Australian puppet company. Originally named Polyglot Puppets, the company was begun in Melbourne, Australia, in 1978 by Naomi Tippett, who was its General Manager until she retired in 1997. Her initial idea was to respond to Australia’s growing multiculturalism by presenting shows for schools which each used a number of languages, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese and so on. The idea attracted funding from the start. Glove puppets and rod puppets were used and the non-English dialogue was recorded.
By 1983, the company had moved away from muliticulturalism to explore wider social issues for its audiences, which tended to be young schoolchildren and preschoolers. From 1988 to 1994, its co-artistic directors, also performers, were Philip Millar, a gifted puppet-maker and designer, and Helen Lunn, writer. Two very successful productions from 1988 were Tadpole, which they co-wrote, and Almost a Dinosaur, written by Jill Morris. The puppeteers explored all the current puppetry styles for their productions. Millar remained the company’s Artistic Director up to the end of 1995.
The company changed its name to Polyglot Puppet Theatre in 1988 and moved into premises previously occupied by a children’s theatre company. Although most of it shows go out on tour, with two or three performers, Polyglot now gained a cozy theatre space for shows in the school holidays. Chris Dickens, Artistic Director from 1995-1997, continued the school tours.
Gilly McInnes, who had written and directed shows for Handspan Theatre Company, was Artistic Director from 1997 to 2000, and worked to secure Polyglot more reliable funding from the Australia Council. Under McInnes, Polyglot continued its exploration of diverse puppetry styles and also began to give support to shows by young independent puppeteers.
McInnes was succeeded in 2000 by Sue Giles, who had written and directed shows for Terrapin Puppet Theatre in Hobart. Under Giles, the company continued touring to schools but also branched out into site specific performance, large scale community works and a concentration on children in interactive, immersive works that combine puppetry with many other art forms. Two such projects are High Rise (2001), involving the residents of a housing estate with a high proportion of Muslim migrants and refugees from Africa, and based on their ideas and experiences. We Built This City (2001, and on tour internationally for over a dozen years) is an interactive cardboard construction site created by children and their families.
Polyglot now reaches over 60,000 children every year not only in Australia, but also taking work to Asia, Europe and the United States.