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Never stronger

26 Mar 2019
Kate Powell reports in on Aotearoa’s most dynamic alternative conference for the arts.

As people from 8 countries poured into the Auckland Town Hall, they were guided through snaking corridors and up sweeping staircases before emerging in the choir stalls. There, they interrupted a lone actor delivering a performance, who feigned not taking too kindly to the intrusion, quickly turfing them out. Down another corridor they went before finding themselves treading the floorboards of the Great Hall. Here, the welcome was much more gregarious. With a sweep of her arm, our effervescent host gestured to a range of costumes awaiting them. A momentary look of horror passed over the faces of some of the delegates, but they were soon swept up in the light hearted moment as a cape went over their shoulders with a flourish, a bonnet crammed onto their head and they were invited to take a bow to an awaiting audience.

The only hint that this was something more than a spontaneous sense of fun was the familiar face of  Jo Randerson from Barbarian Productions and that the crowd were soon joined by Stephen Wainwright, CEO of Creative New Zealand who admitted he was a touch overdressed in a velvet wizards cloak.

This was of course, the opening of the Performing Arts Network of New Zealand (PANNZ) Art Market, which has been a key date in Kiwi creatives calendars since 1999. The  people onstage were from the United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, China, Fiji, Australia and Aotearoa. All of them were primed to explore the latest and greatest theatre, music and dance that New Zealand has to offer and potentially bring our stories to their communities.

Because it was my first time at the three day event, I had a chat to the movers and shakers, the repeat attenders and first timers  about what to expect, how to make the most of an event Randerson describes as “An interesting masterclass in marketing and presenting” and what makes New Zealand's performing arts landscape so special?

Louise Gallagher, Executive Director of PANNZ explains:  

“[At the  PANNZ Art Market] artists and producers pitch and showcase their shows that are ready to tour, either locally or internationally – or both. Decision makers from festivals and venues across New Zealand, and increasingly from around the world, attend because they are looking for work to buy or invest in for their programmes.

Work that is in development also has a place here, and our What’s New Encounters allow artists and producers to present a work that isn’t yet ready to tour, at a key time where potential investors are able to feedback about it directly. But we also encourage everyone in the industry to attend – it’s no longer just about buying and selling work. Many delegates attend to learn about what’s out there in the way of performing arts product, as well as to network.”

With the 2019 market being held between the Auckland Town Hall, The Civic and Q Theatre, there was a unique opportunity to explore the past, present and future of New Zealand’s performing arts sector. From a flurry of ten minute pitches, carefully selected full length productions and robust discussions on all aspects of being a creative; there was a palpable sense of excitement amongst those present that only comes with the thrill of sharing and engaging with the new. It was invigorating to see relationships being forged or affirmed, the artistic community collaborating to explore ways to encourage robust tours both here and overseas.

It was invigorating to see relationships being forged or affirmed, the artistic community collaborating to explore ways to encourage robust tours both here and overseas. 

The excitement of the new was undoubtedly compounded by the fact that this year had the greatest number of international delegates present in the history of the Art Market.

“New Zealanders are producing amazing work,” Gallagher enthuses. “The standards have never been higher, and we have so much to offer. We’re seeing high-quality productions that could only have ever been created here. The Arts Market is vital to securing a touring life for this work, so it can be seen and appreciated by more people. This will only happen by making connections, attracting investment, and enabling a longer life for our most beautiful productions. We are providing the platform to achieve this through the Arts Market and it’s only becoming more important – there's a reason it’s growing”.

Along with punchy pitches there were also five full length productions over the course of the Art Market, specifically aimed at attracting international attention. This included Edinburgh Fringe Festival darling The Basement Tapes and Still Life with Chickens; a sweetly surreal story of love and loss that will undoubtedly hold universal appeal.

“Our aim is that artists are provided more and more opportunities to present their works here and abroad than ever before,” explains Gallagher. “The size of country means that often works get one outing, or have one tour, and do not benefit from multiple seasons. By being able to present work more often, it polishes the work and means more people get to see the work being created, increasing audiences is at the heart of this. The New Zealand performing arts sector has never been stronger and the work being produced in New Zealand is something we can all be proud of.”

"The New Zealand performing arts sector has never been stronger and the work being produced in New Zealand is something we can all be proud of.”- Louise Gallagher

While the calibre of our output is on the up, nothing ever happens in isolation. Behind every glamorous success story, every perfectly coiffed press kit photo, there are hundreds of thousands of hours of work from an entire team of people. Within the realms of dance, music and theatre in Aotearoa I got the distinct impression that  PANNZ works tirelessly to get Kiwi creatives on stages up and down the country and around the world. As well as running New Zealand's only Performing Arts Market, PANNZ also established Tour-Makers, a national touring agency funded by Creative New Zealand, that delivers medium to large-scale regional and national tours of contemporary theatre, dance and music.

For Kura Te Waati, Kaiarahi Tikanga Māori for PANNZ, the reasons why our works stand out on the world stage are clear. “The lands and environments provide a spirit for people to be bold, courageous and instinctive in their creative processes and in relationship to one another and Aotearoa...that we are a country rich in culture and diversity and have the courage to express that.”

Highlighting the importance of Te Ao Māori on Aotearoa’s creative sector was a cornerstone of PANNZ Arts Market. As well as conducting a cleansing ceremony and Powhiri, Te Waati also conducted a panel discussion called He Tuāpapa  - A foundation to cultural competency and receiving first nations works and artists.

"He Tuāpapa is a terrific chance as an industry to discuss 'cultural competency'"- Jo Randerson

Playwright and MC for the event Jo Randerson found He Tuāpapa "a terrific chance as an industry to discuss 'cultural competency', so PANNZ is one place where these broader and important conversations can happen together.“

As a practitioner in the arts, Randerson finds “Any gathering of arts practitioners is useful, and for me as a maker I really value connecting with other companies and artists about their work, as well as connecting with venues and festivals to hear about current issues.”

For Randerson, the opportunity for connection is at the heart of the Art Market and underpins her advice for making the most of it. “They may be other like-minded folk who may be other artists, may be festivals or presenters, or may be (as in this year's case) arts workers who are looking at ways of measuring and valuing the work we do in the arts. I just try to be real with people and hold on to who I am and what I value. Some of my best PANNZ conversations happen in small corridors, wharepaku or in between meaty strategy sessions.”

After being a part of the madcap fun, considered conversations, boundless opportunities and tales that were both uniquely us yet universal it is clear why this has become such a staple; but if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, mark your calendars.

For those interested in PANNZ Art Market 2020, Gallagher advises the creative community that applications to present work are expected to open in August. PANNZ Executive Producer Drew James leads an industry panel who, using a set of publicly shared criteria, will set out the final works for presentation, with guidelines published on the PANNZ website


Images, from the top:
The Aotea Arts Precinct welcome delegates during a powhiri
Shel We, pitched by Tupe Lualua
Still Life with Chickens, hero image
Watching Paint Dry, pitched by The Rebel Alliance; Jo Randerson and Thomas Lahood pitching Soft'n Hard
Clockwise from top left: speakers Jo Randerson, Drew James, and Louise Gallagher; Julia Deams performing at the Ticketmaster Music showcase