Weaving a festival together

Maori & Pacific programme manager, Tama Waipara, and artistic director Carla van Zon at the Auckland Arts Festival 2013 launch in November 2012.
The 2013 Auckland Arts Festival has an intriguing lineup. Renee Liang hears from Carla van Zon and Tama Waipara about the 'delicate and considered process' of planning a festival.


The 2013 Auckland Arts Festival programme is out, with an intriguing lineup. Renee Liang hears from Carla van Zon and Tama Waipara about the 'delicate and considered process' of planning a festival.

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The programme for the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival was launched on October 31, with the invited crowd being instructed to ‘dress colourful'. There is indeed a colourful lineup – everything from outdoor spectacle to gravity-defying theatre. And there’s possibly a bigger lineup of homegrown work than ever before, excellent news for both our industry and our confidence. I asked artistic director Carla Van Zon and Maori & Pacific programme manager Tama Waipara about how a major festival like this gets off the ground.

When does your planning begin, and how do you start?

Carla: Planning for a festival starts years out.  I started as Artistic Director of the Auckland Arts Festival in April 2011 and came to the festival with a vision for what I wanted to achieve, as well as a number of artists in mind. Ideally I would have liked a bit longer than that – I have already begun programming 2015, for example.

The timelines can be very long in order to get agreement for artists to come to New Zealand, or for NZ work to be developed enough to ensure it is the best it can be by the time it is presented.  There were some artists I wanted in the 2013 programme who were not available, so I am looking at them for the future.

A festival programme is a very delicate and considered thing – like a specially embroidered cloth or weaving.  Each thread links to another and is designed to be there.  Sometimes you are limited in what you can afford, or an artist can’t come when you want them, so you have to work around that. Ultimately, you are trying to create something unique, special and compelling.

Regarding planning, I start with the vision: A festival in Auckland for Aucklanders, a festival that could only take place in this city and be of this city. In consultation with my colleague, Chief Executive David Inns, we create a plan to include the things we wanted to achieve through that vision. 

In 2013 these included:

Having Maori and Pacific work and work by artists and arts companies from Auckland at the heart of the festival. To achieve this we did a number of things: we held a hui for Maori and Pacific artists, to listen to their ideas; we employed Programme Manager for the Maori and Pacific programme – Tama – and we went out and met with a number of Auckland artists and arts companies, many of whom are now part of the 2013 programme.

2: Increasing and diversifying our audience, to recognise Auckland’s changing demographics, to include work that acknowledged different cultures and communities and present shows and events for young people and families.

  • This has resulted, in a very large family-friendly programme, which includes the huge outdoor performance in the Domain, The Breath of the Volcano created by French artists Groupe F.  The Breath of the Volcano is an Auckland Festival commission and world premiere to which everyone is invited.
  • We also wanted to make sure there was work in Mandarin, not only for the Chinese community but also for all young people learning Mandarin, and actually all Aucklanders, to help them understand more about modern China. Rhinoceros in Love – China’s most successful play of all time is the exciting result. It’s got English surtitles and the wonderful physical theatre and staging means everyone can understand it.
  • And there are many works reflecting or embracing different communities from Dominion Road Stories through to The Factory from South Auckland.

Tama: I came to the role of Programme Manager in Maori and Pacific Programmes in early 2012, but, as Carla said, we all bring our various backgrounds, experiences and ideas to the roles when we start. What’s great about working at the festival is the team, as a whole, has a huge combined experience in both domestic and international arts. Being a part of a team like that is important. Being immersed in such a rich and diverse community helps drive decisions.

There are many layers in the decision-making process, but it all comes back to what makes this festival special and what makes it “Auckland”. My role particularly is to take the festival philosophy and create an appropriate Maori and Pacific programme around that – for Auckland and for now.

Carla: What do you look for when selecting pieces for the festival?
Tama: How do you decide what Maori and Pacific works to recommend for the festival?

Carla: The programme needs to fit within the festival vision. The work must be of high quality and have the ability to reach an audience. Additionally, it needs to reflect our world and challenge our sense of what is important, or stretch our ideas. Then again, it can just be fun, funny and entertaining! 

