the artistic director at Ovation Centre of Performing Arts which has a presence in both Mt Gambier and Adelaide.

He wants to ensure young creatives realise that regional towns can also be thriving hubs full of creativity and culture.

“I want to inspire young makers and artists and have them realise they don’t have to move to the big smoke,” he says.

“Their stories can be told on state, national and why not even international stages.

“You can make it in the regions.”

Jamie thanked Arts SA, the Australia Council for the Arts, Country Arts SA, and various other groups that have provided funding and support.

For more information and booking details click here.

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Country Arts SA has brought theatre to the regions for 25 years

In six months’ time the rows of the Northern Festival Centre in Port Pirie will be lined with theatregoers awaiting the world premiere of emerging playwright Elena Carapetis’ Gods of Strangers.

Written by Port Pirie-raised Elena, the historical fiction piece is inspired by migrant stories of regional SA.

The show will be seen by regional audiences ahead of their metropolitan counterparts, and be added to an ever-growing list of productions that have spilled onto country stages for close to three decades.

Although commissioned by the State Theatre Company, Gods of Strangers is one of a string of shows brought to the regions by arts organisation, Country Arts SA.

Country Arts SA CEO Steve Saffell.

The regionally-focused organisation is celebrating 25 years of performing arts in the country.

Country Arts SA CEO Steve Saffell says accessibility to the arts is crucial for the wellbeing of regional communities.

“I believe it’s always about creating equal accessibility to the arts for people living in regional SA to provide them with the opportunities that people living in metropolitan areas can take for granted,” he says.

“It’s fair to say that the arts play a really important role in community wellbeing, economic development and tourism.

“For many regional communities, sport is freely available and important but there are many who need more or who don’t play sport, and this (the arts) provides an invaluable opportunity for these people.”

The Chaffey Theatre, Renmark. Photo by Chris Herzfeld.

Aside from programming thousands of performances across regional SA over the years, Country Arts SA also remains a strong funding source for regional artists and communities.

It manages four major regional theatres, the Northern Festival Centre in Port Pirie, the Chaffey Theatre in Renmark, the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre in Mt Gambier and the Middleback Arts Centre in Whyalla, in addition to the Hopgood Theatre in Noarlunga.

Steve says it’s hard to pick a favourite among the thousands of shows that have graced the stages.

“There have been so many performances that have come through, from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to the Australian Ballet and the opera,” he says.

“This year Adelaide circus company Gravity and Other Myths came to Whyalla with their major show, Backbone.

“They stayed for a whole week, did workshops and engaged with local schools.”

Backbone performers putting gravity to the ultimate test. Photo by Carnival Cinema.

Steve says interactive performances are becoming more prominent.

Past examples have included multimedia police drama experience, Bingo Unit, where audiences helped film scenes in locations across their communities.

The audience was also invited on a backlot tour of the regional theatres, where they could choose to interrogate suspects, search for evidence, or simply watch the drama unfold.

Steve says many modern day theatre productions aren’t intended to fill hundreds of seats.

“A lot of the shows these days aren’t always intended for big audiences,” he says.

“Some performances just don’t work on a big stage with 500 seats in front of them.

“It’s much more about participation now and getting people involved rather than having a passive audience.”

Bingo Unit toured the regions in 2014.

Mt Gambier theatre director Jamie Harding knows the effectiveness of immersive audience experiences.

His regional production company Gener8 Theatre’s production, In the Pines, involved extensive community consultation and involves the audience donning visual reality (VR) headsets.

Premiering in August, In the Pines examines how the drug ice has an impact on local communities.

Wearing VR headsets for half of the performance, audience members are able to step inside the world of drug addiction and its devastating consequences.

“Nothing like this (use of VR) has ever been attempted in Australia and maybe even the world,” Jamie says.

In the Pines will have its world premiere in Mt Gambier in August and then a season in Adelaide in 2019 before touring nationally.

A scene from ‘In the Pines’.

Gener8 Theatre is supported by Country Arts SA and Jamie says art, cultural and theatre “should be at the heart of every community”.

“It’s a creative way to get them to talk about their sense of place and issues they feel are important,” he says.

