August. Two successful international tours completed, three school residencies going strong, community collaboration First On The Ladder kicking goals in Shepparton and Moree, many education workshops rolling out across Victoria, and a quick trip to Sydney for the Australian Performing Arts Centres Association’s 2017 conference (catch the Twitter feed here). With full diaries and lots of suitcases, our fabulous teams have done a wonderful job at taking Polyglot’s unique experiential art to audiences near and far.
In China, Paper Planet folded, scrunched and taped its way from SND Cultural and Sport Centre in Suzhou, to Huzhou Grand Theatre in Zhejiang Province. Elaborate costumes and fantastical creatures were created, with a mix of busy, bustling sessions, and quieter sessions involving intent, focused making. The sizzling summer heat was a shock to our team coming from Melbourne’s cool, grey winter drizzle!
At the same time, Ants pointed their antennae towards the USA, and marched, crumbs in hand, from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts in Colorado. Read our interview with Nisa Mackie, Director and Curator of Education and Public Programming at Walker Art Center.
The sixth and final installment of our Mahogany Rise school residency in Frankston, Victoria, commenced in August. A momentous occasion for all the young people, teachers and artists involved. We spoke to the team to find out more about the 2017 project, and how the residency has developed since it began in 2011. Read it here.
Polyglot’s whirlwind of activity is set to continue in September – we look forward to more adventures both on the road and in springtime Melbourne!
Finally, a big thank you to the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society Melbourne for its generous donation to The Generator! From all the team at Polyglot, we are so appreciative.
INTERVIEW WITH NISA MACKIE FROM THE WALKER ART CENTER
In August, Ants travelled to the US, and performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Integral to the programming of our show was Nisa Mackie, Director and Curator of Education and Public Programming. We had a chat with her to find out more about her role and her interest in Polyglot.
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be living and working in the mini-apple?
I grew up and studied in Sydney (Bachelor of Arts in Arts Management and a Masters in Sculpture and Performance) and also spent a little bit of my early working life overseas in the United Kingdom at a very small arts festival called the Campaign for Drawing. I’ve always worked in Education, Public Programs and Public Engagement and most of my time in Australia was spent across two organizations: the Biennale of Sydney and Casula Powerhouse Arts Center. As far as arts organizations go, the two are poles apart! The Biennale is the world’s third oldest biennial and one of the southern hemisphere’s largest festivals of international contemporary art. Casula Powerhouse is a very locally-rooted multi-disciplinary art centre that takes its role in community engagement and community cultural development very seriously. I guess the Walker Art Center (where I work now in Minneapolis) was interested in both those facets of my practice – that is, my interest in exploring topical issues and ideas addressed by contemporary art as well creating opportunities through art that can directly impact the lives of individuals from a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and abilities.
What does your role at Walker Art Center entail?
The role is very dynamic! I manage a small team of about 10 and together we serve audiences through a wide range of initiatives that include school-based learning, family programs, programs for adults including tours, talks, performances, screenings and more – not to mention the Walker’s world-renowned Teen Program, which was one of the first to be developed in the country over 20 years ago. In addition to this I develop and contribute to broader interpretation and engagement strategies for audiences across all our programming areas.
Can you tell us about the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and the Garden Party?
Having recently completed a $75 million renovation project, which included a sustainable re-design of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Walker has embarked on a summer-long festival of programming to celebrate this new public space. The August Garden Party included live music, art-making workshops for children (and adults) – and of course, Ants!
When did you first encounter Polyglot Theatre?
I first encountered Polyglot Theatre in 2011 when I was working at the Casula Powerhouse Art Center as the Producer of Public and Education Programs. I worked with an inspiring Theatre Producer there named Claudia Chidiac who developed Way Out West – a multi-day festival of performance and visual arts for children. Polyglot performed Paper Planet and it was awonderful and inspiring experience for me as an educator to see how immersed the children were in creative play with the performers.
Why was Ants programmed at Walker Art Center?
