Behind the Scenes with Jase
Grug and the Rainbow is less than a month away from taking off on another 3-month tour of the US and Canada. Before it all kicks off, we sat down with Windmill Program and Production Manager, Jason Warner, who is heading overseas to keep Grug and his friends in check, to find out what it’s really like to be on tour!
How long have you been with Windmill?
I’ve been working at Windmill for over 10 years, with a small break in the middle for good behaviour!
Was this always what you wanted to do?
Generally, yes. Early on I wanted to be an actor but kept on getting compliments on my backstage work rather than onstage.
What first drew you in to the job?
Windmill is distinctive in terms of the quality and scale of its shows in all areas; the casting, the scripts, the design of the sets, props and costumes and all of the technical elements. We pride ourselves on producing high quality and unique productions.
How many productions have you taken on the road?
Like Windmill likes to say on our suggested viewing age, between 8 and 108. More than 8, but less than 108!
You’ve taken shows all over the world. Is there a best place to tour in your opinion?
It’d have to be New York. You can’t go past receiving a standing ovation on Opening Night of a musical on 42nd Street.
You’re about to head back out on tour with Grug and the Rainbow. What can US and Canadian audiences expect from this show that’s different from the Grug tour in 2013?
The great thing about Grug and the Rainbow is you don’t have to have seen it before. This is a show where Grug gets going. It’s a real show about his journeys. Grug was about him creating his home and his home environment whereas this is the real touring story of Grug. He gets to go on lots of adventures. He gets on his bike, literally, and on his skis and goes for a journey.
You’d have some amazing stories of working all over the world. Can you let us in on any tour secrets from Grug’s previous tours?
There’s a tour adage that what happens on tour, stays on tour. So I’ve got to stick to that! But the great thing about working in the live arts is that it’s a human form so things go wrong all the time. Planes are late, buses are late, people get locked out of hotel rooms and there are lots of misadventures through language barriers. There was one time where we asked for a particular type of light and the presenters said ‘no worries!’ and the next day, a flowerpot turned up.
How do the audiences differ overseas?
You see the amazement in the children’s eyes and at the end of the day, children are children wherever they are. I think that’s the best thing about being overseas and immersing in another culture. We do this for the reactions of the children. You get the hyperactive ones who can’t sit still, the ones who are really articulate and tell you about the life history of Grug, from their point of view anyway, and artistic kids who draw amazing pictures of Grug.
It’s not just the show you take over, is it?
No, that’s another great thing we do with our shows; workshops and post show activities. The lovely Julie Orchard put them together and it’s really an added bonus for the kids and an important part of the Windmill experience. It’s great watching the kids after the show designing and making their version of Grug or his rainbow. They get really inspired by it.
Did you have a favourite production you’ve travelled with?
Grug will always have a special spot in my heart because it’s been our longest running production. But presenting Pinocchio on 42nd Street in New York and seeing the reaction of that show there and seeing the beautiful New Victory Theater will always be a special time. But that’s the great thing about Windmill. Looking back at when we did the Trilogy – three separate shows in one Adelaide Festival, it almost killed us. But it was an amazing achievement for a company of our size. I think I have some wrinkles on my face that are actually caused by those shows.
You’ve done multiple set rebuilds over your time when shows go on tour – were there any changes to the Grug and the Rainbow set before it took off?
The great thing about this set is it’s small, and it’s on wheels. So when you have a smaller venue, you can squash it in a bit and then spread it out when you have a bigger space. But there are certainly times where you need to rebuild and repair bits and pieces after they arrive at a venue and the freight has been damaged. That happened when we took our Big Bad Wolf set over to the States. The crew had to do a bit of work there! There was another time I was on my way to Edinburgh and I got a phone call from New York saying the lifts had broken down, so the set couldn’t leave the building for six weeks. The Americans then had to make the segment of the set that wouldn’t fit, and we had to tour around with that for a while. Those are definitely the challenging times.
When you do have to rebuild a set, how long does it generally take you to do?
It’s probably a three-month process from when we start getting the redesign from the amazing Jonathon Oxlade and turning those into plans and working with our builders. We look at things in terms of how it would work best with the venue we’re fitting into. Sometimes we just cut down a set and other times we build it from scratch. With Girl Asleep at Belvoir, we did a combination of both. We used some panels and we built brand new ones as well.
Where would you most like to tour that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
We’ve toured to Asia and we’ve toured America. We’ve also kind of toured to Europe with Grug going to Edinburgh, and we’d really like to tour more into Europe. But I think it would be great to see our shows on in Africa or even South America. I think that’d be really interesting.
What’s your favourite thing about being on tour and what are you most looking forward to on the upcoming tour in March?
This will be our Washington premiere and I think that’s very special. But I think the best part about it all is the audience’s reaction. Seeing the kids and what they think of our work is amazing. Adults will talk to you about shows but the great thing about kids is they’ll tell you very quickly whether you’ve hit the mark or not.
Grug and the Rainbow begins in Washington on 18 March and runs through until 4 June.