Polyglot Spot – edition #7

Curious creative community during COVID-19

Three artists and four children running on a lawn at Abbotsford Convent playing a game of 'tag'.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

In this week’s edition of Polyglot Spot, Board member Sandra Robertson muses on the power of generosity during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, Marketing and Communications Coordinator Erica Heller-Wagner shares her great love of collaboration in Meet Polyglot, and artist Tamara Rewse remembers what drew her to Polyglot back when she first met Sue in 2004.

Are you connecting with your community in new ways during this strange time? Email communications@polyglot.org.au if you have a story or thought to share.


Brain Food

Considered commentary – Polyglot and beyond

Large letters spelling ‘Polyglot’ arranged down a sloping lawn at Abbotsford Convent. Two artists wearing yellow raincoats and beanies, one holding a yellow and black flag and the other with a life ring over his shoulders, are perched on the letters with two primary school students.

Fundraising in a once-in-one-hundred-years health and economic crisis

Sandra Robertson, Board member

Every day the news headlines seem to get worse and worse. Coronavirus resurgence, rising unemployment and uncertainty about the future make these incredibly challenging times indeed. This is especially true for the arts sector; one of the worst-affected industries worldwide.

So it seems counter-intuitive that many not-for-profit organisations have just had amongst their most successful end-of-financial year fundraising appeals. But scratch the surface and we’re all being given a refresher course in a fundraising truism – altruism is at the heart of giving. People genuinely want to make a difference for organisations, people and ideas about which they are passionate. And organisations responding to this authentically are building ever-closer relationships with their supporters. Polyglot is one of them.

There’s a re-evaluation going on

Let’s face it, we’ve had lots of time during lockdown to reassess what’s important – health, friends and family, creativity and simple pleasures make us grateful now. And many of us who love live performance are missing it deeply.

There is a challenge to decision-makers to rebuild our economy and society to be better than it was – to invest in sectors that support employment, inclusion, sustainability and equality. The creative industries have a vital role to play in giving voice to these aspirations, and to making them a reality. 

People care about the arts and want to see it survive and thrive

One of the few silver linings for the arts has been the significant media attention it’s received during the COVID crisis. More Australians are aware of economic importance of the sector, its contribution to health and wellbeing and central role in reflecting our sense of ourselves and our values. They are also more aware of the precarious, insecure employment patterns many artists face.

The relatively slow arrival of the Federal Government’s arts relief package, and the loss of four-year Australia Council funding by so many established organisations, has made many people consider that if they value the arts, they will have to take individual action to support those organisations and artists they care about. And that has been happening, sometimes in surprising ways. For example, despite the challenging times, 45% of Polyglot’s incredible donors who gave this year maintained or increased their support for the company from last year; and 47% were new or re-engaged donors.

Arts organisations are making a strong case for support

It’s more important than ever to be clear about the value you are providing as an artist or arts organisation, and to communicate the impact you are making in succinct, creative ways. 

Polyglot has taken this to heart and offers these tips:

  • Employ simple, clear messaging about the situation. In our case, it has been the impact of the pandemic on our touring and presentation capability; and our loss of Australia Council multi-year funding. These setbacks have and will continue to have a significant impact on Polyglot; and with no children’s theatre companies in Victoria now being federally-funded, the impact will be felt on the Theatre for Young Audiences sector as a whole.
  • Engender trust. People give to people and will carefully assess the creative leadership, management capability and governance. Polyglot is addressing its challenges from a position of health, with strong leadership, a well-developed plan and a clear sense of purpose. We’re not going anywhere.
  • Focus on impact. Polyglot’s network of artists is at the heart of what we do. Knowing how devastating the pandemic has been for them, we’ve worked hard to demonstrate our support. We’ve employed artists originally contracted for presentations to instead both rethink existing work and generate new work that responds to the shift to digital, as well as a physically-distanced landscape. 

These are extraordinary times that offer extraordinary opportunities to foster genuine partnerships with supporters. Those that seize these opportunities to connect with honesty, empathy and a sense of humour – and leave behind the transactional mindset – will thrive and create the better world we are all hoping for.


