Polka40 Blog: History on Record

July 4, 2019

Welcome back to our Polka40 blog, a series offering unique insight into the process behind the creation of our magical family exhibition at Morden Hall Park. Written by Polka40 volunteer, Sarah Campbell. 


As we all know, it is the people that make Polka. So many individuals have been involved in Polka Theatre over the last 40 years, from actors and directors, to writers and designers, to front-of-house and backstage staff, and many more. Documenting their memories, anecdotes and stories for the Polka archive is vital, so a whole strand of the Polka40 project has been dedicated to recording these oral histories.

Twenty audio recordings of interviews with key members of the Polka team from the last 40 years will become part of the Polka Theatre archive, open and available for researchers to consult. Shorter, edited versions of these interviews will be available on the Polka Theatre website as part of an online oral history exhibition, making these unique narratives available to everyone.

In order to build this oral history archive, a team of nine Polka40 volunteers undertook training in oral history interview techniques. We participated in two oral history training sessions with Rib Davis, accredited trainer in oral history with the British Library and the Oral History Society. The sessions with Rib were fascinating and we learned about everything from interview techniques to active listening to handling the recording equipment and more.

The team of volunteers went on to conduct online research and to consult relevant archival material from the Polka archive at Worcester, plus a list of suggestions from Polka staff members, in order to identify 20 individuals with whom we would conduct interviews as part of the project.

The first five interviews have now been conducted with Polka Theatre founder Richard Gill, Associate Director Roman Stefanski, former Artistic Director Vicky Ireland, former Head of Wardrobe Annie James, and Young Voices Panel member Neri Keshet.

It’s been a wonderful experience through which we have come to know some fascinating people and to hear some amazing stories from Polka’s history. Every single interviewee has spoken passionately about the Polka, their love of children’s theatre and the wider Polka family.

Short versions of these first five interviews will become part of the Polka40 exhibition opening at Morden Hall Park on 16th July 2019.

As a wonderful addition to these stories and the exhibition as a whole, our talented colleague Kathryn Martin has created a series of original illustrations based on the portraits of our five initial interviewees. Kathryn is involved in the Polka40 project as Volunteer Archive Researcher. She is also a multi-award winning illustrator, writer and university lecturer based in London. You can check her website here. She also recently won the 2019 World Illustration Awards Professional Research Category for an illustrated poster celebrating the life and career of American dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan. Congratulations, Kathryn!

Do look out for these oral history extracts in the exhibition this summer. They give a fascinating insight into Polka’s history and we are delighted to be able to share them with you.


Sarah Campbell



Feeling inspired? Make sure you check out our amazing workshops at Morden Hall Park this summer – there’s something for everyone!