The new year kicked off bright and early at Polyglot Theatre, with the office re-opening on 2 January. Since we’ve returned to work, feeling refreshed after a break over the festive season, it’s been all-systems-go for 2018.
We are looking forward to sailing across the country to Western Australia with Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) for Perth Festival in February. The season is sold out, however if you’re still hoping to purchase tickets you’re encouraged to join the waitlist for the best chance of snapping up any that may become available. We spoke to Emily Tomlins, one of the show’s performers, about the upcoming season – read it here.
We are also delighted to share with you that our Artistic Director Sue Giles has written a Platform Paper! Quarterly essays on the performing arts, Platform Papers are published by Currency House. Sue’s work – Platform Paper 54 – Young People and the Arts: An agenda for change will be launched at a Theatre Network Australia and Currency House event on Friday 2 February at Malthouse Theatre. The launch will feature a keynote address from Sue, sector updates from young firecrackers, and an industry panel discussion – Whose Theatre Is It Anyway? The Platform Paper is now available to purchase via the Currency House website.
Early in January, Executive Director Viv Rosman flew to cold and snowy New York City for the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress. Attending as an Australian Fellow, Viv also pitched Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) at ISPA’s Pitch New Works session. Only ten works are selected each year to be pitched – we were thrilled to have the opportunity! Viv has written a reflection on the Congress – read it here. Associate Producer Julie Wright has also recently been in Philadelphia for the International Performing Arts for Youth Showcase 2018, reinforcing our important international networks.
Our 40th birthday celebrations continue this month with a ramble through Polyglot’s past. We discovered some treasures from 2001, including photos and videos from the very first iteration of We Built This City, our extremely popular show Muckheap (which had 16 different casts over its touring history) and our incredible community project High Rise (watch the High Rise video here. In 2001, Polyglot was very much focused on puppetry, delivering performances within schools and theatres, as well as roving. It was a momentous year for the company – Sue Giles was newly appointed Artistic Director, founder and former Director Naomi Tippett stepped down from the Board, we welcomed our first Administrative Officer (taking our number of staff to 3), volunteers contributed approximately 3,300 hours of work, 140 performances were given, and 44 workshops delivered. We are delighted to share Sue Giles’ Artistic Director’s Report from Polyglot’s 2001 Annual Report – read it here.
We hope that you have enjoyed a happy summer and are excited for 2018 to unfurl and take shape. We look forward to sharing our adventures and our birthday celebrations with you in the months to come!
Emily Tomlins has worked with Polyglot Theatre for a number of years, and is one of the three artists who performs in Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) – a co-production with Papermoon Puppet Theatre. Emily was also involved in the development of the show, and is very excited about taking it to Perth Festival.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am a theatre maker, co-artistic director of independent theatre company – Elbow Room, an actor and a facilitator. I am passionate about using theatre to make change and to give voice to those we don’t often hear from. I love the beach, movies, books, exercise and eating whole mangoes.
How long have you worked with Polyglot? How did you come to work with the company?
I started working with Polyglot in 2009. I applied for an audition that I found a notice for (would you believe) in the newspaper. I had only recently arrived in Melbourne from Brisbane and didn’t know a lot about Polyglot, but when I read the audition notice I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I initially started off as a workshop facilitator and then later started doing shows and helping to develop work.
Tell us about the making of Cerita Anak (Child’s Story)…
The making of Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) began way before my involvement. Sue and Ria [from Papermoon Puppet Theatre] collaborated on the idea and then they conducted some developments in Indonesia along with the creative team. I was lucky enough to be asked on board to do a development here in Melbourne at ArtPlay in 2016. We spent two weeks working on the concept and the journey of the piece, trying small sections out on the public every day. We then had another development/rehearsal leading up to the premiere of Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) at the Arts Centre Melbourne in 2017. This has been a very collaborative experience. Every single person involved along the way is a brilliant theatre maker and Sue and Ria created a process and a space in which all ideas were welcome. Like all of Polyglot’s shows, children are at the heart of the creation. We consulted with children and their adults throughout the process of making, so we knew the show would genuinely be about and for them.
What is your role within the show?
I am a crew member on the boat. The boat is the main location for our journey. There are three crew members and each of us are there to facilitate the action, keep the journey moving and introduce some exciting surprises and tasks. We are there to introduce the audience to this magic world. But we are by no means the stars or the central focus of the piece. Our audience, or passengers as we like to call them, are the most important people in this show. We are just there to drive the boat.