I see hundreds and hundreds of shows, exhibitions and events (many aren’t good). When I experience something I like, I look at it from a number of points of view, including practical aspects like how much it will cost, who are the audience, how many people are in it, does it have a large set or a lot of crew back stage?, where do they come from?, how much will the airfares and freight costs be?, will their government support them?, etc, etc.

Maori and Pacific work is treated in the same way. Tama and I are always seeking high quality, relevant work that will speak to an audience, and we always have to balance art with economics when planning a festival programme.

Tama: As Artistic Director, Carla has the greatest responsibility for weaving the tapestry of the programme together, but she is very open and generous in gathering and using feedback from the festival team. The programming team are each given the opportunity to speak to each of the works presented – this is as enjoyable as it is difficult, as it inevitably means that some work may not make it! One of the main reasons I was eager to join the festival team is that, in addition to providing great work for Auckland audiences, there is a strong commitment to artist advocacy.

Do you have any 'themes' coming through this year?

Carla: Not really, there are some threads within the programme but my main objective was to reach out to the people of Auckland.

Tama: Whakawhanaungatanga – the connecting of Auckland communities, and the strong acknowledgement of tangata whenua including the desire for an ongoing commitment to the special role of mana whenua in Auckland.

How much does the 'Auckland' part of the festival influence how and what you programme?

Carla: This festival is designed specifically for Auckland City and the people of Auckland. It could not be anywhere else.  This includes the work we do with Auckland companies like Auckland Theatre Company’s Dominion Road Stories, Kila Kokonut Krew’s The Factory, the world premiere of Groupe F’s The Breath of the Volcano, which was designed especially for us and for Auckland. Similarly, the nostalgic aspect of Everything is Ka Pai at the Town Hall is reminiscent of the Maori Community Centre of old, which we learnt about from Grant Hawke of Ngati Whatua.
Tama: It is essential. Auckland’s diversity and complexity makes for a rich programme.

How do you find the international pieces?

Carla: I travel a lot. I go to other festivals, arts markets and places where I can see a lot of work in a short period of time.  We don’t present work we have not seen unless it has been recommended by a close colleague or I know the artist.  Just like other importers, we need to be able to stand behind our product.  I also have a great address book – and many friends and colleagues overseas who recommend work to me.  Plus, in this day and age, I get inundated with proposals from around the world.  But I nearly always I try before I buy.

Tama: My work’s all home-grown so I have to stay put!

What are you most excited about?

Carla: I am excited by a lot of things in this festival. Firstly we were able to include quite a lot of work by NZ artists and companies – new work, work with community, work that is having a second life, great music, work that challenges and work that is fun.  The NZ programme has it all.

Then, that there is a lot for young people and families – from Urban by Circolombia to the kids shows, like the delightful Scottish puppet-based work, The Man Who Planted Trees. There is a special, free Family Day on March 24 where families and young people can attend workshops, performances and participate in a Flashmob based on the Thriller Haka from the movie Boy!

Tama: There is so much on that it will be hard to get to everything but, as a musician, I’m especially excited about Everything is Ka Pai, the Britten War Requiem, Whaka-Aria Mai, The Factory, Wu Man, NZTrio’s Convergence and SOUNDS AOTEAROA.

The premiere of Mitch Tawhi Thomas’ new play Hui is a must-see, with a powerhouse creative team.

I’m also very excited about a Maori Producer’s initiative called Te Rea which will help develop emerging producers in the performing arts. This is in collaboration with Toi Maori.

What's the festival's biggest secret?

Carla: Two works I think are very unique in their own way and I loved when I experienced them are Babel and Enroute.  Very different from each other, but they are both transformative works and must-experience!  And just one more that is unmissable – Wu Man and Kronos Quartet are extraordinary. Their musicianship is mind-blowing and they offer us an opportunity to hear and see the world in a new way.

