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Backstage

Renee Liang offers her take on Auckland Fringe and Festival happenings and digs a little deeper b

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Renee Liang offers her take on Auckland Fringe and Festival - digging a little deeper behind the scenes and into the minds of creators. If you're involved in the festivals, you might even see her at a rehearsal - or performing in an elevator...

Follow her updates below.

“Looking at the list of shows on offer for the Auckland Fringe and Auckland Fest, it’s clear that as artists, we explore the height, breadth and depth of human existence – quite often in the same show. And it’s in this wealth of storytelling that we can console ourselves – our lives are not meaningless, there are many things of beauty and strength still to celebrate.”

Tuesday March 22 - Festival Reflections

Auckland Arts Festival bowed out on Sunday night, but not without a last flurry of premieres and special performances. One, much-anticipated was the world premiere of Douglas Wright’s Rapt on the final Wednesday, a work which pulls together the languages of dance, music and visual arts into a richly layered, dream-like piece. Read more...

Tuesday March 15 - Fringe Awards

On Sunday night the Auckland Fringe ended in true style, with a party in the glamorous surrounds of the Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent. Beforehand, The Basement was packed out for the last two shows of the Fringe – The Rebel Alliance’s moving and risky Standstill and Benjamin Henson’s spooky adaptation of gothic classic The Turn of the Screw.

In two years, the Auckland Fringe has had a spectacular growth spurt. Not only are there more shows and more venues but there are also more people running around the city with strange costumes, wild ideas and something they want to share. The great thing about the Fringe is how easy it is to take part. Read more...

Thursday March 10 - The Pulse of Auckland

I love Festival time because of the atmosphere it creates. Auckland feels like a real city, living and breathing, with a pulsing heart at Aotea Square. People are pulled into the CBD, pumped around its theatres and galleries, given time to linger in the spaces and eating places. This year the clever people at the Festival have created a great central space with neon signs, plenty of information clearly visible, and a good programme of events, both pay and free, to draw people in. Read more..

Wednesday March 2 - Festival blast-off!

For the last few weeks, Aotea Square has been a maze of tape, hardhats and mysterious scaffolding. Tonight all will be revealed. The Auckland Arts Festival has just kicked off and the Fringe is in full swing.

As I write this, a number of premieres are making final preparations before the doors open: Massive company’s Havoc in the Garden, the much-anticipated Vietnamese Water Puppets, gay men’s performance group Silver Stars, risqué cabaret Smoke & Mirrors, Handel’s opera Xerxes, and Who are you?, the dance programme by Black Grace’s Urban Youth Movement. Read more...

Monday February 28 - Auckland Arts Festival

The Festival this year aims to celebrate “the infinity of ideas within the artistic mind”. As festival director David Malacari says in his programme introduction, “the Festival provides a context for us to explore new ideas and new worlds; to take pleasure in new discoveries, empathise with the stories of joy and heartbreak, and come away with our universe expanded to include the new galaxies of thought we have encountered.”

My stomach turned when I read that – for that is why I go to see things, and why I make work, especially in a world which is cruel and uplifting in turn. I need to make sense of it all, and I need to communicate with others. It’s encouraging that many artists I have interviewed also feel that a sense of connection with their audience is of utmost importance. Read more...

Wednesday 23 February

As I write this, I'm keeping an eye on the news from Christchurch. It seems trivial to be thinking about arts festivals at a time like this. But even as I scan my Facebook feed, items pop up about what the arts community is doing to help. Only a few hours after news of the earthquake broke, Auckland musicians were already planning a benefit concert. There’s a growing list of shows at the Wellington Fringe who are donating their proceeds to the earthquake appeal fund.  Poetry Live’s next gig, at the Thirsty Dog on K’Rd next Tuesday, is dedicated to raising koha to help quake victims. And a group of writers are planning to donate their words and voices to raise money.

For a growing list of updates, check out James Wenley’s excellent theatre blog.

