How does the idea of quality influence your practice?

Earlyarts continues to explore the importance of quality with Jo Belloli, Associate Producer for early years at Polka Theatre.

Q. Is quality important when it comes to young children's creativity?

Quality is essential to strive for in everything, the more so when you're doing anything with young children, in terms of their creativity you need to always ask; 'what enables them to be truly creative?' in order to find starting points for them to unleash their own creativity. This comes down to quality of materials, time, your own understanding and what it is you trying to do with them.

Quality is a difficult thing as we're always striving to determine what it is. Most of my engagement is working with adults in making theatre for a young audience and the experience involving the children as an audience. But increasingly now a lot of work directly involves research in to their audience, so they have a rounded understanding of who they're working with. It's important to think about your own practice and make it as effective, as honest and as authentic as possible.

Events like the UnConference are good, as it makes you stop and see what other people are doing in their practice, through observation, encounters, time to reflect (even if only on the way home). Plus it makes you reflect on your own practice as well, which is sometimes difficult to do.

The UnConference offers that time to immerse yourself, to meet and encounter but also to stop and reflect afterwards, throwing light on what you're doing.


Q. How do we know what excellent quality practice looks like?

From my perspectives in terms of theatre for early years, it's about honesty and integrity in what you're doing and how you're presenting it. In terms of the delivery of what you're presenting, it's important that there is some honesty and truth about it, that you're not trying to gloss over or simplify, and that there's an openness to your audience, to see what they are experiencing and what they're feeling. When you see some performances you can see the acting isn't so good or the design is just thrown together, you can see that there has been little care and attention paid to the piece, for whatever reason. It's not just about money, it is about care and integrity. You need to keep questioning - do you use what you've got or do you strive for what is right, and how much time do you give to making these choices?

Q. What ideas about quality practice did you take from the UnConference?

What I got from the keynotes was mainly in the video by Jay Pollitt doing yoga and dance with children. It is about taking time to focus and seeing what the benefits of that are, and igniting the concentration and meaning that the children focus on. While the concept is simple, allowing 10-15 minutes in a morning to have something that is both pleasurable and makes your body work in a useful way but also channels your energy and your focus, seems brilliant.

June O'Sullivan was very frank and forthright but delivered her messages in a charming and very honest way. Baroness Estelle Morris and Sir Ken Robinson were fantastic to hear - when you hear their passion and vision you understand that their integrity lies in what we're all trying to do.


Q. How will this change your practice?

One of the things is that you're always wanting to continue to be inventive for yourself and find new ideas and themes. In terms of theatre, you know that there is something in the air that others are doing that creates trends. I think, wouldn't it be great to do something completely original! There are always things that draw you to explore, to excite and inspire your audiences. So, how you can look at these things from a different approach? For me, working across multiple art forms is very important, as is working with children and their parents and engaging in playful exploration that it is not linear. No one wants to get stuck so we're always looking for what we can do differently, exploring new creative ways of making theatre or analyzing what's happening as well, what exactly is going on and how are they doing it.


Q. What advice would you offer to other early years, arts and cultural professionals in developing quality in their work with young children?

Given how much time I've spent in the sector I have seen a lot of work and talked to a lot people and that is where my work has taken me, fortunately. Its given me the time to assess what quality is. Its not always possible for practitioners to have that breadth of vision that makes you reflect on what you're doing and how you can be channelling what you've got to do. In that way the UnConference is very helpful as it gives you the opportunity to see other perspectives and gives you the possibility to reflect on other work.

I've seen a lot and I hope that experience would help mould or steer what I now do. Whatever you come across, it can give you something to reflect upon even if the practice you see does have some flaws within it. Maybe just talking about it helps, we don't talk very easily about it, or just unpacking what it is when you've experienced or written about it. People are very hesitant to talk about quality.

Understanding the context and intention is very important and useful to know as it can prevent you from making gross assumptions.

Jo Belloli was a delegate at the UnConference 2012 and is an Associate Producer for early years at Polka Theatre.