Tama: One very special show is Everything is Ka Pai. It features an incredible line-up and is a show I’m very passionate about. Top quality performers reinterpreting nostalgic songs from the 60s and 70s. The era that was full of luminaries like Prince Tui Teka and Sir Howard Morrison will be revisited by Maisey Rika, Annie Crummer, Anika Moa, Hinewehi Mohi, Ria Hall, Seth Haapu, John Rowles, The Yoots, with some very special surprise guests. It’s only on for one night in the Town Hall so will definitely sell out.

Also, having recently seen the auditions for The Factory, I have to say that it is filled with knockout, world-class Pacific talent.

How is the festival related to its Fringe?

Carla: A Fringe Festival and an international festival are symbiotic. We exist alongside each other. Worldwide in major festival cities, like Edinburgh, Avignon and Adelaide, there are International and Fringe festivals side-by-side, over lapping dates, sharing audiences, provoking and challenging each other.

Any advice for people to get the most out of the festival?

Carla: Experience as much as you can. Attend an event that is safe for you, one that pushes your boundaries, and a New Zealand work. Do something just for fun and do it with other people, because there is nothing like sharing artistic experiences with friends and whanau – it bonds you.

Tama: Take an afternoon to sit down and figure out a schedule. There really is something for everyone in this programme so make sure you have a good nosey through the brochure. If you want more information on anything, then just ask someone at the festival for advice!


Carla van Zon - Artistic Director

Carla van Zon is the Artistic Director of Auckland Arts Festival.  Previously she was the International Manager at the Arts Council of New Zealand. In that role, she oversaw the development of an international strategy, and from this has developed an international programme to assist New Zealand artists to gain international success.
Before joining the Arts Council, Carla was Artistic Director of the New Zealand International Arts Festival. Involved in the NZ Festival since 1989, Carla took on the role of Artistic Director in 2000, having successfully led the festival as Executive Director since 1996. The festival thrived with Carla in both roles and she led it into the black for the first time, earning the organisation the Dominion Gold Award 2001 for outstanding contribution to the Wellington economy.

Carla has an MA in Dance and Arts Administration from George Washington University in the USA and a broad range of professional experiences in the arts, including working with a variety of theatre & dance companies, venues, the New Zealand Film Commission, producing New Zealand work and Co-Directing the New Caledonia New Zealand Season in 2007 for the Governments of New Caledonia and France.

She has travelled widely throughout the world and is passionate about arts and cultural exchange as a way of gaining greater understanding between people. Carla was made an Officer of the Order of New Zealand for services to the arts in 2001 and Arts Wellingtonian of the Year in 2005.

Tama Waipara
(Rongowhakaata/ Ngati Ruapani/ Ngati Porou) Programme Manager – Maori & Pacific Programmes

Tama Waipara is currently the Programme Manager for Maori and Pacific Programmes at the Auckland Arts Festival. A primary focus in music, a strong voice for Maori and Pacific work and broad experience across the arts as a practitioner and administrator has led Tama to this role.

With a Master’s graduate of the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York, Tama was signed by New York label ObliqSound releasing three albums to much critical acclaim.

As a musician he has collaborated alongside the likes of drummer Kim Thompson, Grammy-nominated American artist Emily King, NZ Jazz giant Nathan Haines, Maisey Rika and Annie Crummer. He has performed with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Auckland Chamber Orchestra starred in the musical, Rent, and in the sell-out season of Raising The Titanics.

As a composer and Musical Director Tama has worked with Auckland Theatre Company, Silo Theatre, Atamira Dance Company, Massive, PIPA and much of the Auckland arts community.

Tama also lectures at Unitec in Contemporary Music and has worked as a mentor for Smokefree Pasifika Beats, the NZ Music Industry Commission, Play it Strange and facilitated many workshops to the benefit of young musicians.

Recently, Tama was part of the Auckland Arts Festival led team that successfully programmed an exciting array of music and entertainment on Queen’s Wharf during the Rugby World Cup. He is also a SOUNZ Board Member and Judge for the Waiata Maori Music Awards, Smokefree Pasifika Beats and Matariki Songwriting Competition.

Written by

Renee Liang

13 Dec 2012

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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