Meet Polyglot 

Meet the team that powers Polyglot. CEOS, creatives, production, admin, board. We work together to keep the colourful cogs turning!
Name: Erica Heller-Wagner
Title: Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Years with Polyglot: I just celebrated my three-year Polyglot anniversary.
Three people sitting in a cardboard frame structure titled ‘SNAPCAT’. One person wears an elaborate cat headpiece, cat makeup and is pretending to lick a paw. The two others wear dark clothes and handmade paper cat ears. One poses with ‘paw hands’ and the other uses a ‘paw’ to pat her face.
What is the ‘elevator pitch’ description of your role at Polyglot?
I get to share Polyglot with the world! I make sure that we are communicating our news and activities with relevant audiences. From updating the Polyglot website to liaising with our presenting partners’ marketing teams, writing posts for Instagram to commissioning photographers to document our work, sending e-newsletters to formatting documents… All in a day’s work!
Who do you talk to each day to achieve what you need to?
I’m in constant communication with Viv Rosman, our Executive Director and co-CEO, who I report to. I speak to our Producers Julie Wright and Rainbow Sweeny regarding any upcoming performance or workshop seasons, and they put me in direct contact with our presenting partners’ marketing teams to discuss any marketing and signage needs. I work closely with our Development Coordinator Olivia Satchell on Polyglot’s fundraising campaigns, check in regularly with our General Manager Kath Fyffe about budgets, and occasionally get to yarn with our remarkable creatives, Sue Giles AM and our artists. I’m also lucky to be in regular contact with a host of external colleagues who work with me to communicate our messages to the world so beautifully: Sarah and Martine at graphic design agency Studio Binocular, George at web development agency Orasy, photographers including Theresa Harrison and Sarah Walker, printers Kwik Kopy South Yarra, academics familiar with our work who I commission to write our Education News articles, publicists, industry peers… the list goes on. I’m a people person, so this is the perfect job for me.
What is something about your role that would surprise someone who doesn’t work in the arts?
Even though I’m a coordinator, I spend a lot of time talking to the CEOs!
What part of your role/work do you love and/or look forward to?
What I love most in the world is collaboration – my partner even included that in his wedding vows. I think it is just so wonderful when people come together in a community to create something that is meaningful. I’m so lucky to work in a company that also values collaboration and shared experiences. A small example would be proofing a significant publication like our Annual Report – I like sending the draft around to my colleagues, collecting and collating all their feedback, and then seeing the transformation of the draft into a final version that we can all be proud of.
What and where did you study?
I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Communication – Theatre/Media) at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, NSW. From 2007-2009, you could find me on campus with my TM comrades learning how to execute collapsing pyramids, creating and recording radio shows, writing essays on the ethics of journalism, shooting short films, reading Australian plays and mastering Photoshop. All the while rehearsing for our extracurricular productions presented in the tiny 99-seat Ponton Theatre. From 2000-2005, I attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, so my passion for theatre was cultivated from an early age.
What are you missing about the Polyglot office?
I miss being amongst the beautiful surrounds of Abbotsford Convent, and getting coffee from Cam’s each morning. I love the way that sunshine fills our office space and dances on the wooden floorboards, I can’t wait to see that again. I miss the catch-up chats in our little kitchen as we all make our essential cups of tea, I’m forever learning new and fascinating things about the remarkable women I work with. And I look after all the lovely plants we have in our office – I miss watering them.  


Story Map Reflection

Building a collection of memories to savour our history

A Paper and Tape workshop production photo in a classroom. A smiling artist with a strawberry blonde ponytail, wearing dark clothes, stands behind two smiling primary school students who are manipulating a handmade paper puppet on a desk. Other students are sitting and watching them.

Tamara Rewse, Artist

In 2004 I was studying Puppetry at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in the inaugural year of the course. We had some showings throughout the year, and at the end of one of these I had the opportunity to chat with Sue Giles. I remember Sue as being full of energy, warm, and a bit brave and risky. I think it encapsulated the shows she was producing as she paved the way for a new generation of interactive works for Polyglot. I remembered as a young artist really admiring her confidence and clarity and hoping that one day, I could perhaps have these qualities.

As a part of the course we went to see a site-specific Polyglot show at Stonnington Mansion in Toorak. It was probably unusual for Polyglot to make such huge puppets and they were certainly impressive! The audience stood outside, watching a 5-metre tall lady in a large dress swish past the grand windows. It was such a fun piece – you could draw your own interpretations as to what was happening within the grounds of this historical home. Mostly it was inspiring to see people working in the field, puppeteering for their job!

Sue spoke to me about being involved in some of Polyglot’s works, but for years it never lined up. Finally, I was able to come in and help create a new show and be exposed to the strong culture of child-led theatre and wonderful, wonderful artists! I think in Australia we survive by being diverse and imagining new ways of working and presenting, which is something that I have seen over the many years I have worked for this excellent company.

When I began working at Polyglot, I saw that big dress from the Stonnington Mansion show hanging in the store and felt humbled to be there as an artist making a new show. I have come a long way with Polyglot since that first meeting in 2004 and I know that after all these years some of those qualities from Sue and the culture of Polyglot have rubbed off!


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