Ever since he picked up a saxophone in Year 4 and joined the school band, Mitchell Old has been champing at the bit to do bigger things. Arts editor Rita Bratovich spoke with the go-getting theatre producer ahead of his next big project, Heathers: The Musical.
You’d need to have rock-solid confidence and a near reckless sense of defiance to even consider starting an arts organisation in these uncertain times: Mitchell Old has both in spades.
“Being self-driven and self-determined and motivated are just something I very much pride myself on, and as much as I’ve been presented with many fantastic opportunities, I’ve also created a lot of opportunities for myself,” says Old. “Being in this industry as a creative artist, it’s essential that you have that drive inside you, otherwise it’s just not gonna work.”
That latter observation has been tested and proven over and again this past 18 months or so, with Covid lockdowns and restrictions hitting the arts industry particularly hard. Old, having already set his sights on a creative career but constantly finding doors closed to him, decided to start his own theatre production company at the beginning of 2021.
“I’ve always been very entrepreneurial, but in many senses, [starting my own company] was driven out of necessity: I had to become a producer and an entrepreneur to make those opportunities for myself, otherwise it was going to take countless more years just to get to the point where I am now,” he says.
Though just 20-years-old, Old has experience and skillsets to draw from. His school and extra-curricular activities have included varied musical and theatrical pursuits as a performer and behind the scenes.
“Having those experiences really grounded me, firstly as an actor and then just understanding theatre and elements of production, and I think that really gave me a good basis for what I’m doing now,” he tells the Sentinel.
Old clearly has a lot of faith in his skills – he’s using his own money to finance productions. It’s one of the drawbacks of having a fledgling company, namely, establishing enough credibility in the industry to attract investors – and other talent.
Having a respected name associated with your company definitely helps, and Old was fortunate enough to attract the attention of director Jason Langley fairly early on.
“So he’s a phenomenal director who’s Sydney based. He reached out at the end of our last production asking to get lunch,” Old recalls. He met Langley for what ended up being a six hour lunch.
“It was fabulous! We connected on such an incredible level!”
Langley then came on board as a creative consultant and mentor.
The Mitchell Old Company is currently preparing to mount their take on Heathers: The Musical. It’s quite a departure from their first show, The Last Five Years, which is an intimate romance musical about two people.
“We were looking for a more broadly consumable show than our last one,” explains Old.
“[Heathers is] about the human experience, but it looks at it through the high school lens and, I think although that might be polarising for some people, it’s absolutely just so inherently human and there’s so much in there that we can glean.”
The musical is based on the 1988 movie Heathers about a selective, snobby trio of school girls all named Heather; a probationary member of their group, Veronica, who keeps trying to prove herself to them; and the surly misfit, Jason, who entangles Veronica in an increasingly sinister campaign of vengeance.
The movie is very dark and has a lot of contentious material in it, but Old says the musical version has a revised text that is quite different. For instance, there’s a song called ‘My Dead Gay Son’ which is sung as a pride anthem by the father of a gay boy.
“There’s just moments like that which are empowering and heartbreaking … it’s a heartfelt, emotionally driven text,” says Old.
The cast of Heathers: The Musical features recent graduates from esteemed institutions around the country including the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Griffith University, the Australian Institute of Music (AIM), ED5International and Brent Street.
One of Mitchell Old Company’s stated missions is to provide opportunities for emerging artists, not only to perform but to get a chance to be mentored by experienced artists.
It may be a small company now, but its founder has big ambitions and, if hutzpah counts for anything, there’s every reason to believe Mitchell Old will succeed.
“We have five shows lined up for next year, and the goal of that is to really cement ourselves in the Sydney scene as a strong force, and then beyond that, that’s when we’ve got a lot of plans in place to really start changing things and really start shaking up the scene a little bit more.”
Heathers: The Musical plays the ARA Darling Quarter Theatre, 3/1-25 Harbour Street, Sydney from Tuesday, 8 February 2022 to Saturday, 5 March 2022. For bookings and further information, visit https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=HEATHERS21.
For more information on the Mitchell Old Company, visit www.mitchellold.com.au.
Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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