The world is an uncertain place at the moment. It’s a strange paradox – at the same time that the coronavirus pandemic is bringing home how globally interconnected we’ve become – online and through travel – many of us are now physically isolated in our homes. We’ve never been more connected yet so far apart. The Polyglot team sends our warmest wishes to all our friends around the world, and especially to all the kids! We are also thinking of people whose employment is affected by physical distancing measures and shutdowns, particularly our colleagues in the arts – one of the many sectors suffering the immediate impact of coronavirus. This time, the show can’t go on, and our sector needs help to stay alive.
One way that we can stay connected, motivated and positive is online. The remarkable Polyglot artists are working hard on some special creativity-at-home hack activities – and we’re thrilled to share one with you today! Help us share the fun and video or photograph you and your family playing with Polyglot at home. Post it on your socials and mention or tag us so that we can all connect. Home-bound hilarity – ACTIVATE. Read more here.
Friday 20 March was World Day of Theatre for Children, which is celebrated and promoted by ASSITEJ International through the message ‘Take a Child to the Theatre Today’. It looked quite different this year, with many families around the world unable to take their children beyond their front door. Our Artistic Director Sue Giles AM, Vice President of ASSITEJ International, wrote a note to mark the day – read this here.
We were excited about a number of projects planned for the upcoming weeks. Sadly these have all been cancelled or postponed, including Boats at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria’s Cranbourne Gardens, Ants at the World Science Festival in Brisbane, and workshops at specialist schools and local festivals. Our community’s health is of utmost importance to us, so we respect the importance of physical distancing and support our presenting partners in the tough decisions they’ve had to make. We look forward to seeing you all again when it is safe to do so.
We were lucky that our season of Light Pickers at ArtPlay for Moomba Festival went ahead as planned earlier this month. One of Polyglot’s newest artists – Afsaneh Torabi – was part of this show and wrote a wonderful reflection about the experience. Read this here.
Polyglot’s team is now working from home – doing whatever we can to keep our projects moving and continuing to make big plans for the future. Our spirits are boosted by maintaining lots of contact with each other, and our dedicated artists and production teams, and by the unexpected conversations and passing smiles in our neighbourhoods. We encourage everyone to take care of your physical and mental health, and to reach out if you need help. Connect with a friend, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Support ACT Wellbeing Helpline (free, confidential phone counselling for workers in the performing arts) on 1800 959 500.
The Polyglot Team
Header photo: Alvin Ho, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
Hands up if you and your fam are hanging at home? We are too! We challenged our ingenious artists to come up with some fun things to do with stuff that’s probably already in your house. Don’t have kids? Don’t worry! These at-home hacks are for everyone! Share photos or videos on your socials and mention or hashtag us so we can all stay connected.
Enjoy ‘Recycling’ by Nick Barlow, with music by Lachlan MacLeod.
World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People (20 March) is an ASSITEJ International campaign, promoted and celebrated through the message ‘Take a Child to the Theatre Today’. It is a day to reflect on children’s entitlement to arts and cultural events, and how necessary these are to their development and wellbeing.
Sue Giles AM, Polyglot’s Artistic Director, and the Vice President of ASSITEJ International, reflected on how this day was marked differently in 2020.
Every year we celebrate World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People with the Take a Child to the Theatre today campaign. Well, that didn’t happen this year… not on March 20, 2020. But right now, all over the world, people are creating different ways to engage and entertain children who might be stuck at home and not allowed to gather in theatres and festivals, or at performances of any kind. Videos of theatre shows, people reading books or creating music, showing children how to make and create, doing play readings, providing puzzles, interesting news, audio stories, the list goes on. Theatre makers creating imaginative ways for children to be drawn into fantasy, fun and delight. In Australia we’re doing the same – collecting resources and videos to share, encouraging creativity at home and simple ways to transform a moment or a lounge room. In this strange and disturbing time, children’s resilience and sense of hope needs to be fostered in any way we can.
But the premise of the Take a Child to the Theatre campaign remains the same – children do not have access to these resources unless the adults around them make it possible. We are the gatekeepers of the child’s involvement – the enablers! And when this all blows over, theatre for young audiences will be there, to draw our youngest and most vulnerable back into joyful shared experience, without fear.
Since we launched our World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People campaign, which leads up to the 20th March, with the slogan #Takeachildtothetheatre, much has changed. For many children in many parts of the world it is not practical, possible or advised to take children to the theatre, and many children will be spending days indoors, shuttered away in their own homes, without opportunities for connection or for stimulation beyond what the television can provide.
But spare a thought for those children who do not have comfortable homes to which they can be sequestered, who do not have parents with resources to provide them with televisions, books, LEGO sets, gardens or pets to keep them occupied. Children whose daily reality is a single room shared with many others, with very few personal belongings to call their own. Children without access to running water to wash their hands as often as is recommended, and certainly no access to expensive hand-sanitisers. Children, who are not going to be able to learn from home through online means, as they have no access to the internet. Children whose only secure meal comes from the school which will now be closed for a period of time. And of course, while their health is less likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic than those of their parents and grandparents, who will be looking after them if their parents and grandparents fall ill or die as a result of complications from Covid-19? And less dramatically, but as importantly, families whose lives depend on the earnings of someone on daily wages, who, if laid-off or told to stay home, will have no resources to fall back on under lengthy quarantine-like conditions.
The solutions the so-called developed world is finding to face Covid-19 are not always replicable in many countries and contexts. The challenges can be even more intense.
In this time, we need to call on the qualities that theatre (and other art forms) can cultivate in us, – those of compassion and empathy. More than ever, we need to think about our neighbours, our communities and those with access to the least. We need to match our energies and efforts to what is responsible, what is caring, what is appropriate to our conditions and situations, wherever we may be.
And we need to call on finding every ounce of creativity! Instead of taking a child to the theatre, we can read a play aloud, act out scenes at home, create opportunities for imaginative play with whatever is at hand, and where we can use or add to the vast and growing online resources of theatre and arts experiences, to do so. These may include mother tongue storytelling and book reading, videos of productions, animated movies, creative arts workshops with everyday resources etc, and ASSITEJ will be creating an online resource of these as we go, so we call on all our members to contribute to this.
Let’s remember that the quest to #Takeachildtothetheatre is not a once-off request, dependent on a single day. This is part of an ongoing, global campaign to give more children everywhere access to meaningful artistic experiences. Let our 20th March 2020 be about getting this message out to all who need to hear it.
And let Covid-19 be a comma in a sentence in the story of humanity’s fundamental need for and engagement with the arts that will continue to unfold ongoingly.
Photograph: Alvin Ho, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Written by Afsaneh Torabi
Late last year, I had the fortune to be swept up in Polyglot’s gyre as a performing artist. The company’s reputation for captivating child-led experiences had glittered its way through the industry to me for a number of years, and now I had the opportunity to enter a Polyglot experience myself as a performer for Light Pickers.
What I discovered is that Polyglot manages to balance the scales of making a theatrical arena where children have the freedom to make decisions, express and be seen/heard whilst also creating the right conditions in that arena for play to really thrive; complicit performers, robust and simple materials, cohesive design, open and inclusive spaces. The balance of these makes an experience where imagination can blossom, connection can take place and play can guide.
Light Pickers is just this. A fantastical illuminated world coloured by the imagination of each child as they enter.
Our season at ArtPlay, programmed as part of Moomba’s activities for 0-5 year olds, offered a haven of sensory immersion so vastly different to the clamour and pace of the world outside. The doors would open and let in the flood of sounds and light from Birrarung Marr as families entered, and then they would close, embalming us in the gentle soundscape and easing us into darkness dotted with the brilliant glows of mysterious lights.
The immediate cacophony of “oohs”, “aaahs” and “whooaaas” by the audience as the space was revealed would develop gradually into the curious prodding and peeking of the children and babies as they explored, erupting on occasion into a sudden exclamation of joy with a star-jump or by wriggling over the soft glowing mats towards their favourite object. Underwater. Outer space. The future. Antarctica; every child was free to interpret the enigmatic space as they wished.
Slowly the attention was drawn to the centre where the “Light Pickers”, four light-clad inhabitants, were encountering an unusual arrival as it descended into their world from above. These luminescent objects seemed to take on a life of their own as they shifted and spread out in the space. Then, play ruled. Purring oblong lights became a school of darting fish or soaring rockets, vines of luminescence became wriggly worms or glowing pools to skip through, creatures rose and scattered then rose again as the Light Pickers morphed their bodies and objects into countless shapes and guises.
It was thrilling to watch the children discover and create different ways to engage with the space and each other. An object might roll across the space gathering the attention of children and suddenly a game was underway. During one show, a child returned to their family after having set off to play, hand-in-hand with a friend they had just made, their family in tow. The two families exchanged names then sat together and continued to play as a group. This cohesiveness and inclusion became for me the most marvellous aspect of the show.
As a performer, the show allowed me the flexibility to respond to each bubble of play as it rose and adapt to each child according to their world; to scoot around on my knees with a 5 year old, to crawl with a toddler and to simply sit with a mesmerized baby and allow them to take it all in.
Opportunities arose to support the imagined world of the child and could be taken up swiftly. A neat little moment in one show had a child of 5 trying to touch a glowing vine suspended out of his reach. After many jumps he stopped and focused up on the vine with all his attention. When the vine was lowered by an invisible pulley, the wonder at possibly having lowered it with his willpower was evident on his face. I gave him a nod of respect to celebrate his achievement and he smiled proudly.
The challenge of course was always to be ever-more present, ever-more closely listening, waiting for these opportunities to bud and responding to them with all one’s own play over rehearsed ideas.
Photograph: Theresa Harrison Photography