This is what I remember of it:
The hours at my desk using free design tools online.
The tea cozy over a silver teapot at Tawata’s office, te hau kāinga.
The hiking up Devon Street with my jumper over my shoulder.
The programming of shows and shuffling spaces.
The chasing up of artists and asking them for synopsis’, biographies, publicity images.
The wordpress page.
The inductions at Studio 77 with Anna Pastor-Bouwmeester.
The parking information.
The misspelling of ‘Fairlie’, Farley? Fairley –
The organising of liquor licensing at a tertiary institution.
Failing to organise liquor licensing at the tertiary institution.
The kai cart coming down the driveway.
The burgers and chips.
The untangling of bunting.
The painting of the floor.
The drying of the paint.
The hanging of black curtains.
Hanging out with Sarita So.
The Opening Nights.
Kava Club facilitating conversations.
Toi Whakaari students mucking in.
The moving of an old piano that had bung wheels.
Introducing my music whānau to my theatre friends’ whānau.
Watching Te Kahureremoa’s little girl Piiata jump around the stage in a pink tutu.
Taungaroa fixing things.
The internet connection… or lack there of.
The news of Mīria’s father passing.
A waterfall of butterflies cut from map paper and letting that sink in .
The brilliant projections on walls,
performers flying across a black space,
an audience of brown faces looking proud as punch.
Oh and that amphitheatre. You know the one. Tucked away like a well-kept secret. The one that is always a surprise even though you know it’s there. The one with the canopy overhead where you can listen to the manu go about their day to day. The one where people would enjoy a smoke despite it being prohibited on University premises. In reflection all these things are what I remember best.
Times like right now, hunkered down maintaining rāhui, gathering in this way seems like such an extravagance. Like seeing old photos of Air New Zealand Cabin Crew serving passengers glazed ham. Right now I’m endlessly interested in technology and the role it is playing in keeping us artists in work. Is it the same? Can we be happy like this? Maybe. It’s fascinating. At this time everything we offer up as artists needs to be observed by a recording tool in a way that allows it to be re-watched, re-lived, re-shared. I guess we’ve known this about visual art, film, recorded music, and now theatre (and talanoa/hui in some respect) seems to be a new frontier altogether. Thinking back to this time and this image, gathered with other artists budding and seasoned at this Festival at this time in particular it seems like a thing of a luxury.
Oversimplified, Pūtahi was about creating a space for artists to practice their practise.
With much aroha to Hone and Mīria (who are hell-bent on nurturing leadership in the arts, who invited me on to this project and were ready in the wings with absolutely every resource imaginable to rescue me at the faintest sign of fatigue) I don’t believe I was a good Festival Director. I hope that doesn’t come off as faux modesty, I know I’m good at things, but this just wasn’t one of them. Not really.
Please bear with me for five while I try to explain to you why I wasn’t that great.
- I wasn’t willing to uphold tikanga Māori on behalf of all Māori in the room.
- Socializing was a gigantic drain for me.
- I don’t chase up things thoroughly for fear that I’m coming off as pushy.
- I failed a lot of smaller shows (solo shows, per say) in order to accommodate larger groups/shows.
- In the spirit of getting a new piece of work up, when times got tough, I took others’ stress personally.
Again, this is not a secret plea to blanket me with reassuring gestures. I have long been accepting of my tendency to want to hide away and be a loaf. I mean to say this to highlight everything that it takes to truly hold a festival to the highest degree. Being at the helm of a waka like this requires a real hustler. Like the Vannessa Imminks, Sasha Gibbs, Trae Te Wikis, Bianca Seinafos, Cian Elyse-Whites, Juanita Hepis, Amanda Nobletts, Neenah Dekkers-Reihanas, Karena Lethams, Sam Tippets, Isadora Laos, Miriama Grace-Smiths of the world. Speaking of – the news of Ria Hall being appointed the new director of the Tauranga Arts Festival is like ASMR to my senses.
Indulge me for another five while I explain why appointments like this are crucial to finessing Aotearoa’s artistic landscape.
- Leaders like this are willing to, and are skilled in, upholding tikanga Maori for tangata whenua and manuhiri alike.
- Leaders like this have little reservations around social situations because they recognise everyone as whānau.
- Leaders like this call out their team like whānau.
- Leaders like this treat all companies and projects with the same care and attention to detail.
- Most importantly, leaders like this are proven artists themselves, so they have the skill set to channel any problems into something beautiful, daring, bold, political therefore enriching everyone around them.
Perhaps Pūtahi Festival wasn’t just allowing artists to practise but also leaders to practise. For this maybe it’s ok that I wasn’t the best at it or the best person for it. Still, to hold a festival takes a very specific skill set. Primarily a willingness I think. And also a desire to bring people together.
It should and must happen again. And when we get through this rāhui, when we are restored, I hope to be available to the next Director to take the reins.
There is something special about a diverse group of creatives that truly want to collaborate, want you to succeed and set you up for that success, have a faith and respect for you that in the early stages not yet earned, who challenge your decisions not to second guess you but to elicit honesty, who give you the freedom to express yourself and become friends for life. That was what He Reo Aroha did for me. I will be forever grateful and hold the fondest memories of a time, early in my theatre career, that was unexpected, came to me when I had lost my way, had a kaupapa that was so refreshing, and people jam packed with aroha.