Boutique Theatre are celebrating their 10th production since 2012, and while being one of the most active independent companies in Melbourne, they’re still flying under the radar. They are a savvy young company, using new ticketing systems, presenting bold shows and working towards diversity within the company and their shows. We spoke to director Elizabeth Millington and co-founder Tegan Jones ahead of the opening of their Australian premiere of award winning play by Meg Miroshnik, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls.
For Millington, who is Russian born herself, without the accent or a Russian sounding name, she often sees people struggle to match her to the image they have created in their minds of what a Russian person is.
“Breaking down stereotypes is something I think many of us strive for and this production does just that. This show is very self-aware and plays on societies perception of what Russia and Russian people are all about” she said.
The show, which is all female cast and has a strong production crew of women, has been a great experience for her.
“The script requires actors who are powerful storytellers, not just women, so the rehearsal room is brimming with strong, hilarious and slightly crazy personalities. We also boast a vast range of ages in the cast making it really rewarding to learn and observe everyone’s process. There is a lot of laughter in the room – mainly from me watching the utter terror on the ladies faces as they tackle the pronunciation of Russian words!”
“The story is about how easily we can become victims of our circumstances and the choices we make to either fail or become victorious. Whether it’s sexual freedom or not letting the big bad bear eat you – we are all heroes of our own Fairytale! So I hope that the feminism shows through by not focusing on gender at all” says Millington.
Russia is a hot topic at the moment – politically and culturally.
“We are reverting back to the fearful propaganda of the Cold War where Russia is a mysterious, corrupt dangerous enemy set on destroying the West. We seem to enjoy the romanticised James Bond perception of a country that in fact has become one of the most westernised countries in Europe. This juxtaposition of fact vs. Fairytale is beautifully brought to life in this production. We play to the audiences expectation of vodka and potatoes, only to then give the potatoes eyes!” she said.
She’s worked with the Moscow National Theatre Institute, and trained at the Moscow Conservatorium and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She has since created works for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Federation Square, Poppyseed Festival, Melbourne Fringe, and more, and was a participant of the inaugural Women Directors’ Programme at the Melbourne Theatre Company. The international thinker’s favourite part of the process in this show so far has been tormenting the creative team with insane ideas around staging.
“The production features a number of “magic” elements such as disappearing witches and aggressive potatoes so we have to be very imaginative about how we stage these moments. And this is exactly why one must see this show in a theatre as oppose to on screen – we hope to leave the audience questioning what was real and what was Russian hackers” she said.
She refers to the show as a sassy commentary on all social stereotypes.
“Every character we meet appears stereotypical at first glance; glamorous sexualised Russian mail order brides. But we soon learn their stories are vastly more complex. They are intelligent, powerful people who have learnt from their mistakes and have used their social circumstances to their advantage” she said.
“The male stereotype also features strongly – aggressive, dominating and always on the prowl. Literally bears! It’s an enchanting yet grotesque social commentary, like a Tarantino version of Snow White”.
For Co-founder and company manager of Boutique Theatre, Tegan Jones, this show embodies a lot of the things she loves about the theatre, and it follows the companies desire to have theatre that is inventive, local, relevant, and disruptive.
“The ways it is different is largely to do with the fact the subject matter and storyline are probably wackier than anything we’ve done before (and that’s saying something!), but it also has a nice familiarity to it as we’re working with a lot of incredible people who have returned to work with us again. Liz Millington is back at the helm after directing Abigail/1702 for us last year and she has her own unique brand of immersive, kooky theatre, so we’re pretty excited to see what she has in store for us this time around” she said.
“Like most independent theatre companies, we formed Boutique Theatre for the sole purpose of putting on a little show with friends, for friends without much thought for the longer term. Fast forward to 2017, we’re constantly planning (now years in advance) and refining the day to day operations of the company” she said on the companies journey in five years.
“Building and running a company is certainly not an easy job, so we’ve had our fair share of bumps in the road. Five years on, we’re much clearer on our mission and vision, what to look for in potential collaborators and we’re so much better at strategising and planning”.
At Boutique Theatre they live by three pillars: inclusivity, opportunity, possibility.
“As two women starting a theatre company, we have always been passionate about closing the gap on gender disparity within the arts, so the wider diversity policy came pretty organically off the back of our own personal vision and beliefs and the fact I’m of mixed race. Diversity begets creativity because we’re dealing with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. We truly believe that by ensuring we have a diverse Ensemble and colour blind casting in place we get the very best people in the door and therefore achieve the very best results in our theatre making” she said.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on our 2018 season at the moment and already looking forward to 2019, so that’s keeping us pretty busy. We’ve got a really strong base in Melbourne now, so we’re keen to explore more partnership and residency opportunities in our home town as well as looking to potentially bring some of our work to more regional areas or other cities’ said Jones.
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls plays at Irene Mitchell Studio in South Yarra from 19 to 27 of May. Tickets from www.boutiquetheatre.com.au