What is your favourite part/s of the show?
That’s like asking which part of a rainbow is my favourite part. Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) is such a magical, moving and important piece from start to finish. What I love the most about the whole show is that it works on two very specific and complete levels- one for the children, and one for the adults. It takes each demographic on a very comprehensive journey that they immerse themselves in. They also have a combined journey – one of play and also of care – not only for each other but with their very own newly found community within the boat.
Why are you excited to take Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) to Perth Festival?
It is incredibly exciting that this show will be touring. It is such an important piece of theatre – it should be going everywhere! I love Perth and the festival promises to be a wonderful event. It is known for its high quality of work and for the support the people of Perth show the festival – that sounds like a dream to be involved in.
Have you been part of Perth Festival before?
No I have never been and I am very chuffed to be involved. It has such an excellent reputation.
What other shows are you hoping to see at the Festival?
I am very excited about The Far Side of the Moon as Robert LePage’s work has always fascinated me. NASSIM also sounds like an amazing theatrical exploration and concept. Museum of Water is such a brilliant and fascinating idea – I will definitely go and check that out.
Any stand-out moments from the Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) development or premiere season that you’d like to share?
Every day, performing or working on this piece provided special stand-out moments. The entire team that has worked on this project are incredible human beings and brilliant theatre makers. And our audiences have embraced this show on such a deep level. That’s probably the stand-out for me – the involvement of both children and adults in the journey we invite them on, and the different effect this journey has on both. There is so much emotion and investment in this show, and so many important conversations that come out of it each time we perform. The other outcome is always pure joy from the children involved. You can’t ask more than that as a theatre maker.
Photography by Theresa Harrison Photography
“Under the umbrella of JanArtsNYC, over 45,000 arts professionals head to New York every year to participate in events ranging from arts festivals like Under the Rader, COIL and American Realness, to conferences and showcases such as ISPA and APAP. My primary destination was ISPA – the International Society for the Performing Arts Congress. I’m one of five recipients of what is surely the most exciting professional development opportunity for Australian arts leaders – I have a three year fellowship to attend ISPA, thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts.
The ISPA Congress is unlike many of the national and international events I attend regularly where the focus is strongly transactional – producers and presenters from around the world meet in order to buy and sell performing arts content. At ISPA, the focus instead is on relationship-building and the exchange of ideas. Of course business gets done too, but this is considered a bonus. The emphasis on relationships frames my participation in an entirely different way, and as a result, my sense of development and achievement here, personally and for Polyglot, is much more multi-faceted.
This was my second year attending the NYC Congress as a Fellow. The first day of the Congress is just for the Fellows – this year we were a gathering of over 60 people from countries including Cambodia, Denmark, Zimbabwe and China. There were familiar faces and many new ones, and we spent the day hearing about each other’s projects and passions, and learning about the wildly varying artistic and political contexts in each other’s countries. It’s always one of the best parts of the week.
Whether art can change the world is a preoccupation of many who work in our field and a common question posed at gatherings like this. On Day 1, our cohort formulated the question: what is our role as arts workers to drive social change beyond the arts?” This became our lens for the Congress, and I found myself looking for evidence of impact in every presentation. Our diverse group of Fellows seemed united around a sense of purpose – a sense that while our work may not be changing the world, we know that it changes our communities for the better and has a transformative impact on individuals.
The Fellows are part of ISPA’s ambitious and visible agenda for change as it attempts to transform its membership into one which is younger and more culturally diverse. It’s refreshing to see this agenda placed so visibly onto every part of the Congress. The Fellows are welcomed, championed, and encouraged to speak up. At times, this makes for a feisty dynamic. The politics of representation dominates every discussion. Whose voices are missing? What are the barriers to access and participation – in the Congress, the arts, the world? It feels like our collective tolerance for reinforcing traditional power dynamics is at an all-time low, encouraged by the #MeToo movement and the bursting floodgates of women’s demands for genuine equality.
One of the highlights of each ISPA Congress is the Pitch New Works session – the only session that’s purely about the art. After a competitive selection process, 10 productions from around the world are given seven precious minutes to present to the delegates. I was thrilled that Cerita Anak (Child’s Story), Polyglot’s co-production with Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre was selected to pitch. It’s an incredible honour to have this opportunity – it was the only Australian work and the only work for young audiences, and the Who’s Who of the international arts community was going to be in the audience. The pressure was on!
