She will join the children’s theatre as Executive Director in August as it gears up for a major redevelopment.

Photo of Lynette Shanbury

Lynette Shanbury has been appointed as Polka Theatre’s new Executive Director and joint Chief Executive.

She will join the organisation in August, taking over from Stephen Midlane, who retires after 41 years with the Wimbledon children’s theatre. She will work alongside Artistic Director and joint Chief Executive Peter Glanville.

Shanbury has spent just under four years as Executive Director of inclusive theatre company Spare Tyre and leaves as it approaches its 40th anniversary.

“It’s hard to leave Spare Tyre because the work we do is so unique,” she told AP, enthusing about the company’s ongoing activities. “Being here has changed the way I think personally and professionally about interacting with audiences and the role of the arts in society.”

She noted her excitement about returning to a venue and to work focused on children. Prior to joining Spare Tyre, Shanbury spent eight years with Islington puppet theatre Little Angel – initially as General Manager and later as Executive Director.

“I believe that if you can connect with people at the very beginning, and show them the value of the arts, you can make life a bit better going forwards,” she said.

Aims and ambitions

Shanbury joins Polka as it works towards a £6.5m redevelopment, which will create the UK’s first purpose-built ‘Early Years’ theatre. The project, which will see the building temporarily close when work begins in February 2019, will also add a new rehearsal space and expand the café.

Securing delivery of the redevelopment will be a key priority in the short term, followed by a need to clarify the organisation’s role and aims after the project is complete. 

“I am extremely pleased that Lynette will be joining us,” Peter Glanville said. “The next few years are going to be the most challenging and exciting since Polka first opened – in addition to the Future Polka redevelopment, we also have a highly ambitious closure programme, working with strategic partners both locally and nationally, as well as a major project commissioned to celebrate our 40th anniversary.” 

Arts in schools

Shanbury’s appointment at the children’s theatre comes amidst growing concerns that children and young people are getting to spend less time studying the arts and being creative in primary and secondary schools

When asked about the responsibility for arts organisations to intervene in the arts education debate, Shanbury said Polka has always been very successful in its dual role as “a locally-focused company, with a local heart, and one with the ability to have a national and international voice”.

“We know the impact that studying the arts can have on children’s lives,” she added. “The arts are just one part of an individual’s life, but we need to be shouting about how good we are at creating communities that are happy and creative.”

She also said the sector has a responsibility to make it as easy as possible for young people to find a route into careers in the cultural sector. “If we can support that as arts organisations, then we should be,” she added.