Polyglot Spot – edition #11

Curious creative community during COVID-19 

A production photo from Tangle. An artist with short hair, wearing a pink ruched costume, grins toothily at the camera with his arms raised. Behind him are the golden Tangle poles, covered with green, black and red elastic. Four small children are visible in the background.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Artistic, production, administration, governance. At Polyglot, and indeed in most arts organisations, each of these areas is informed and enriched by the others. We wouldn’t be able to create the work that we do without this symbiosis. This week we discover what Production Manager Hannah Murphy keeps in her car in Meet Polyglot, Artist Emily Tomlins delves into some special Story Map memories, and Marketing Coordinator Erica Heller-Wagner shares a working-from-home tip that has fluctuated with the restrictions in Melbourne. 

Photographer: Theresa Harrison


Meet Polyglot

Meet the team that powers Polyglot. CEOS, creatives, production, admin, board. We work together to keep the colourful cogs turning!

Name: Hannah Murphy
Title: Production Manager
Years with Polyglot: Just over five years

A baby photo of Hannah Murphy. She is wearing a pink shirt and floral overalls, and a toy fire truck sits in front of her.Hannah dressed in a pirate costume made from brown paper and masking tape.

What is the ‘elevator pitch’ description of your role at Polyglot?
I do pretty much anything production-wise. Making or organising costumes and props, sourcing materials (like tiny Bluetooth speakers), fixing the office stools…

What is something about being a Polyglot artist that would surprise someone who doesn’t work in the arts?
Probably the weird sorts of things I keep in my car. I have a tape measure, at least 20 metres of rope, four rolls of different tape, some pool noodles, and a USB with various cat meowing sounds and four hours of Australian rainforest ambience.

What part of your work with Polyglot do you most look forward to?
I always look forward to watching the artists engage with the kids. The Polyglot artists are so open to anything the kids say or do, and they unhesitatingly commit to the children’s imaginations. Seeing kids get such a kick from a grown adult being a shark and stealing shoes never gets old.

What and where did you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts specialising in Production Design Realisation at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).

What are you missing about the Polyglot office?
My visits to the Polyglot office tend to be pretty sporadic. However, I very much miss unknowingly visiting on someone’s birthday or a celebratory morning tea. It seems like most weeks… there’s always lots of tea, a lot of chatter and an amazing cake (looking at you Erica and Olivia)!


Story Map

Building a collection of memories to savour our history

A screenshot from a Polyglot artist Zoom meeting. Twenty participants are visible.

Emily Tomlins

I have so many favourite memories from my time working with Polyglot.

There’s that one time I spent fifteen minutes in complete silence with a ten year old, placing paper on to a sticky-tape wall in Sticky Maze. All the while in a deep connection with her, listening to the music and sounds of the space, focus unbroken, sheer joy on both our faces; being watched by her grandmother in excited disbelief. There was that other time where a nine year old boy on the Autism spectrum made a new friend in Separation Street after his parents reluctantly let him go on the journey unaccompanied; afterwards happening upon the new friends and their parents having lunch together at a cafe down the street. There was that time in Yogyakarta, Indonesia where the local children got to experience theatre for the first time, free of charge, and gleefully cheered and clapped and laughed through the entire show.

There were all those times, where after spending the whole thirty minutes of a session of Ants terrified, a tiny nappy-clad child would finally pluck up the courage to waddle over and one-handedly, arm outstretched, pass me a crumb, whilst inside my Ant head my face would start to leak tears of pride and joy. There were all those times I got to travel to faraway places and meet new people and connect with more and more children and understand new cultures, alongside brilliantly fun and unendingly silly people. There were all those times where I was privileged to collaborate with some of the most talented and advanced minds and hearts of our industry. There was that one time when I found an ad in a newspaper (no less!), back in 2008, and answered it and was welcomed into a community of theatre-makers that I never knew existed and never ever want to be without again.

My most recent memory of Polyglot, however, looks a little different to those other memories. It isn’t connecting with children, or travelling to faraway places, or making work in a room with brilliant collaborators, or watching the firsthand effect of work on children that is truly made with them in mind.

My most recent memory of Polyglot is a Zoom meeting. A Zoom meeting filled with all of those familiar faces and brilliant minds now physically at a stand-still in their own personal spaces. Spaces that have become almost as familiar to me now as the faces they are home to. Yes, this is hard. I’ve spent months turning the page of my diary to a new day to cross off another flight detail and load-in notes of yet another cancelled tour. But in a year where my last memory of Polyglot may have been back in March, where I spent a couple of hours in Bendigo with some brilliant theatre making students, creating cardboard play spaces, memories of 2020 Polyglot fill my heart and mind.

Because when things went awry and all of our gigs were cancelled for the foreseeable future, Polyglot called a meeting. A meeting of their artists. And then another. And then another. And then another. They asked us how we were. We asked each other. We checked in. Over and over. For the last four months we have met, almost every week. We have played, we have laughed, we have cried. Through funding cuts, COVID-19, cancellations, confusion and uncertainty, we have met. When we got “bored” with talking about our feelings, we started to look outwards at new possibilities. We talked about our industry, our future, how we could still reach children, how we could adapt. And we are.

In a recent meeting, Sue outlined all of the projects that Polyglot is currently developing. I am lucky to be a part of a couple of them. They are many and varied. All of us working hard, in those little spaces of our own, connected via Zoom and phone and email, spurring each other on with silly hats and sequins and masks and virtual backgrounds. Because we may be currently at a physical standstill, but the work continues. And it continues because this company kept us close.

So, my most recent memory of Polyglot may also be my favourite. It encapsulates everything I love about this company. It is about connection and collaboration and continuation. It is the reason I don’t really see Polyglot as a company I “work” for, but rather as a family.


Working with restrictions

Achieving and retaining clarity and focus while working from home

Sneakered feet on a road, jumping.

Erica Heller-Wagner

I really like to demarcate my ‘work’ and ‘home’ time by doing something physical. I go for a short walk in the morning (hooray for two exercise hours per day!) by myself to soak in some sun (or rain!) before I start work at my desk in the living room. And then I go on a longer walk with my partner once we’ve both finished work for the day. That walk lets us decompress, muse and reflect on our day’s work, and clear our heads before we get home and busy ourselves with the important tasks of making dinner, socialising remotely with our friends and family, getting our hands dirty in our little courtyard garden or continuing the never-ending task of tidying our spare bedroom.

Photo by Guillaume Bolduc on Unsplash


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