Polyglot in Abu Dhabi

Construct a cardboard metropolis at Polyglot Theatre’s ‘We Built This City’show

Kids tired of being told to sit quietly and watch the show will love ‘We Built This City’ next weekend at NYUAD. Children are encouraged to climb over boxes, build them to the sky and then tear it all down in a joyous clamour.

Parents, have you ever been intrigued by children who would rather play with the box than the toy that comes inside the box? Polyglot Theatre is, too. As Australia’s leading theatre company of experiential, interactive and installation art, kids are invited to turn ordinary things into extraordinary creations and celebrate the wild possibilities of the imagination.

Guided by performers wearing hard hats and acting as construction workers, you will be part of the show. Prepare to be given a role as architect, creator, performer and demolisher to construct a magnificent metropolis on NYUAD’s East Plaza using nothing but thousands of cardboard boxes and your imagination.

Sue Giles, creator of the Melbourne-based Polyglot Theatre, explains, ‘Each performance sees a created city evolve: buildings go up, are torn down, redesigned, extended, walked through, jumped on and reconstructed; the participants make tunnels, archways, towers, labyrinths and warrens as each family puts their mark on their own cardboard city.’

‘“We Built This City” is meant for ages one to 100. But we also have a special section set up for tots under three so the littler ones can play safely,’ says Sue. She cautions, ‘This is not a drop off activity though. Parents are expected to stay and play. Building with boxes taps into childhood memories and memories of play and adults enjoy it as much as children.’

Sue adds, ‘It’s a reminder for adult audiences who used to play in backyards of just how fun that was. I think a lot of kids now don’t get that. For one thing, many kids don’t even have backyards. A lot of them have amazing entertainment systems but they don’t know how to ride a bike or climb a tree,’ said Giles. ‘We take pleasure in reintroducing the simple stuff and reminding families how easy it is to have fun together and how it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.’

With music underscoring the action, ‘We Built This City’ is an interactive play space for families that celebrates the simplicity and power of children’s imaginations. On the last day of each ‘We Built This City’s’ tours, a final cityscape is built, using every box left. Then everyone joins in trampling the city into an artfully chaotic heap of rubble. The boxes are then collected for recycling.

Sue adds, ‘There is something primal about the tear down. It’s similar to when a child spends hours building a sandcastle only to spend seconds stomping it back down. Adults have so much trouble with this concept. We lose the joy in this destruction as we age. We want you to get it back and relish stomping the city you built.

‘I am sure there is a coffee table book of photos just waiting to happen from this series,’ Sue laughs. She says, ‘Taking ‘We Built This City’ on the road internationally has been fascinating. Different cultures respond so differently to it. For example, in Melbourne, families build roomy houses with big backyards. In Singapore, the children engineered soaring skyscrapers. In Washington DC, teams of children stacked boxes into structures that resembled monuments and then took souvenir photos in front of their creations. They were the most reluctant to tear them down. In effect, they recreate notions of their city.’

Sue adds, ‘We are all excited to see what Abu Dhabi’s families will create. In such a new city, filled with so many people from such a variety of places, this could be the most unusual city ever built in the series.’
Free. Oct 8-11; Oct 15-17. Tickets available at www.nyuad-artscenter.org. Six-ticket limit per person. Arts Center East Plaza, NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. nyuad@nyu.edu.

By Liz Totton
Time Out Abu Dhabi,