Polyglot Spot – edition #3

Curious creative community during COVID-19

A screenshot of the Polyglot Story Map. It is a depiction of a world map, with the ocean shown as light blue and the countries in white. The names of the countries are in pink font. There are red target points dotted across the map, as well as pink circles with white numbers displayed in the middle.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Polyglot has travelled the world, bringing joy and creativity to children everywhere. In 2018 we turned 40, and to celebrate we created a Story Map. This is a special place where our fabulous community of audience members, supporters, friends from around the globe, artists, production crew and staff can share their favourite Polyglot stories. We’re building a collection of memories and photos as a way to remember our history while we forge ahead into the future. We’d love your Polyglot story to join the others on the map – you can add it here.

This week, Polyglot Spot features Story Map reflections from artist Tirese Ballard and producer Julie Wright, and a working-from-home tip from Executive Director Viv Rosman. We hope you enjoy – please let us know what you think!


Story Map memories

Tirese Ballard, Polyglot artist


Tirese Ballard, dressed in blue overalls, a red t-shirt and a red safety helmet, with three children wearing colourful t-shirts. They are all dancing. A huge wall of brown cardboard boxes looms behind them. It is raining and the four people and all the boxes are wet.

When working on one of Polyglot’s interactive performance play spaces with kids, the structure and environment cleverly supports a range of possibilities and opportunities between artists and children. Within one session you may experience a treasurable one-on-one play with a child, with a small group, or even a very large group.

In 2019 we took Paper Planet to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and I recall two delightful memories that demonstrate these possibilities. We had researched what animals were important and familiar to children there; and I built a cave and adopted a half wolf/half coyote character.

There was a boy around 11 years old who was hitting and kicking and dissing what other kids were doing. I found a way to invite him into the cave and asked him what his favourite animal was. He reported, “The bear is my spirit animal.” Recognising and seizing a window of opportunity with a child can turn everything around. Soon we were talking everything about bears and he tenderly talked about his spirit animal and what it meant to him. Eventually he relaxed and decided, “A bear, I want to become a bear”; then his friend wanted to become a bear and the making and playing was on! They became The Brother Bears and it was a joy to see them go off on their own independent adventure.

In another encounter as the half wolf/coyote, a small group of about six girls aged around 9-10 years, all with matching plaits and shiny and excited eyes, dived deep into the role play of a wolf/coyote pack. No human language was used, only barking and howling. We woofed business, played ball, built a fire and toasted marshmallows; and created greeting rituals by touching noses with our long paper snouts. We moved as a small pack around Paper Planet and went under the waterfall past Beaver Lodge and back to the cave our home base. We made blankets out of big pieces of paper and had naps, ate, and told stories until the moon came down and the session ended, and we parted ways.

One of the ideas that excites me about Polyglot shows is working visually with the best of what a material can do to create unique artwork. In 2017 we took We Built this City to Pittsburgh in the US. It is here that I recall a brilliant large group encounter that was an absolute hoot. We were blessed to have rain hold off until the last day in the afternoon where everyone and everything got drenched. This provided an opportunity to really see what else cardboard boxes can do and the artists and kids charged at the task. I found my builder self with a large group of about fifteen little builders hell-bent on ‘moulding’ mushy boxes into a small arena with an artful Gaudi-like sagging archway entrance. A dance party was instigated, everyone was invited, and we boogied until the soles of our shoes could take no more. It was a fabulous ending to the season.


Julie Wright, Producer

Julie Wright is a blonde woman in her early thirties wearing blue jeans, a black singlet and a blue scarf. Her young son Hugo has dark hair and is wearing blue jeans and a green shirt. They are sitting close together smiling, amongst a huge tangled web of colourful elastic strands. Colours include pink, red, white, yellow, light blue and light green.

It was January 2011 when I took three excited preschool aged children on the tram to Arts Centre Melbourne for the ten-year anniversary of Polyglot’s We Built This City. Many years earlier, before I had a child, I had seen this work at ArtPlay and thought it was amazing. So it was super exciting to take my son Hugo and his friends to their first Polyglot experience. At the Arts Centre, we were directed down to the Fairfax foyer as the wet weather contingency was put in place. The show was all set up on the Forecourt, but they had to move indoors for the day due to the rain – who would have thought rain in January in Melbourne?

On arrival in the foyer we were handed masking tape by one of the performers (who happened to be a friend of ours!) We helped construct boxes, while the team worked very fast creating an indoor city in the State Theatre rehearsal room. I had worked for Polyglot in a freelance capacity for many years prior, so I knew exactly what was happening behind-the-scenes and was very happy to jump in and help. In fact, I think most of the audience was delighted to be involved in the sea of box construction with the very cheeky performers delegating and instructing us all. It is participatory work after all! The premise for We Built This City is based on children enjoying playing with cardboard boxes more than the toy or game inside, and this was certainly evident as box-making chaos filled the foyer.

When we entered the next room there was a partitioned corner for baby builders. This is where Hugo and his friends built a cubby, a cave, a towering building and a brick wall to avoid having to leave for the next joyous hour. They had the baby builder’s area all to themselves as the rest of the audience chose to go through to the main space filled with thousands of boxes, performers and the band. Being younger, they enjoyed the more chilled area dedicated to the smaller audience members. They absolutely loved it and didn’t want to leave. They talked about it all the way home on the tram and proceeded to build at home with any box they could get their hands on. Hugo’s walk-in wardrobe at home became a cardboard cubby house that we built together (if I recall correctly, I think I may have been quite invested in this build myself).

This was the first of many Polyglot experiences for our family, as I became a permanent member of the team later that year. Hugo has grown up with the company, seeing almost every local performance, attending the occasional tour, being part of PIPS (Polyglot’s Inspiring People Society), consulting with the creative teams to test out new shows, and providing feedback, ideas and thoughts on what does or doesn’t work. There was a period in his younger years when local Melbourne landmarks were known by the name of the Polyglot show he had attended there. Federation Square was Paper Planet, Arts Centre Melbourne was We Built This City or Tangle, and every arts event we took him too he referred to as a Polyglot festival.

Hugo is a teenager now and I have worked with the company for almost nine years as a permanent staff member, with a connection spanning 18 years. I volunteered in my 20’s, then did my internship with Polyglot as a production student at Victorian College of the Arts, freelance stage managed many productions and worked in various roles over the years. On reflection, you could say both Hugo and I have grown up with Polyglot Theatre.


Working with restrictions

Achieving and retaining clarity and focus while working from home

Viv Rosman, Executive Director and co-CEO
Since Day 1 of working from home, the Polyglot team meets daily, Monday to Thursday, at 10am for a staff catch-up via zoom. We’ve done over 50 of these now. We take turns to lead the meeting and to offer a theme or provocation for discussion. We’ve covered dress-ups, show and tell, books and films, cooking tips and professional development aspirations, and, of course we discuss and plan our work together. The morning zoom is an essential marker of the start of the working day – it’s a deadline that’s proven vital at a time when motivation is so easily dimmed. While our energy, collectively and individually, waxes and wanes as COVID-19 restrictions drag on, it’s a rare meeting that doesn’t immediately lift my spirits and remind me of our work’s purpose.


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