After endless re-writes, I finally got my presentation down to the correct length, and after an early morning tech session, it was time. Seven minutes hurtled by, and after a few questions from the audience, it was over. At the end of the pitches, all the presenters were set up at tables to talk with anyone interested to know more. I spent two hours talking non-stop – it seemed the pitch was incredibly well received and people loved the look of the production. We busily exchanged business cards and talked excitedly about the possibilities – in Turkey, Germany, Brazil, Japan and more!
I left New York this year feeling like the international network I’ve built over the last 2 and half years has consolidated strongly. It’s such a privilege to travel the world working for Polyglot, despite the challenges of bomb cyclones, airplane food and jet-lag! The travel is made even more meaningful by regularly seeing the familiar faces of international friends and colleagues, whether in New York, Shanghai, Seoul or in Australia. Being at ISPA magnifies these relationships – with a focus on connection and discussion, it confirms that they are genuine, based on respect and curiosity, and far-reaching. I’m looking forward to welcoming many overseas friends to Brisbane in a few weeks for the Australian Performing Arts Market, where we’ll no doubt sweat up a storm in the Queensland humidity and reminisce fondly about winter in New York.”
While birthdays are a celebration for the future, and all of the achievements to come, they are also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on years past. In 2018 we turn 40, and January has been spent perusing old photos and leafing through documents from another time. On our walk down memory lane, we found ourselves in 2001 – Sue Giles’ first year as Artistic Director, and a turning point for the company. We are delighted to share with you, our e-news readers, a special treasure – Sue’s Artistic Director’s Report from the 2001 Annual Report.
“For years one of the stalwarts of theatre in schools, Polyglot has a place in many people’s memories as one of the first times they ever saw puppetry in action. The love affair with puppets happens to some and they never forget it.
Why the form is so powerful is a question that is continually asked by those in the industry and the answers are many. The fact that puppetry can engage people of all ages in a particular, immediate and primal way is unarguable. Besides, it’s a whole lot of fun.
Polyglot Puppet Theatre is in the process of re-inventing itself. We seek to challenge and stretch people’s perceptions of puppetry, the theatre and what value the arts have for our young population. We are determined to engage the public in a diversity of ways – going to where the people are and creating art in unexpected places. In 2001 we embarked upon community projects, free performances as part of festivals and public events and a stronger workshop program to part-way fill the need for training in the field, which is not currently available anywhere in Australia.
Polyglot is more and more seen as a place where questions can be answered, ideas explored and support given. We have been able to foster new work, provide mentoring to emerging artists, and develop strategies with other companies to promote the Arts as a valuable and necessary part of learning and life.
We are very proud of our year’s work. I am very proud that we achieved our goals and kept our heads. A small theatre company is only small in the number of its full time staff – we pulled the most incredible amount of work out of one year and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of excellent people. The artists associated with Polyglot through the various projects over the year are superb and have put in a terrific effort to make the art and get it out there. We’ve asked a lot of them and they’ve always given more; passionate and rigorous about puppetry, about kids and about making art.
The communities, children and audiences we have connected with are always the inspiration to kick big goals. Our volunteers – herding children, stuffing envelopes, playing in the band – they have made it all possible.
Lena Cirillo, the General Manager of Polyglot, has my total admiration. Our big thanks to Tess Natt and Ingrid Laguna. Our board is dedicated, always energetic and working with us to make Polyglot a name for surprise, diversity and excellent theatre for children.
Kids are worth any effort. In 2001 we made High Rise, which became a show about our time for our time. In a period of despair and anger, after September 11th, the Tampa crisis and the scaremongering tactics of the national election, High Rise was a play of hope and celebration and it was full of children with energy, spark and a future. We need to make our art a valued part of our society, to keep telling the stories and feeding the emotions. How else can we cope to understand ourselves?
2001 was a huge year. An explosive year. An emotional year. And so Polyglot continues – stronger, more available, more visible than ever.”
If you would like help us celebrate our 40th birthday, please consider making a special birthday gift to our Birthday Appeal. This will ensure that Polyglot Theatre can flourish into the future, for many more birthdays to come. Plus, every dollar raised for this appeal will be doubled thanks to Creative Partnerships Australia’s Plus1 matched funding.