“I think it’s vital to create from the regions and have work that is made in the regions and shown not only in SA and nationally, but on the world stage.”

Header photo is Rosalba Clemente in ‘The Gods of Strangers’.

Wallis Cinemas still making magic after all these years

Wallis Cinemas boss Lorna Wallis’ first date with the man who would later become her husband was sitting in the rows of the Capri Theatre, in Adelaide’s inner northern suburbs.

It was the late 1950s, a time when going to the movies was worth getting dressed up for, “gloves and all”.

Lorna, 79, can’t remember the name of the film they watched, but recalls the moment she dropped a box of chocolates Bob had bought her all over the floor.

“Buying a box of chocolates in those days was very expensive and I’d just opened them when I went to get one out and dropped the lot,” she says.

“Bob was very cross. I miss him terribly, it’s been 11 years.”

Wallis Theatres founder Hughie Wallis, second from left.

More than half a century later and Lorna is still walking the foyers of South Australian cinemas, carrying on the legacy of her late husband and the state’s movie man, Bob Wallis.

Bob was the son of Wallis Theatres founder Hughie Wallis, who opened the state’s first drive-in theatre, the Blue Line at West Beach, in 1954.

The opening of the Blue Line theatre sparked the explosion of drive-in culture in SA: teenagers piled into FJ Holdens, speakers hanging from car windows and kids munching on Chiko Rolls in the back seat.

In 1955, the Mainline Drive-In at Gepps Cross opened and is now the only one left in Adelaide.

Hughie died in 1994 aged 84, leaving Bob in charge. But when Bob himself fell ill and passed away in 2007, it was Lorna and their daughter Michelle’s turn to take over.

Lorna and her late husband Bob, son of Wallis Theatres founder, Hughie Wallis.

The cinema chain, now known as Wallis Cinemas, has been making South Australians laugh, cry and everything in between for almost 70 years.

“As long as people still come to the cinemas, that’s what we want,” Lorna says.

“There’s nothing like the big screen, I know there are big TVs now, but there’s nothing quite like a night out at the movies.”

Hughie Wallis had a fascination with photography and filmmaking and laid the foundations of his business when he began screening Hollywood films in community halls across Adelaide.

The opening of the Blue Line at West Beach in the ’50s sparked the establishment of a handful of other Wallis drive-ins and cinemas across metropolitan Adelaide and regional SA.

Its theatres included the Ozone at Glenelg, the Chelsea in Adelaide’s east, a cinema complex in Hindmarsh Square and of course, the Piccadilly in North Adelaide.

Lorna has fond memories of the old theatre, as she grew up around the corner on Childers Street, and would see a film there every Wednesday and Saturday night “with a group of young ones”.

The Piccadilly Cinema in its early days. PHOTO: Cinema Treasures, Brian Pearson. 

She says the Piccadilly Theatre was also Bob’s favourite.

“Bob loved going to the Piccadilly, his funeral was held there,” she says.

“They had on his seat, ‘reserved for Bob’, which was nice.”

Over the decades, the drive-in culture faded and the company closed many of its facilities.

Wallis now employs about 230 people across four cinemas at Mitcham, Piccadilly, Noarlunga, and Mt Barker, as well as the Gepps Cross drive-in. The business recently purchased the Deacons Cinema at Mildura.

Lorna says Wallis Cinemas’ success and longevity in SA as a small-to-medium enterprise is all down to its loyal employees.

“A lot of our staff have been with us for 40 years, so we have very loyal employees. You have to have good people around you. Bob always told me that you’re only as good as the people around you,” she says.

“The patron is number one and we believe in pleasant customer service and cleanliness in our cinemas.”

The Piccadilly Cinemas.

Lorna admits business is tough with competition from larger cinema chains and online streaming giants such as Netflix, causing Wallis to drop its ticket prices by almost 50% last year.

Nonetheless, she says Wallis Cinemas is proud of its SA heritage and its small-scale footprint.

“We’re family. We’re too small to go up against the big guys interstate,” Lorna says.

“I’m proud to be South Australian. I’ve grown up here, my family’s grown up here and I just think we’re a lovely little state.

“You get into these others that get a bit big, but I love it here.”

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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.