Whatever we do, however we do it, we can help by keeping going. Looking at the list of shows on offer for the Auckland Fringe and Auckland Fest, it’s clear that as artists, we explore the height, breadth and depth of human existence – quite often in the same show. And it’s in this wealth of storytelling that we can console ourselves – our lives are not meaningless, there are many things of beauty and strength still to celebrate. It’s our job to record these stories in performance, to inspire discussion among our audience, and to engage fearlessly with issues, however they may come disguised.

This is the first of a special series I’ll be writing twice a week as I explore the Auckland Fringe and Festival. Lacking a time machine (damn budget), I can’t go to everything, but I have been pestering people by email and in person, and sometimes even showing up at rehearsal. Backstage will link to interviews and websites of shows I’m excited about, and hopefully dig a little deeper behind the scenes and into the minds of creators.

The Auckland Fringe officially starts this weekend, with a free event, Fringe in the Park, which offers a (did I say -free?) taster of the events on offer. These are many and legion – over 100 events, utilising venues from Waiheke Island to the Waitakeres, and organised into categories (Cabaret/Burlesque, Comedy, Dance, Music, Outdoor, Theatre, Visual Arts and – for shows which just defy description – “Other”.)

Happily for those of chronic pecuniary disadvantage (let’s not make any ill -informed comments about “poor choices” and use of food banks here), events range from free, to koha, to low-cost. Most tickets are in the $10-$15 range. As with the first Fringe two years ago, The Basement becomes Fringe Central with a programme of events from late afternoon to early morning, most days. It also plays host to an eclectic art exhibition, The Soft Mad Children, exhibiting work by artists in the “fringe” arts industries – theatre production, set, clothing, graphic and animation design, teaching and playwriting.

A few upcoming Fringe shows that caught my eye: Gush: Love and other Filthy Habits features veteran (but obviously still young) comedienne Penny Ashton, with her partner-in-life/partner-in-comedy (possibly the same thing) Matthew Harvey, who’s been making a few waves on the spoken word scene recently. A fast-talking and hilarious hour is likely, but it might not be one to take your grandma to, unless she’s fond of jokes about genitalia.

Soul Sessions hits Myers Park for six hours on Saturday 5th March, with street artists (Cut Collective and Cinzah Merkens, among others) painting live to a soundtrack provided by DJs from Base FM. It’s free, and a chance to chill out and watch some great art form before your eyes, with minimal effort - from you, anyway. And, of course, I need to pimp the show I’m involved in, The Safety Device of Elisha Otis. This is not one you can buy tickets for or plan to attend – but if you’re in a lift at the right place and the right time (I hear the Aotea Centre might be a venue), impossibly improbable things might well start happening.

  • I’ll talk about more shows in the next issue, but now, I’d like to proudly present some interviews with the creatives behind some of the shows.

One Question – why don’t we…? questions the mindlessness of our everyday lives, using a collusion of art forms – poetry, dance, music and theatre. I interviewed producer and performer Gus Simonovic about the show’s inception.

The Wet Hot Beauties, a performance troupe of over 70 women (and a few lucky men) revive the spectacle of water ballets this week. Last seen in NZ over 50 years ago, the ‘aquacade’ performances featured women in synchronised formations in the water. Sirens references the ancient legend of the feisty temptresses who tried to stop Odysseus, and having been to a rehearsal, I don’t think this show will disappoint. Amazing that it’s been created largely out of goodwill, a great deal of commitment, and a community spirit.

On the theatrical side, to which I’ll admit a slight bias, When Animals Dream of Sheep also opens this week. An enigmatic exploration of humans’ interaction with nature, it’s outdoor theatre with a technological twist - a Skype linkage to performers in The Netherlands is part of the performance. Frequent theatrical trouble-maker Stephen Bain directs the show, and I spoke to him about his practice for my Cultural Storytellers series.

The Wrong Side is a play by Stephen Lunt being performed for koha at indie venue Te Karanga Gallery on K’Rd. Lunt looks at childhood fears and what happens when they start to become real. (Read the interview here).

Right, that’s all for now. Off to a show tonight – and watch out for my next instalment on Monday.

Written by

Renee Liang

24 Feb 2011

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.