Backstage - Fringe Awards

Butterfly Kitty.
Alexa Wilson’s dance work Weg-A- Way swept up the prizes, winning Best Performance and Best Production in the Dance category, along with The Auckland Arts Festival Award.
In her latest Backstage blog Renee Liang reflects on wild ideas, strange costumes and taking part


In her latest Backstage blog Renee Liang reflects on wild ideas, strange costumes and taking part in the Auckland Fringe.

"What a pity the madness had to end."

* * *

On Sunday night the Auckland Fringe ended in true style, with a party in the glamorous surrounds of the Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent.   Beforehand, The Basement was packed out for the last two shows of the Fringe – The Rebel Alliance’s moving and risky Standstill and Benjamin Henson’s spooky adaptation of gothic classic The Turn of the Screw.

In two years, the Auckland Fringe has had a spectacular growth spurt. Not only are there more shows and more venues but there are also more people running around the city with strange costumes, wild ideas and something they want to share. The great thing about the Fringe is how easy it is to take part. 

Over the last week I’ve masqueraded as a throat-clearing Asian cleaning lady in the University School of Business lifts, performed handbag yoga at the Civic diagonal crossing with a bunch of sartorially resplendent ladies (and one bellboy), been led by the hand into a tiny darkened space for the play-in-miniature Big Story, Small Space, and knitted in the dark as I witnessed two grown men confessing things about their penises during Man Bits.  

What a pity the madness had to end.  But since several of the awards given out (see below for the full list) were for further development, there’s a very good chance many shows will return.  The Fringe has been expensive for some, stressful for others, a learning curve for probably all. 

But everyone I talked to has been glad they did it, and mostly, they say, it’s because of the people they met. I imagine the introductions and chance meetings that happened this year will feed our city creatively at least until the next Fringe.

The Auckland Festival has one more week to go.  I’ve been down at the Square most nights, enjoying the unusually cooperative weather.  I finally got to see the Vietnamese Water Puppets – brightly lacquered depictions of simple scenes in the Vietnamese countryside.  I found it uncomplicated and charming, although some scenes were very brief – less than a minute!  A good one for the kids, though those looking for any deeper examination will be disappointed.

Pretty much at the other end of the scale were Titeres Porno, the Columbian porno puppets.  The puppets were, as promised, anatomically complete, complete with – er, fluff.  Not necessarily anatomically correct though, as some parts seemed very generously proportioned.  Although manipulated and voiced with great skill, I found the storylines one-dimensional and pretty much geared towards one thing – you guessed it, sex.  Puppet on puppet sex. And sometimes puppet on human sex, a scene which is quite disturbing even as you admire the technical dexterity of a woman faking orgasm while manipulating the puppet she is supposed to be having sex with.  Yep.  It was porn, and pretty disturbing at that (although my experience of porn isn’t exactly extensive).  It felt a little weird to be watching this as part of an arts festival – but then where else would you find this kind of show?

Luckily, an artistic if not moral balance was provided by the NZSO’s A Symphonic Odyssey. Conducted by James Judd, this program of both familiar and unfamiliar music explored the eerie, the unsettling and the ground-breaking.  The Blue Danube Waltz doesn’t fit this description, but it was included due to its association with Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, which linked three of the four pieces on the bill. The fourth, Berio’s Sinfonia, was my favourite of the night.  Instead of treating choral voices just like another instrument, dialogue and vocal effects like whispering and shouting added an extra layer of narrative to the piece.  Philistine that I am, I was unfamiliar with Berio before Saturday night.  This piece was composed in 1968-69 and is recognised as “one of the most important avant-garde works of the 21st century”.  As I listened, some pieces (pardon the pun) clunked into place in my brain and I realised I was witnessing a forerunner to the now-common practice of blending several disciplines (in this case theatre, music and literature).

I’ve now spent some time in this year’s Speigeltent.  It’s different – I did some digging and the Pacific Crystal Palace, NZ’s answer to the jewelled European travelling tents of last century, was created in 2001 and is owned by a company based in Wellington.

On the outside it looks like a modern bach with aluminium cladding, but inside there’s a circular polished matai and tawa dance floor, stained glass windows and ornate velvet and mirror furnishings.  There’s also a drool-worthy sound and lighting rig and a bar any celeb would be happy to prop up.  And it’s super solid and watertight.  Being in there during heavy rain, right up close to the thudding stage of Smoke and Mirrors, had me feeling both snug and artistically smug.  Line up for the shows there, it’s worth getting a seat near the front.

  • Only one interview this time. I went back to Teatro de los Andes, whose beautiful show La Odisea has just closed, and asked them about their earthquake play. En Un Sol Amarillo (Memorias De Un Tremblor) - In a Yellow Sun (Memories of an Earthquake), is a theatrical docudrama about the massive earthquake that rocked Bolivia in 1998.

When they heard about the Christchurch earthquake, Teatro de Los Andes wanted to perform this piece instead.  The short time scale to opening made this impossible, but I interviewed company member Giampaolo Nalli about the piece. It’s a small comfort that in this world of uncertainty and shifting tectonics, artists can come halfway across the world and say things which mean a great deal to us.

There’s only a few days to go before the curtain falls on this year’s Auckland Festival.  I plan to make it a busy few days. Back with more interviews, and a wrap-up, next week.



The Award for Best Performance Cabaret/Burlesque:
Aria Jones in Opera Risque’

The Award for Best Performance Comedy:
Vachel Spirason in The Hermitude of Angus

The Award for Best Performance Dance:
Alexa Wilson in Weg a-Way.

The Award for Best Performance Theatre:
Jospehine Stewart-Tewhiu in Chalk.

The Award for Visual Arts:
Pigs In The Yard

The Award for Best Production Cabaret/Burlesque:
Opera Risque’

The Award for Best Production Comedy:
Square Eye Pair

The Award for Best Production Dance:
Weg A-Way

The Award for Best Production Music:
The Turn Of The Screw
and The Taste Of Spanish Sounds

The Award for Best Production Theatre:
The Adventures Of Alvin Sputnik

The Auckland Arts Festival Award:
Weg A-Way

The Stamp Award:
The Sex Show
and Constantinople

Best Poster:
Man Bits

The Fringe Award:
Weg A-Way

The Peoples Choice Award:

Written by

Renee Liang

15 Mar 2011

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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