In Conversation with Polyglot Theatre’s Sue Giles

    Larger-than-life ants collecting breadcrumbs, a giant tangle of colourful elastic, creature costumes fashioned from brown paper and tape…. Polyglot weave their theatrical spell over the simplest materials, conjuring worlds of imagination that delight children and their adults.

    We chat with Sue Giles, Artistic Director of Polyglot Theatre, about being the new kids at the Convent, their upcoming program at Open Spaces, and Polyglot’s secret recipe for unleashing the creativity of children.

    Tell us a little bit about Polyglot and the type of work you create.

    Polyglot Theatre is Australia’s leading creator of interactive and participatory theatre for children and families. Our distinctive artistic philosophy has placed us at the international forefront of contemporary arts experiences for babies and children up to 12 years. Inspired by the artwork, play and ideas of children, we create imagined worlds where audiences actively participate in performance. We use simple materials to encourage creative confidence and participation. We take over public spaces to create transformational worlds, and we travel far and wide.

    Polyglot moved into a customised space in the newly restored Sacred Heart building earlier this year. How have you been settling into your new digs? What about this space inspires you?

    Being part of this artistic, family-friendly community is already inspiring new ideas and opportunities. We are loving the space – inside and out. The office is beautiful, light, airy and welcoming, and it’s a real pleasure to step through the door. The Convent surrounds (with all its nooks and crannies), the generous contact with nature and people, the variety of spaces, the good food and coffee, the community of creative and cultural minds, shared values – it is a pleasure and a privilege to be here. Environment matters, and we have all discovered new resources of energy.

    Your programs aim to give kids the freedom to unleash their creativity and imagination in unexpected ways. How do you create an environment conducive to creativity for children?

    Openness and access, flexibility and fun, room to move, quiet times and crazy times, respectful relationships, moments to be private, authentic interest, willingness to change, meaningful involvement, beauty, risk, fantasy, and truth.

    What’s your process when creating new work? How do you determine what might appeal to children?

    We have ideas that are inspired by kids’ play or issues that kids are affected by. We also draw from children‘s obsessions and dreams. We always test ideas with kids and with peers, working alongside children as collaborators, consultants and people. They are essentially audience/participant/co-creator, quickly and honestly showing us what works and what doesn’t. Children’s desire lines show us new shapes and new forms. We work to create spaces where participation can thrive.

    Tell us about ‘Sound of Drawing,’ the workshop you’re presenting at Open Spaces this November. How does the program aim to inspire children to create?

    ‘Sound of Drawing’ is a shared exercise where all ages draw together on a big table that has been wired for sound. Wearing headphones, the participants draw with soft pastels, and hear the sound of their drawing magnified. They draw with a very different intention or purpose than if they were asked to draw on a blank paper. Most of us are worried about drawing – having quickly understood that there are good drawers and not so good ones from an early age. Our resulting self-censorship is our greatest barrier to creativity. ‘Sound of Drawing’ takes that barrier away and takes away the sole responsibility for the outcome. The shared work of art is truly spectacular and the headphones create a sense of privacy and introspection that is comforting as well as freeing.

    ‘Sound of Drawing’ has toured throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria. How have children reacted to the work so far? Has any aspect of participant reaction surprised you?

    It is always a pleasurable and highly-creative moment of expression for participants. I think the greatest surprises have come from those older children who are starting to reject the idea of art or participation as something that is ‘not for them’ and this includes adults as well. The surprise is when we can engage those who are standing back or reluctant and see them lose themselves and their awareness in the motions of drawing. It is simple stuff, but on a very basic level it is the stuff that is most important. These small steps to acceptance of the strange or ‘weird’ are steps towards generosity of spirit.

    This will be the first Open Spaces that Polyglot has been involved in since becoming a tenant at the Convent. What are you most looking forward to about the event?

    It’s a wonderful way to acknowledge our place in this community and to let people know we’re here and what we do. Sometimes it’s hard to explain what Polyglot does because the company’s work is so eclectic, dynamic and multi-purpose. Experiencing ‘Sound of Drawing’ and having a conversation is our best and deepest way of bringing new people to the idea of unique arts experiences for kids – why this is vital, what it can be and how important it is to make it as strong as possible.

    What’s in the future for Polyglot Theatre?

    We’re packing our bags for a whirlwind few weeks on tour! First off the block is a return visit to Warakurna in the Northern Territory to continue the development of a new work in collaboration with the Tjanpi Desert Weavers and FORM.

    Then it’s off to Adelaide for ‘Cerita Anak’ (Child’s Story), the show that we created in collaboration with Papermoon Puppet Theatre (Indonesia), at the Odeon Theatre for OzAsia Festival 2018. Together with Papermoon, we worked with local children from a fishing village north of Java as well as children from Melbourne’s western suburbs, to conceive and create this magical, immersive boat journey.

    From Adelaide, we then travel to Abu Dhabi, where ‘Tangle’ is being presented at the New York University as part of the World Performance Festival. Abbotsford Convent visitors may remember Tangle from earlier this year, when it stretched and sprung to life in the Sacred Heart Courtyard as part of the Convent Kids program.

    After this our team heads with our Ants and their crumbs to India for Australia Fest. The Polyglot Ants will be appearing in Kolkata and Chennai in late November.

    Sound of Drawing’ and other kids programs will be at the Convent’s Open Spaces festival on the weekend of 17 & 18 November. You can read more about Polyglot on their website.