NZ Fes­ti­val a rolling arts splash

Welling­ton may have lost in­ter­est in go­ing to rugby sev­ens, but it’s hun­gry for more arts events, writes Bess Man­son.

The Dominion Post - - News -

If Welling­ton needed proof of its claim to be the arts cap­i­tal, the NZ Fes­ti­val’s evo­lu­tion­ary makeover could seal the deal. Or­gan­is­ers have an­nounced that two ma­jor new events will be staged out­side the 2020 fes­ti­val dates, broad­en­ing the bi­en­nial event to a rolling arts splash.

One of those events, Sec­ond Unit, is some­thing of a mys­tery. An im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired by the world of film, it’s Se­cret Cin­ema meets Spinal Tap or a rock con­cert meets an Es­cape Room. In a bid to arouse cu­rios­ity, the fes­ti­val is some­what oblique on the de­tails.

The sec­ond project, Made In Welling­ton, will give au­di­ences and lo­cal artists a chance to be part of a work be­ing made in Welling­ton as a lead­ing in­ter­na­tional artist comes to the cap­i­tal for six weeks to make a new pro­duc­tion, which will then be staged in the 2020 fes­ti­val.

In re­veal­ing the two new projects, Meg Wil­liams, the fes­ti­val’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, says it is a win-win both for hun­gry au­di­ence members and keen arts work­ers in need of reg­u­lar work out­side the month-long fes­ti­val.

‘‘If we have a cal­en­dar of events over 12 months we will have fan­tas­tic things for the au­di­ence to ex­pe­ri­ence, more op­por­tu­ni­ties for New Zealand artists and arts work­ers. We think that is a great role for us to play as a lead­er­ship or­gan­i­sa­tion.’’

The NZ Fes­ti­val has broad­ened its cre­ative scope over the past few years, tak­ing over man­age­ment of the for­mally bi­en­nial Jazz Fes­ti­val, which went an­nual in 2009, and the bi­en­nial Lexus Song Quest in 2008.

Its board has run suc­cess­ful be­tween-fes­ti­val events, such as the Royal Ed­in­burgh Mil­i­tary Tat­too, which sold 84,500 tick­ets to its 2015-16 shows and in­jected

$57 mil­lion into the re­gion.

Wil­liams says their dis­cus­sions with the arts com­mu­nity and re­search into their past events in­di­cated there was suf­fi­cient de­mand for rolling arts ex­pe­ri­ences in be­tween the bi­en­nial fes­ti­val.

‘‘We have an­swered the call from Welling­ton City Coun­cil, Welling­ton Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Agency and arts-lov­ing Kiwis who are look­ing for ex­cit­ing, in­no­va­tive arts events to en­hance the cre­ativ­ity, vi­brancy and eco­nomic strength of the cap­i­tal.’’

So why not make the fes­ti­val an an­nual af­fair?

In 2014 the NZ Fes­ti­val board pon­dered this very ques­tion but de­cided against it, says Wil­liams. A lim­i­ta­tion of venues and fi­nan­cial con­straints meant this was out of the ques­tion.

‘‘In or­der to make the event an­nual, the most vi­able op­tion was that the fes­ti­val would be re­duced in length from three to two [weeks]. When the board looked at that op­tion the con­sen­sus was that the sta­tus quo was prefer­able to a shorter, an­nual of­fer­ing.’’

The bi­en­nial event gives it a sense of spe­cial­ness, she says.

‘‘The broader point is that we think the al­ter­na­tive – pro­duc­ing new events for Welling­ton – has ad­di­tional ben­e­fits that an­nu­al­i­sa­tion can’t achieve.

The fes­ti­val is aim­ing for total au­di­ence growth over the two years across all events, says Wil­liams.

One of the prin­ci­ples for this new model was that there would be sus­tain­abil­ity and fi­nan­cial back­ing for the events.

The fi­nan­cial back­ing for Sec­ond Unit comes from The Park Ho­tel and Lib­erty Ho­tel, which has promised a three-year com­mit­ment. The fes­ti­val con­tin­ues to look for fur­ther spon­sor­ship for this event.

Welling­ton Mayor Justin Lester, who is also on the fes­ti­val’s board of trustees, says Welling­ton may have stopped go­ing to the rugby sev­ens events but there is a strong drive for large-scale events.

There had been huge buy-in for the Eminem con­cert next year and ex­ist­ing events were pulling in the pun­ters in droves. About 16,000 peo­ple had a tip­ple at this year’s Beer­vana event, 50 per cent of the com­ing from out of town, Lester says.

More than 90,000 at­tended events at the 2018 NZ Fes­ti­val and World of Wear­ableArt sells about 60,000 tick­ets each year. Cuba Dupa started out small but now at­tracts 100,000 rev­ellers.

The fes­ti­val’s ad­di­tional pro­gramme will fill a few gaps in Welling­ton’s arts and cul­tural cal­en­dar, he says.

He ex­pected fi­nan­cial re­turns in the mil­lions.

But rev­enue aside, the op­por­tu­nity for arts work­ers could not be un­der­es­ti­mated, he says. ‘‘This will mean more reg­u­lar work for the cul­tural sec­tor, from ac­tors to pro­duc­tion work­ers. The fes­ti­val will be able to of­fer year-round em­ploy­ment to more work­ers.’’

Mid-fes­ti­val works

Wil­liams de­scribes Sec­ond Unit as an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired by the world of film, de­signed for a movie and com­edy-lov­ing au­di­ence who don’t of­ten at­tend live the­atre.

The venue site will be a cus­tombuilt set on Welling­ton water­front, in and around Circa The­atre.

The project will pro­vide em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple in the film and arts in­dus­try, she says.

More light can be shed on the sec­ond mid-Fes­ti­val of­fer­ing, Made In Welling­ton.

Ir­ish direc­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Michael Kee­ganDolan is at the helm of this dance pro­duc­tion. He and and his com­pany Teac Damsa (House of the Dance) will travel to Welling­ton for a six-week res­i­dency pe­riod to work on the pro­duc­tion.

It will pre­miere at the Dublin The­atre Fes­ti­val at the end of next year and be per­formed at Lon­don’s Sadler’s Wells, where Kee­ganDolan is an as­so­ciate artist, in early 2020 be­fore com­ing back to its place of ori­gin at the NZ Fes­ti­val. The project will re­ceive fund­ing from Arts Coun­cil Ire­land.

Kee­gan-Dolan, who was be­hind the fes­ti­val’s 2018 pro­duc­tion of Swan Lake, will in­vite fans to go be­hind the scenes as he makes the work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Kiwi artists.

Made in Welling­ton will be a cre­ative devel­op­ment in a re­hearsal space in Welling­ton but with pub­lic talks and classes else­where in the city.

Dur­ing the NZ Fes­ti­val, the Fes­ti­val Club will fea­ture late-night drinks and en­ter­tain­ment in­side the Spiegel­tent on Welling­ton’s water­front.

New Zealand Fes­ti­val ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Meg Wil­liams.

Lemi Poni­fa­sio will be one of three guest cu­ra­tors at the 2020 NZ Fes­ti­val.

The NZ Fes­ti­val is bring­ing mid­pro­gramme events to the Cap­i­tal next year. Fu­ture Play­ground, pic­tured, was per­formed at the fes­ti­val in 2018.

Or­phEus was de­vel­oped by chore­og­ra­pher Michael Par­menter for this year’s fes­ti­val.

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