‘You saw potential in us we didn’t even see in ourselves.’ The Theatre of the Winged Unicorn is a unique local theatre company, created in 1993 by Elaine Mitchell and her late husband, Dennis. We talk to Elaine…
What inspired you to start it?
I had experienced small theatre in England and seen a number of productions in all sorts of venues while living on London. Back in Geelong, Dennis, myself and a few friends created the Woodbin as a small intimate theatre in West Geelong. Then we moved to Ceres. As it had its own little heritage sandstone hall (c.1862) we decided to create our own theatre there.
What sort of works do you perform?
We choose programs with a strong human element, especially 19th century classics. Dickens, Chekhov, Shakespeare, Eliot, Bronte, Hardy and Austen to name a few, and even Gilbert and Sullivan.
What has been the most inspiring thing for you personally?
Creating an experience for audience and actor from the empty space, the blank canvas. It’s all very well to have an idea to perform Wuthering Heights, but to adapt it into a play over three generations in a tiny hall with limited resources requires a lot of imagination. Recently in A Midsummer Night’s Dream we created moving trees by attaching the cardboard rolls that carpets are packed in to circular bases so we could move them around, and overcame our space restriction by having actors walking through the audience, right down the middle of the aisle.
How do you contribute to the community of Geelong?
It’s the chance we give people to extend their talents and then share the result with our audiences. We provide an opportunity for those involved to realize their potential, as well as develop confidence and greater self-esteem. After we had done Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 2008 one of my young actresses said to me: ‘You saw potential in us that we didn’t even see in ourselves.’
It also makes me so proud when our actors and actresses take themselves into the world. For instance in 2009 two of our young people performed in front of a major symposium arranged by the Katherine Mansfield Society in Menton, France, using the same script devised for our ‘Winter Dreaming’ production earlier that year.
Photo of Ben Mitchell as Oberon and Ellie Gardner as Titania and Rose Musselwhite as Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed at Ceres in May.
Next production in October Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov.