Q&A with Sue Giles
After 22 years, you are stepping down as Artistic Director and co-CEO of Polyglot at the end of 2022, to focus on your work as President of ASSITEJ International and as Board member for Theatre Network Australia. From this vantage point, how would you sum up the contemporary landscape for arts companies who create work with, for and by young people?
The landscape currently feels like a rich and steamy rainforest where the possibility of seeing a horizon is limited because of the variety of close up and immediate challenges that you need to deal with as you get swiped by a low hanging vine or bitten by ants, and if you choose a tree to climb to try to get some perspective, there is a real danger of the branch breaking under you. Ah 2022…
That said, I’m also feeling more hopeful than ever before because of the connection and collegiate energy that this extraordinary sector of the arts industry generates. Worldwide, practitioners in this field have shown courage, dedication and determination as they continued to work despite losing livelihoods, cultural focus and funding. The passion for the artform continues to grow and develop in more countries around the world and so much has opened up because of what we’ve experienced – access has increased to connection and exchange, to variety and to different practice.
Our work encompasses variety that responds to the needs of a hugely eclectic audience: multi artform experiences, participation, deep care and interest in healthy cultures of work, children and young people involved in ways beyond the education context, more nimble and eclectic exploration, sensory, digital etc. We work across a massive breadth of ages from babies through to young adults and we work across a huge range of marginalisations. We are fighting for greater awareness of the reach and impact our arts practice has across so many sectors of society, for a population that in every country is neglected and often unheard.
What are some of the key ingredients for building a world ‘where all children are powerful’?
- Respect for the young person no matter their age, culture or ability
- Understanding the whole person, not just their words
- Understanding that with freedom of choice comes responsibility
- Not laughing at
- Time and attention
- Space for authentic collaboration
- Creative confidence
- Access and inclusion
Mix with some serious influence: political conviction that can lead to policy; concern and interest from education, justice, health, welfare; acknowledgement of the power of gatekeepers.
Cook quickly – we’ve got no time to waste.
What might ‘5-year-old-you’ say about your continuing adventures ahead?
5 year old me was deeply interested in imaginative role play, solitary games and putting my mother’s powder on. I think this new stage of how I work offers great possibility to explore some of that deep solitary thinking, and the reminder of the power of imagination. Also I think I will still make use of the makeup… gotta dress for those public occasions.
– Sue Giles
THE GENERATOR ROOM – Interview with Sue Giles
During the summit, Caitlin Baker and Jack Walton led discussions with participants in The GENerator Room, a studio led by 26-and-unders exploring arts engagement, capacity building, and ideas and themes for professional development for young and youth arts leaders.
Check out Caitlin’s chat with Sue below.
To see the full interviews check out the GENroom playlist.
Sue has been the Artistic Director of Polyglot Theatre since 2000, leading the company into new territory with participatory, immersive works, community process and inclusion and interrogation of play in the company’s theatrical offerings for children. She has created and co-created over 40 works for the company since that time. Sue’s distinct child-centred creative processes have been the subject of keynotes, masterclasses, workshops and discussions nationally and internationally. Her works have been performed in 18 countries on five continents.
She is an advocate for Theatre for Young Audiences in Australia as a board member of Theatre Network Australia, and internationally as President of ASSITEJ International – the global association of theatre for young audiences.
Before Polyglot, Sue worked in the theatre sector as director, writer and performer. Her professional career has spanned 40 years. In 2018, Sue received the Green Room Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the Australian arts industry, and authored a Platform Paper for Currency Press titled Young People And The Arts: Agenda for Change. In 2019, she received a Theatre Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts for her work in advocacy, and she was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her significant service to the performing arts as an artistic director, and to theatre for children.