Curious creative community during COVID-19
Wednesday 2 September 2020
As Melbourne itches to be free of Stage 4 restrictions, Polyglot Spot goes behind-the-scenes for some interesting perspectives. General Manager Kath Fyffe crunches the numbers in Business as Unusual, we get to know Artist Ashlee Hughes in Meet Polyglot, and Production Manager Hannah Murphy shares her hilarious first experience working on Paper Planet.
Photographer: Alvin Ho, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Governing a theatre company through a moment in history when theatre as we know it is impossibleCrunching the numbers
Kath Fyffe, General Manager
Working with numbers (particularly those preceded by a dollar sign) is a big part of my role as General Manager at Polyglot. In a typical week I spend time adjusting budgets, making sure I’m across everything that travels in and out of our bank account, and considering how this all relates to the bigger picture.
For the first few months of 2020 the numbers followed fairly predictable patterns. The coloured bar charts and cash flow reports all looked as they should, which to me is a lot like a familiar city skyline. Then the pandemic hit and almost all aspects of how we work changed, and with that so did the numbers. Like many other arts organisations, shows were cancelled or postponed when gathering together was put on hold, and international touring became unthinkable. The bar chart started to change as quite a few of the buildings in the skyline fell over.
One way of containing the enormity of change occurring was to maintain the usual processes and cycles for monitoring and adjusting the numbers, even when the shifts were dramatic. Our Executive Director/co-CEO Viv and I made multiple versions of budgets with and without the grants and subsidies we hoped to secure. We analysed how the outcomes would affect Polyglot now and in the future. More than once we completed a report only to have it be usurped by new information the following day. The bar chart was certainly dynamic!
Of course, numbers don’t exist in isolation. At Polyglot numbers are always connected to people. The bar chart is there to show us how solid a base we have to achieve Polyglot’s mission. It informs how many children and their families we can connect with, how many artists, production and office staff we can employ, and how long into the future we can keep that mission strong.
Led by a skilled and committed team and supported by a variety of funders and donors, Polyglot is well positioned to adapt to change. Even while currently working and living under strict stage 4 restrictions, our eyes are firmly fixed on the skyline of the future, whatever shape it may take.
Photographer: Mitchell Luo via Unsplash
Meet the team that powers Polyglot. CEOS, creatives, production, admin, board. We work together to keep the colourful cogs turning!
Name: Ashlee Hughes
Years with Polyglot: 6
What is the ‘elevator pitch’ description of your role at Polyglot?
Polyglot artist. Cubby builder, space maker, collaborator with children. Often found playing in a paper forest habitat camouflaged with a paper costume. The role is as varied as dressing as a cat living in a pyramid, to carrying footy flags around a footy oval with a bunch of kids.
What is something about being a Polyglot artist that would surprise someone who doesn’t work in the arts?
That it is hard work. Often people come up to us and say, “wow you get to have fun and play all day, I’d love to do that!” This is partially true, we do get to play, and it’s mightily fun, but it’s also lots of hard work. Skilled creation goes on behind the scenes from all of the professional artists. There is lots of hard yakka and physical work bumping in and out a show. What we do involves many talented people from sound designers to techs, production managers, the amazing office staff and artists, all working together to create an experience.
What part of your work with Polyglot do you most look forward to?
Collaborating with children. Being a part of work that really recognises the voices of children and listens to what is important to them, what they find interesting, and really delving into that world. Stepping into a work and knowing that it will be different every time. I never know what discoveries or surprises might present themselves. Adapting, creating on-the-go, following children’s ideas and impulses. Working with children and other artists changes and morphs every idea into something you could never have expected. I really look forward to this.
What and where did you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Production (Backstage Arts) at VCA, I had a focus on props and set making and design.
What are you missing about the Polyglot office?
I’m missing seeing people from Polyglot in real life. Our work is often so physical and hands-on – I’m missing the tactile nature of collaboration with other artists. We make things together, we pretend to be turtles crawling over each other, or work closely with groups of children. I can’t wait to be able to do that again.
Photographer: Mark Gambino, courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
Building a collection of memories to savour our history
Hannah Murphy, Production Manager
The first time I was part of Paper Planet was at a children’s festival in Berwick. We were set up inside a function hall, outside a football field. The festival had a giant slide, a chair swing ride, fairy floss and snow cone stalls strewn across the dry, grassy oval. The energy of the kids coming through Paper Planet was 100%. They had blue-stained mouths and sticky fingers and it was absolutely wild. Mischa was being chased by about six boys wielding paper swords, and Glen was howling through a cardboard tube with a bunch of former kids, who had become half kids and half paper wolves. Stef had seemingly hypnotised a bunch of kids into sitting and making flowers quietly near a paper waterfall. It was beautiful chaos. I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end, but I was absolutely loving it. Rainbow was calmly counting people at the same time as managing stock of paper and tape, all the while dressed up as some kind of tissue paper hobgoblin. Every now and then I’d help scatter fresh bits of brown paper and masking tape, and explain to the occasional parent that no, we didn’t have any scissors or rulers. But I mostly got to make and play.
At one point during the day I became the maypole of Paper Planet. A group of about seven kids ceremoniously wrapped me up with paper and tape. They did a much more thorough job than the doctor who put a plaster cast on my arm when I was nine. Once the ceremony was over, I wriggled my way to our storeroom just outside the paper forest and Rainbow and I hacked at the conical funnel around my legs. I found out later in the van ride home that this tends to be the initiation ritual of new Polyglot artists. Maybe somehow the kids knew I was a newbie…
At this time, I was still studying at university (Victorian College of the Arts). Polyglot had accepted me as an intern, and part of my assessment was a presentation on the company. I can say that no other student had been turned into a recyclable volcano during their internship. I can’t actually remember what mark I got for that presentation, but I do know how important my internship at Polyglot was for my development as a practitioner in the arts. No role is ever the same, you’ll always be thrown into the deep end, and a playful and curious approach is always welcome. And you’ll never stop learning, even from a kid holding a paper emu that looks nothing like an emu.
Photographer: Theresa Harrison