Artistic & Programming
Roman Stefanski - Associate Director
Hello, my name is Roman. You may have seen me around at the theatre because I have been here for over 28 years directing and acting in various shows over the decades. I now work freelance at Polka and help the theatre as a consultant advising on all aspects of puppetry as I have learnt a lot over the years and am now able to advise on how best to present this form of theatre. I still direct and also pass my skills on to drama students at various colleges. I am technically skilled as well and still help with a little maintenance and decorating around the building – currently the 30th anniversary exhibition in the display cases were created by me with help from my colleagues. I love talking with people that visit Polka so if you see me do stop me and have a chat some time.
Jo Belloli - Associate Producer – Early Years
I work part-time for Polka, and have for many years. I think I have a great job. I work closely with Janna, our Head of Education to try to support Jon, our Artistic Director, in planning the most appealing and engaging productions to keep audiences wanting to come to Polka. This involves seeing other theatre productions and meeting other theatre-makers, plus reading books and scripts, and lots of emailing and talking to people! It’s all about understanding what could work well in our two theatre spaces, and how visitors can enjoy a visit to Polka, even if they are not coming to see a performance. I have a very special interest in theatre for very young children, and my favourite part of the building is the Adventure Theatre (although I love our garden, too). I plan the programme of shows that we present in the Adventure Theatre, and I am always on the look out to find new performances to come in, especially for babies and toddlers. I believe you are never too young to come to Polka, and that the keenness and openness of a very, very small person is so great that there is scope for all sorts of theatre experiences. Polka is a great place to work, where we all really care about what we do. There is a team of people here, with all sorts of skills and expertise, plus other colleagues we bring in to help us with each new production. So you’re never working alone. I think I’m very lucky to be a part of it all.
Stephen Midlane - Executive Director
Hello, my name’s Stephen and I’m the Executive Director. I’m in charge of the organisation and management of Polka. That means that it’s my job to make sure that Polka has everything it needs to keep producing the plays, workshops and other activities which you enjoy so much: working out how much money we need and how we’re going raise it; deciding what staff we need (each year we employ about 120 people); making sure that our building is attractive, comfortable and safe; and thinking about the future and what sort of place we want Polka to be in five, ten or twenty years time. I’ve worked at Polka ever since it opened 30 years ago and I can’t think of a nicer place to work.
Amanda Cropper - Development Director
In my job at Polka, I look after Fundraising, Marketing and Sales. This means making sure our audiences know all about the wonderful things we produce and show for children both on and off the stage, and that they feel inspired to see them. What many people don't know is that Polka is a charity. We would struggle to exist if we were unable to raise at least £300k in donations each year. So, a big part of my role is dedicated to letting people know the theatre needs help and finding out how they might support us. Our vision is to 'light up the imagination in every child' through the power of performance. We want to make sure we can continue to do this for the children of today and tomorrow.
Chris O'Kelly - Head of Marketing
Hi, my name is Chris and it is my job to manage how Polka communicates with our audience, ensuring as many people as possible are interested in what we do. There are many ways we communicate, from sending letters and emails, to placing adverts online and in newspapers. I work with our web designer to develop the Polka website and I’m always on the phone to graphic designers and printers, putting together our season brochure. There’s lots of writing to be done, thinking of stimulating ways to describe our shows, and there’s plenty of checking and proof reading (let me know if you spot any spelling mistakes!) For shows produced here at Polka we enlist an illustrator to create a unique new design or drawing to publicise the production. And as with all communication, it’s a two-way conversation, so we also ask people what they think, surveying our audience to find out how we can make Polka even better.