Aside from the fact that I fell in love with Polyglot after seeing its work twice at Casula Powerhouse and once at Sydney Festival, the summer Garden Party organically took on an animal theme as we were developing the artist list. It only seemed appropriate considering that the new garden design would attract many more animals (particularly native ones). I also loved the idea that after two years of construction, Ants and their little helpers would return the site of the Walker into a construction space yet again. New things are always being built here, whether it’s by artists, the public or the two working together.
And the best performance that you experienced as a child?
When I was little my parents took me to Indonesia for a vacation. There I saw a Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet theatre) accompanied by the gamelan. I can’t say I remember the plot or probably even understood it at the time but there was something so magical and captivating about the characters embodied by those puppets. The performance imprinted itself in my mind even at that very young age!
For more information about the Walker Art Center, visit https://walkerart.org/
MAHOGANY RISE RESIDENCY
The sixth and final installment of our Mahogany Rise school residency commenced in August. We spoke to the team to find out more about the 2017 project, and how the residency has shifted since 2011.
Who’s working on the project?
At the helm we have Polyglot’s very own Artistic Director Sue Giles, and Sue has a team of Polyglot’s core artists supporting her. Nick Barlow, who worked on the first Mahogany Rise project is teaching the kids about pattern and costume making and is assisting them in the design and construction of their own costumes. Sylvie Meltzer, a relative newcomer to the Polyglot crew is driving the drama and dance elements. Jason Heller is our filmmaker and has been involved in many projects at Mahogany Rise over the years. And Lexie Wood, who has worked on the two previous projects at the school, is on board as Project Manager.
What is the focus for the Mahogany Rise project in 2017?
The title of the project is Altogether. The focus is about validating the individual children in the group, but also about seeing how brilliantly they can work together. It’s about taking a bunch of people with entirely different needs, desires, interests and obsessions, who are together because they’re in the same class at school, and making something good happen between them.
We’re now in the final year – how has the project changed since it began?
In some ways, it hasn’t changed that much because it’s still focusing on the resilience and the confidence of these kids, so in that way the theme hasn’t changed at all. However we constantly change art form – every year we’ve done something very different in terms of visuals, performance, place and space, and have had a different group of artists working on each project. But the aim hasalways been to foster more confident and resilient kids.
What has changed is that during the first project, teachers didn’t know how Polyglot operated and were a bit dubious about the process. Now, after six years, the school community understands how we operate so everyone expects a Polyglot process to be what it is – seemingly chaotic but with a fabulous outcome! And it’s different teacher to teacher as well. There are teachers who really get it and accept it and can see its benefit, and that makes a huge difference.
Any stand-out moments from 2017 so far?
The ‘Cocoon Moment’ has been the most amazing thing that has happened so far and has really shaped the project. This was a moment when we first had our filmmaker Jason with us and we thought we’d just try something and film it to see what happened. We turned the lights off and put on some eerie music. We had kids in paper cocoons all writhing on the floor trying to break free; there were kids moving among the cocoons lighting them with iPhone torches, and the rest of the class sitting around them in a circle all making sound effects with their voices, bodies and feet. The whole group was completely engaged and it was the first time that the kids really saw what was possible theatrically – that their own ideas and energy, when given light and sound and atmosphere, can suddenly turn into something quite remarkable.
Any favourite things about the project?
We love being greeted with such friendliness when we arrive in the classroom, and the great feeling that the kids know us and look forward to having us there and that they can bask in the attention we give them.
The metaphor that has emerged during the process of these kids going from one school into the next and moving through life. It’s a really interesting idea that seems to make sense to everybody involved.
And finally, some of the kids we’re working with this year were in Prep when Polyglot first came to Mahogany Rise and participated in that project – which is brilliant!
For more information about the Mahogany Rise residency, visit http://project.orasy.com.au/polyglotmaps/kids-collaborations/school-residencies/altogether/
POLYGLOT CELEBRATES BOOK WEEK
Children’s Book Week was celebrated at schools and libraries all over Australia from 19-26 August. The Polyglot office is too small for a Book Week parade, so we decided to share some of our favourite children’s literature! Read it here.