Curiosity and chaos
As spring rolls in, Andy Packer, Show Director of this year’s World of WearableArt (WOW) Awards Show, is busy putting the finishing touches on eighteen months of extensive planning. And when you’re talking about a world-renowned event spanning three weeks with top technology and hundreds of contributors, ‘finishing touches’ is no easy feat. With Opening Night just around the corner on Thursday 26 September, the team behind the iconic show are buzzing. I caught up with Andy as he was literally stepping out of a rigging meeting to get the scoop on how World of WearableArt compares to overseas spectacles.
Thriving on chaos
Andy is a director of live performance and has held the reins on a number of large-scale international productions. His work ranges from theatre, musical theatre and symphonic orchestra to opera and events. He tells me that one of his past performances was directing an opening ceremony with 2,500 children marching through town. Between diverting trams, sorting traffic, and handling risk assessments for thousands of children on the street, it’s safe to say that Andy Packer is no stranger to chaos. Back at his home base of Adelaide, he is also the Artistic Director of his own theatre company, Slingsby, known for its coming-of-age stories and ability to capture a span of age groups.
With a track record like that, I was curious to find out what sparked Andy’s directing career. He simply tells me, “I saw a piece of theatre in Montréal that left me dumbstruck.”
So moved by the show, when Andy returned to Australia after seeing the production he quit his job, bought himself a ticket to Denmark to soak up as much Danish theatre as possible, and started his own theatre company. That was twelve years ago and Slingsby has since toured to twelve countries including two seasons on 42nd street in New York.
Crossing the Tasman
Andy first heard of New Zealand’s World of WearableArt fifteen years ago when Wendy Todd, a designer he often works with, found a World of WearableArt book and used it as a reference for their productions. Andy has a strong focus on audience and the social experiences that live productions provide, so it’s easy to understand why he was drawn to the show which houses an audience of around 3,500 at every performance. He explains, “I’m really interested in the proximity and relationship of the audience to the work. And understanding that live performance and live art is a social event as well. So often as humans these days, we’re very attracted to screens and being alone. But the really wonderful thing about live performance like WOW is people sharing time and space with the art.”
When asked what experience he hopes to provide the audience with, Andy shares his proclivity for creating the remarkable, “What I find audiences are really attracted to is that idea of wonder. To be taken into a playful, hopeful, joyful place. I know that when Dame Suzie Moncrieff started World of WearableArt, that’s really what she wanted to give the audience - joy. And in the DNA of WOW and previous WOW shows, there certainly is this idea of wonder. I hope the audience gets a sense of real togetherness and is inspired by the possibility of creativity.”
2018 World of WearableArt Awards Show
Stars of the show
The large majority of Andy’s theatre work has been original, commissioning playwrights and making work from the ground up. This is a vital skill when it comes to World of WearableArt, a production that promises originality year upon year. But where WOW differs from past productions Andy has worked on is in its stars of the show - the garments. Andy tells me that they “really have to keep it in our minds at every step of the way. The garments are the focus. They are the stars.”
And if this wasn’t challenge enough, Andy and his team didn’t even get to meet said garments until two months prior to opening the show. Before finding out which hundred or so garments were going to be presented, the team was already well into event planning. They needed to have already decided “what worlds those garments will be in, what elements are going to be on stage, the budget, plan and all of the logistics. So there are multiple things happening simultaneously. You have to be flexible and ready to respond. But at the same time, you have to make sure that those garments are top of mind and in the centre of our thinking.”
In fact, Andy had already been working on the show for well over a year.
“Eighteen months ago was when I presented my first script and concept. That was the framework for how the show would evolve and unfold and what those worlds would be that we would go into, or how I would interpret the world of ‘White’ or how I would interpret the world of ‘Mythology’. And what set elements would be on stage, what feeling there would be and how the audience might be involved. It’s been eighteen months of working with a really fantastic team of designers and composers to get us to the point where we’re in the room making it.”
2017 World of WearableArt Awards Show - The Messenger, Dawn Mostow & Lana Crooks, United States
A unique challenge
When asked how World of WearableArt compares to his other large scale works, Andy details the “honour and unique challenge of presenting the work of 115 designers.”
“Taking their gift to WOW, which is their creative genius and toil in making these garments, and making sure, as Show Director, that we’re showcasing and profiling those garments in a way that honours that work, whilst also trying to wrap them up in a world that supports them and creates something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Like in any production, the key to tackling such a significant challenge is the team. Andy talks about the multitude of moving parts behind the scenes and the people moving them, “There’s not a show like this anywhere in the world. And that’s thanks to the people. The kiwi creativity and the can-do attitude of ‘well, let’s have a crack at this’. The team I’m working with could work anywhere in the world, but I understand why they choose to work here.”
As Andy raced to his next meeting, I asked him for any pearls of wisdom for emerging directors hoping to follow in his footsteps.
His advice was simple, “Be curious. Explore a diverse range of skills. I find myself here because I’ve done all sorts of things and continue to develop new skills which make me diversely employable. And when you’re trying to bring complex things together, it helps to have a broad range of skills. So, be curious.”
Published in partnership with WOW. Tickets to this year’s show are still available! For more information, head to worldofwearableart.com