Over the past decade or two, Don Winsor has been on a journey that ultimately led him from the Great Plains to the Land Down Under.
As an actor who took whatever work came up, Winsor lived a sort of transitory life until he landed in Melbourne about a year and a half ago.
And things have been good for him in Australia.
Winsor was recently cast in Opera Australia’s production of “My Fair Lady,” where he will be mentored by director Julie Andrews. The announcement is the latest in a series of theatrical accomplishments for the Burns, Kan., native, who is starting to build a career in the Australian theater world.
“To me, Melbourne has many of the things I love about New York without a lot of the things that I grew tired of,” Winsor said in a recent phone call from his home in Melbourne. “The city is definitely a world-class theater city. The work that goes on here is second to none in many respects.”
Winsor grew up on a farm outside Burns, graduating from Peabody High School in 1992. He then studied at Butler Community College – under the tutelage of Bob Peterson and Phil Speary – before leaving in search of theater work.
He soon found a job with the Great Plains Theatre in Salina, which taught him a valuable lesson, he said.
“It was very influential in seeing it as a job, rather than some sort of calling or lifestyle,” Winsor said. “When people ask me am I doing this to become famous,” Richard Esvang, founder of the Great Plains Theatre, “said no, I’m doing this to pay for my truck and to make my house payment. The fact that I enjoy it is a benefit, but you have to treat it like a job.”
Winsor left Kansas in 1996 and moved to New York, where he stayed until a brief return to Wichita in 2004 when Ted Morris, then-owner of the Crown Uptown, brought him back to play Harold Hill in a production of “The Music Man.”
He’s worked in national theatrical tours including “Mamma Mia!,” on symphony tours, cruises, in film and television and solo concerts.
Winsor moved to Australia with his girlfriend – a native of the country – where he knew almost no one.
But then he started landing lucky breaks in Australian theater productions.
Most recently he played the role of Thomas Andrews in StageArt’s Australian production of “Titanic: The Musical,” in July.
Winsor, who will start working with Julie Andrews on “My Fair Lady” at the end of February, has also booked upcoming work in an Olivia Newton-John biopic and a Hot Wheels advertising campaign. In “My Fair Lady,” he will be covering, or understudying, the role of Henry Higgins.
“It’s not a huge, vocally demanding singing role, but there’s a lot to it,” Winsor said. “They always make sure the covers are up and ready. Covers go on regularly.”
He said he never imagined himself working in Australia, but he’s grown fond of the country.
“If you asked me five years ago if I was going to do this, I might not have been shocked but I certainly would have been surprised,” he said. “The fact that I have been able to do reasonably well in the industry here so far and begin to get work and find my feet is a real added bonus. I wasn’t sure if that would happen, because it’s a very different market and I have an American accent.”
Most of the work he’s done so far has required him to use a British accent, he said.
But Winsor has not totally forgotten about Wichita – he and local actor Ray Wills are working on a new theater venture, Kansas Radio Theatre, in collaboration with Mayor Jeff Longwell and the city.
That project should come to fruition later this year, he said.