Dawn James- Press and Marketing Officer
My job is split into two halves- press and marketing. I work across departments to promote the full range of our activities and services. The press side of my role includes promoting Polka shows and news to local, national and industry press. I do this by working with the directors of Polka shows to create press releases and marketing copy that reflects the show. I arrange for journalists to come to the theatre to preview shows, meet our Directors and also set up radio/ TV interviews. I also invite theatre critics and bloggers to attend our performances and write reviews of our shows- I then share these with the company and our fans and followers on twitter, and generally spread the good news! I also do marketing which includes managing the Polka website and social media, taking production photography and making video trailers of shows to go online. I also work closely with our designers in the creation of the season brochures, flyers for shows and the programmes you buy when you attend the theatre.
Sonja Lahiff - Schools Marketing Officer
My role is one that bridges many departments here at Polka: Marketing, Box Office and Education. Most importantly I make sure that schools know about all of the shows that we are putting on. To do this I compile the Schools Brochure as well as co-ordinating mailings and e-bulletins to teachers, helping to highlight how relevant our work is to the National Curriculum. I am also a point of contact for teachers who may have any additional questions about bringing a group to Polka, helping to make their visit as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for teachers and pupils alike! I think my favourite part of the job is co-ordinating the Curtain-Up! scheme. This scheme supports schools who cannot afford to bring their pupils to the theatre, by giving them free tickets to see a show, as well as providing an after show talk. For many of these children it is their first experience of live theatre, and it is clear to see how much they enjoy visiting Polka.
Janna Feldman - Head of Creative Learning
My name is Janna and I’m the Head of Education at Polka. I plan participatory and learning activities for everyone who visits Polka including schools, families and young people. It is my job to ensure that there are fun, creative events in the building that everyone can take part in, like free storytelling sessions on a Saturday or holiday workshops and youth theatre sessions. Not only do we have participatory events taking place at Polka for families but we work very closely with schools and teachers to create workshops and large projects that take place at schools. It usually ends up with the schools performing on our stage or creating exhibitions for our building and I manage these. Education is also responsible for supporting teachers on their visits to Polka so I make sure that we create education packs with relevant curriculum links for shows, facilitate after show talks and organise work experience week. I am also responsible for ensuring that children are safe when they take part in our activities. Another important part of my job is about making sure that the projects and performances at Polka are inclusive and accessible to all groups of young people. I work very closely with the Artistic Director and the Associate Producer of Early Years when planning these projects as well as other theatre companies, writers, organisations and with all the other Heads of Department. I also manage our team of freelance workshop leaders and assistants who facilitate these workshops and projects. The best part of my job is when I see children and families having lots of fun in our workshop sessions.
Lucia Jones - Schools and Access Officer
One of my main roles is to book our workshops that go out to schools. We try to ‘tailor make’ these workshops so that we can give the schools exactly what they want. At Polka we have signed performances for all of our main house productions; I book the signers and organise all they will need to prepare for the performance. I also commission a BSL video to help the audience when preparing to see the show and I write a synopsis with photos of all the cast and characters. Polka has pioneered Autism Friendly performances and I liaise with the stage manager and cast to make these performances more accessible. To help prepare for the visit I also make a synopsis and a picture information strip. Each summer we have an education week that brings together our long term projects and work experience week for year 10 students. I schedule the sessions and work with 16 year 10 students during their work experience placement and with all the staff at the theatre, we show how a producing theatre works. It is a busy few weeks but lots of fun.
I love being involved with such a busy and creative department as there is always a lot happening and to get involved with.
Clare Mason - Family Learning Officer
I run the “informal learning” programme at Polka Theatre which means all the projects and courses that are not to do with schools (i.e. the fun stuff!) This means organising the holiday workshops and afterschool drama courses and helping make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time! I work closely with our workshop leaders to make sure they have everything they need and have as in order for the workshop to run smoothly. One of the nicest parts of my job is seeing the same faces come back week in and week out to Polka for our workshops.
I also run the Young Voices Panel here at Polka. I organise projects for them to do here at Polka like the Dragon’s Den and special VIP events for them to come and review shows. I really like hearing their views on how they think Polka should be run, and their ideas on the sorts of plays we should do.
