The Story Thieves: Windmill Theatre encouraging children to explore different worlds

As Artistic Director of Windmill Theatre, South Australia’s leading performing arts Company for young people, Rosemary Myers has every right to be excited.

The Story Thieves Development. Students from Mimili Anangu School and Woodville High Mikawomma Program 2(1)
Students from Mimili Anangu School and Woodville High Mikawomma Program. L-R Brittany Shilling, Mark Cambell, Talissa Pinkie, Marcus Bennet. Image by Tony Lewis.

Last month saw the launch of their latest work, The Story Thieves, and the enthusiasm is contagious. A highly immersive storytelling experience using headphones (for four individuals at a time) the work is a result of the longstanding relationship Windmill has with the Anangu community in South Australia’s APY lands.

“We’ve been working closely with the communities up on the APY lands for close to seven years,” says Myers, “And this particular project was made in collaboration with the students from Mimili School who have brought much of their own personality to the narration and the story itself.”

For visitors eight years and over, this promises to be a delightful fairytale installation that has all the ingredients of first-rate adventure. Having had the students involvement from start to finish has ensured that this will become one of the favourite storytelling installations.

“We begin in a house where a pair of twins are celebrating their eighth birthday. But unbeknownst to them, through the window, the story thieves are spying on them. They steal the twins’ parents away and the cake (!) and before long we’re on an adventure that takes us into a swamp and a bat cave.”

The Story Thieves Development. Artist Casey Van Sebille with students
The Story Thieves Development. L-R: Nara Shilling, Casey Van Sebille, Maria Campbell. Image by Tony Lewis.

“The aesthetic of the work is really inspired by the landscape and we got taken to a number of favourite spots and that included the bat cave where all the kids would hang out,” says Myers. “We wanted to make sure that they had a ball being part of this project, and, whether it was in the prop-making, animation, set, or even voice-overs, they all were very important to how The Story Thieves turned out.

The intensive 20 minute experience is coupled with extensive audio instructions and required a format where more instructions, if necessary, could be included.

“Human beings are such random individuals,” laughs Myers. “Because of the nature of this work we needed to make sure that we had a model that catered to a range of potential responses. Luckily children, particularly at that age, are trained to follow instructions but, after the first few tests, we realized that there needs to be room to add more.”

[pull_left]We aim to work with, and deeply engage young people with their world and the world beyond what they immediately know, and fairytales are wonderful in that regard[/pull_left]

Deliberately avoiding a linear narrative, this six metre high work offers a chance to escape into the wonderful world of the unknown, a chance for children to engage in sensory exploration through story.

“The children put on the headphones and they are endowed with the characters,” says Myers. “Its magical watching them make their way through the different scenarios, completely immersed in the moment and the drama of finding out what happens next.”

With the recent spate of new works created for young people, increasingly in collaboration with Indigenous youth, The Story Thieves comes at an appropriate time.

“Because it is made with Jungian undertones and entwines a number of storytelling genres there are massive links across all types of cultures,” says Myers. “We aim to work with, and deeply engage young people with their world and the world beyond what they immediately know, and fairytales are wonderful in that regard.”

As more arts companies develop youth specific work and engage with young people from across a range of communities the calibre of Australia’s interactive theatre works for young people is on the rise. Windmill are certainly playing a leading role in contributing to these exhilarating new forms of performance engagement.

For more information on Windmill Theatre Company, visit

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