TBI Q&A: Hannah K Clarke
It takes a lot for Hannah Clarke to miss a NZ Fringe Festival. Like getting the shingles before a high school trip to Wellington, and instead sending a disposable camera with her friends.
“It magically captured everything I loved about performance in a city I had romanticised about living in.”
In more recent years she’s progressed from festival goer, to performer (only missing one year to have a baby), facilitator, artist liaison and now co-ordinator.
She tells us about her role, growing the festival and highlights from this year's fringe.
"I’ll be honest I’m gutted I missed Binge Culture’s Whales on the waterfront last weekend; I was at a wedding. Who gets married during Fringe? Seriously. Tssk."
During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?
I think it’s around 9 to 10pm. Having worked in theatre for so long I’m still working on being a morning person. My partner is a builder who will often head to bed just as I go “ooo, you know what would be good…!” and leave me to it.
How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?
Messy. I like to take big clean spaces and fill them with creative clutter. I love a stage that starts a performance clear and ends up covered in the remnants of a journey.
What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?
Audience reaction. Last night in a show I heard a girl say “that’s so funny!” Whether it’s a reaction to an exhibition or a nail being hammered up a nose on stage, when an audience reacts I get tingles.
How does your environment affect your work?
In lots of ways. Everything and everyone is an influence. Whether I’ve cycled to work or driven can influence my creativity and motivation in the office.
Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
I think I’m detail orientated as a long as I have a sense of the big picture. I go for a feeling or atmosphere I’d like to create and then figure out how to make that possible.
What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?
Be honest. If you’re not going to make a deadline, let the people it affects know and figure out how to achieve it together. And don’t be secretive! Being honest about your intentions will often bring you resources you didn’t know existed more than it will turn people off your idea.
Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
Having my son is probably my greatest production to date. Watching him grow and experience is very satisfying.
Who or what has inspired you recently?
At the risk of sounding cheesy I’m going to be honest and say this year’s Fringe artists. The ideas they are presenting in this festival are truly inspiring. They are so diverse.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I think it’s the usual story, I put more effort into performing at school than my other subjects. There was a time there when I thought I might be a park ranger for DOC but that was just a pipeline dream, I was only a B grade geography student. It was going to have to be theatre.
I worked in advertising in the UK for some years before ending up in the same situation there where I was spending more time learning scripts for amateur productions with friends than I was worrying about print deadlines. So I upped sticks and came back to NZ to study theatre at Victoria University and I’m pleased I did.
I’ve been working continuously across the performing arts spectrum since graduating. I’ve done nearly every role from performing to stage management, lighting and producing, running the bar...
I grew up with an inspiring mother who worked hard as an arts administrator and community event coordinator. In the 80’s she was employing painters and performers to run children’s city arts programmes and mural the walls of Napier as well as managing a contemporary dance company and in the 90’s it was four day music festivals and Lord Mayor’s Street processions in the UK.
In many ways I’m following her footsteps.
Tell us about your role as NZ Fringe co-ordinator? How did you become involved?
When I was 16 I had shingles and couldn’t come to Wellington on our high school drama class trip the Fringe festival. I sent a disposable camera down with my friends. When the film was developed I knew that the Fringe was something I would be involved with one day. It magically captured everything I loved about performance in a city I had romanticised about living in. They told me of naked men rolling in paint on giant canvasses in Civic Square, this little black box theatre called BATS where people who weren’t old put on plays about things we understood and things we didn’t and this sense of a performance community that I desperately wanted to be part of. The Fringe became a staple on my calendar from that point forward.
As a student in Wellington I started performing in Fringe shows around 2003 and the only year I haven’t been involved in a show was the year my son was born.
Over the last few years my focus has shifted from performing to facilitating I think which is how I view my role when directing and producing performance.
When I heard there was a new trust set up to run the Fringe I sought out Emma Giesen the manager and asked her about what was happening with Fringe. She ended up offering me a job as artist and venue liaison, that was two years ago… My enthusiasm to see the Fringe festival thrive again in Wellington is obvious, I hope, and I think this has led me to this role.
When I started in 2011 the Fringe had be drastically pared back and we set about finding its value in the community again and giving a little back to the artists and the audiences. We’ve grown the festival and I hope it continues to grow. Wellington can sustain a large festival of creativity, I’m just doing my bit to help that happen.
What are some of the highlights of this year’s Fringe?
I’ll be honest I’m gutted I missed Binge Culture’s Whales on the waterfront last weekend; I was at a wedding. Who gets married during Fringe? Seriously. Tssk.
But I know there’s plenty more to come, we’re technically only four days in and I’ve already cried and laughed at events. On the whole everything Fringe gives me a big grin. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what Conrad Coom gets up to this year with Ping Pong Country; if the construction happening in our yard right now is anything to go by it is going to be a good thing!
There are lots of highlights for me. I’m really excited to see people coming from out of town for the festival and also some of our greatest performance stalwarts returning, like Footnote Dance and also Barbarian Productions with Wig Wam Jam, and putting themselves in a festival right alongside artists who are doing things for the first time and that they’re trying new things themselves.
It’s also really great, and important, to see new and established venues coming on board for Fringe. It spreads the reach of the festival. I’m excited by what’s happening at the Gryphon this Fringe, or FatG as it’s getting to be known [Fringe At The Gryphon] which is being run as an independent venue for the first week of the festival in much the same way many Fringe venues in Edinburgh and Adelaide run.
What combination of people and resources are required to put it on?
Fringe can’t run without the team of people dedicated to seeing it succeed, not just in the office and the amazing artists putting on events, but also the army of volunteers who come on the ride with us to help support the artists in their endeavours. Between us in the office we have nearly 25 years of practical Fringe experience as well as experience outside that world. All of it is totally invaluable to making it work. I come up with crazy plans and these fantastic people help make them happen, and that includes the team at Wellington City Council Events who often shake their heads and then say “alright then”.
Tell us a bit about your other recent and upcoming projects.
Last year I did a ‘little’ show with my talented friend Jon Coddington called Puppet Fiction in the Fringe. The cast are currently downstairs rehearsing to take the show to Auckland and (fingers crossed we fundraise enough) Adelaide Fringe Festivals in a couple of weeks. We thought it would just be fun to do, we didn’t really advertise it, we performed in the Pit at BATS expecting maybe 10 people a night. We ended up doing 35 performances and turning people away from each one as the bar packed out. So we’re going with it. We’re constantly refining and tuning. It’ll be on at Maranui Cafe on Friday night (22 February) as a fundraiser to help us pay for flights home from Adelaide. We’re developing a new show too. Puppets are fun and tricky to work with. We’re constantly learning.
If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?
Park Ranger for DoC (secretly putting on shows for native birds probably).
What place is always with you, wherever you go?
The Kaweka ranges.
What's the best way to listen to music, and why?
When you’re tidying up your bedroom; there’s a freedom in closing that door, turning it up loud and dancing energetically between folding t-shirts.
You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?
A puppet of course. Or I give them to Jon Coddington and ask him to make a puppet… he is really good at that.
What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?
Ignore all the advice. (Someone told me that when I was pregnant, they were right).
What’s great about today?
The sun shining on six shows opening tonight, all different, all open to anyone who wants to experience them.
What’s your big idea for 2013?
Another 50% growth in Fringe registrations for 2014 and more and more venues getting on board to showcase the possibilities.
NZ Fringe Festival is on in Wellington from 15 February to 9 March.