For Big and Little Kids: The Charms of Windmill Theatre
FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS: WINDMILL THEATRE
Our first partnership in Adelaide is a gem. The charming Windmill Theatre creates and presents incredible performances that captivate our audience's imaginations and resonate deeply. We spoke to the mind behind one of their upcoming productions, 'Bear With Me'.
To understand more about what goes into the cornerstone productions Windmill Theatre is quickly becoming known for, we spoke to David Megarrity, the writer, director and composer for Bear With Me, which opens in July.
‘Bear With Me’ was originally staged in 2011/2012. How much has the performance changed since then, and what is unique to each new theatre run?
David Megarrity: We reworked the show for its season at Perth’s Awesome Festival, bringing songs, screen, music, action and play into harmony. Each run of the show has its commonalities, and we’ve found the closer shows are to a potential nap-time for the audiences they can either be very mellow or a bit edgy! But really, every show is very different, and you can’t generalise about audiences.
One of the most delightful things about Bear with Me is that children don’t just bring special bears. We’ve had octopuses, seals, cats, dollies. It’s all about diversity!
In making a performance for children, what differences and similarities do you find when compared with creating an adult performance piece? Is it a very different undertaking or do you approach it with the same process?
David Megarrity: I’d say it’s a very different undertaking. You’re making a play, and children are experts at playing, so you have a lot to learn from them. Adult audiences are used to being sat in the dark, all facing the same direction in silence, which is what theatre usually asks them to do. With very young audiences, you may have to set up conventions so everyone agrees what’s going on, because after all the final collaboration is with an audience. You’re no good without them and vice versa. Conceptually I’m always looking for elegant and simple concepts, which are rather hard to divine and refine. As Maurice Sendak once said, ‘you cannot write for children – they’re much too complicated – you can only write books that are of interest to them’
We love that you mentioned Mirka Mora as an influence for ‘Bear With Me’. What other artists have inspired your writing?
David Megarrity: Teddy bears tend to inspire a lot of kitsch, but Mirka’s bear paintings are absolutely beautiful. Artists from all sorts of artforms spur me on to make interesting things. UK TV writer Dennis Potter once talked about using songs as ‘chariots of ideas’ and that idea has been an inspiration for all my music driven shows. I’m a recreational user of poetry, quite a heavy user, actually, and I really like Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney. Most of the script of Bear with Me is in haiku, but nobody’s ever noticed that! I’m a bit obsessed with a crooner from the 1930’s, Al Bowlly – people haven’t heard of him, but he sang ‘The Very Thought of You.’
I really liked Paddington: great to see bears on the big screen. That movie was made with love. Should be more of it!
It’s very moving to see children performing as ‘parent’ and child at the same time.
You talk about creating performances that are engaging for both children and adults, what do you think are the key elements to secure this balance in a production?
David Megarrity: When seeing Bear with Me families often play along, with their children – sometimes with the children leading the play. That’s quite lovely and rarer than you might think in everyday life. Clearly to genuinely engage families you have to have a kind of dual address where you allow the adults and children to share moments in the same way at the same time. I really can’t stand it when there is a raft of jokes that only adults will get, floating over proceedings, I think that’s really mean. You see it in movies all the time.
Do you have a favourite moment in ‘Bear With Me’?
David Megarrity: Yes, I do. Towards the end of the performance the children – we call them ‘bear experts’ in the show - repurpose the cardboard boxes their bears have been sitting on, and using a teatowel as a blanket, put them to sleep. The stars come out and we sing them a lullaby. It’s very moving to see children performing as ‘parent’ and child at the same time.
Finally, we were impressed to learn your oeuvre spans beyond performance arts and into writing, music and soundtracks – what do you think is the common thread throughout your artistic endeavours - and what are you planning next?
David Megarrity: Well, I would say music is almost always the common thread, even if it’s taking a kind of musical approach to language, or just listening to music while I work. Someone once said that ‘all art constantly aspires to the condition of music’ and the same is often true of what I’m trying to do. Next up I have a collection of three scripts for young people coming out with Playlab Press, I’m composing a soundtrack for a performance of De Profundis and I’m writing new ukulele songs for Tyrone and Lesley.
With performances spanning childrens, teens and adult fare there is something for everyone at Windmill Theatre in the coming months - get to know the program on their website. Make a break of it and bunker down at The Watson, just north of Adelaide's CBD.