Fran Chabrel - Community Engagement Manager
My job as the Community Engagement Manager means I organise and run events and workshops out in Wimbledon, Mitcham, Colliers Wood and all over Merton, Wandsworth and Croydon. These events let people know all about Polka Theatre and the shows that are on here. We sometimes run workshops in libraries, we sometimes run workshops in youth centres, and we run sometimes run workshops here at Polka. These workshops are fun, and include acting, singing, dance and arts and crafts activities. Some of these workshops include tickets to come and see the shows that are on here as well.
I work very closely with the Janna the Head of Creative Learning, Chris the Head of Marketing, and Leslie the Fundraising Manager, to make sure all of these workshops and events are marketed properly and reaching out to the right people. We often receive money from organisations to help support these activities, so we can run many more in the Community.
I also make sure that different groups of children and young people can come and see World of Music and Stories on the first Saturday of every month here at Polka, and make sure they receive complimentary tickets.
I really enjoy seeing all the new people coming into Polka and seeing how our workshops have benefitted people who might not have been, seen or heard of Polka Theatre before.
Dan Rainsford - Head of Production
As Head of Production I am responsible for the smooth running of our shows. This is a great job, which gives me the chance to work with everyone from directors and designers to suppliers, builders, painters and technicians. It’s an exciting task, helping to take something from a page of script to a full blown production (without spending too much money!), making sure that we have all the costumes, set, props, lights, sound and projections in the right places at the right time, but it’s worth it when just one minute of our work might have an effect on our audience that could last for a lifetime!
As well as working on our shows I help with visiting companies and co-productions both here at Polka and on tour. I also help the team with the smooth running of the building and the company, as well as managing our workshops, where we build the sets for all sorts of shows, both by us and all sorts of other people!
Chris Randall - Technical Manager
My name is Chris and I work in the production department of Polka Theatre as the Chief Electrician. This means I have overall responsibility for all the lighting, sound and special effects that you would see in Polka’s productions. I look after all of our equipment and always look out for new and exciting kit that can make our productions even more magical. I work with lighting designers rigging the lights they want to use on a Polka show, and have a lighting team that I lead and give lots of different tasks to. The job can be very challenging but also great fun, especially when you get to make lighting props like jars that glow in pretty colours to look like the jars of ‘dreams’ in the production of the BFG!
Front of House
Kim Kish - Head of Operations
As the Head of Operations I manage all the front of house staff that you encounter on your visit to Polka. I enjoy the daily contact with our customers and the best part of my job is when they tell me how much they enjoyed the show or their visit to Polka. My job is also to provide a safe and enjoyable space for all of our customers which means managing all of the health and safety, fire safety, first aid and building contracts. I look after the building including our outdoor playground and garden so I also spend a lot of time using my hands fixing things and getting my hands dirty in the garden. The Polka Main Theatre and other spaces are available to hire so I meet with people interested in hiring our spaces which can be used for a small production, meeting, film showing, daily classes and birthday parties and receptions.
Gary Tugwell – Deputy Theatre Manager
I started work at Polka in 1981 as a part time fireman, giving fire cover during performances. I served with the London fire brigade as a professional Fire officer for thirty years and have now retired. I have been the deputy Theatre Manager at Polka since my retirement from the LFB three years ago and I use my fire officer skills in various ways - Fire safety, First Aid, Risk Assessments, Health and Safety and management of staff. I also help manage merchandising for the front of house department.
I enjoy DIY and help maintain the building – from painting to plumbing, but most of all I enjoy the interaction between myself and our customers.
Aneta Orme – Café Manager
My job is the most important as I make sure there are no rumbling tummies during the shows! I love healthy food in the Polka Café and have a wide selection of sandwiches, paninis, jacket potatoes, cupcakes, fruit, treats and drinks which are all delicious and all prepared fresh each day on the premises. Come and say hello to us before, during the interval or after your show.
We also have an extra special Children’s Tea Parties and a range of options for those hiring our spaces.