Curated by long-standing local theatre-maker Stephen Bain alongside THE EDGE Engagement Programmes producer Sally Barnett, the New Performance Festival aims to draw attention to the New Theatre Movement, a new wave of performance that essentially seeks to deconstruct barriers between traditional theatre, dance and other forms of live performance and visual art by merging disciplines and planting audiences smack into the crossfire.
"There is a lot of work that sits in more than one camp," elaborates Stephen, who has worked as a performer, director and choreographer in New Zealand for nigh on 20 years. "And this is a current trend of contemporary performance, that there's more and more cross-pollination of stuff.
"It's all work that exists, and is happening all over the country, in different places, but it tends to be outside the mainstream theatres. So we're just showcasing something that is happening and is around, and is this exciting future of what performance is."
With 50 performances over nine nights in a variety of small performance spaces, the New Performance Festival is poised to be a concentrated, exciting dose of performance for audiences and artists alike.
"We've kind of pushed everything into a short timeframe so that people don't just get a taste of a show, that's not the concept," says Stephen. "The concept is to talk, hang around, listen to people afterwards, and watch a main-bill show. So there's a sense of getting a really great snapshot of this kind of new stuff."
Of the 13 shows on the festival bill, nine are New Zealand based, including Dunedin's Talking House Productions, whose captivating show Be | Longing sees performers listening to interviews with recent immigrants to New Zealand via MP3 players, and then relaying the testimonies to the audience verbatim - also replicating every intonation, inflection and hesitation, and complementing the dialogue with physical gestures where appropriate.
Audiences can expect to play a participatory role in Wake Less, a show from Wellington collective Binge Culture that "explores our obsession with the idea of 'escape'," while qualified critic and contemporary artist Tao Wells' works have been described as "a total deconstruction of theatre", and The Risk of Listening features scripts that are created by the shows' actors to a set of Wells' rules and performed unrehearsed.
Three international ensembles complete the line-up, including Rimini Protokoll, a German outfit whose groundbreaking show Call Cutta in a Box puts audience members in a room on their own, with a ringing phone. The performance is entirely about what happens when the 'audience' member strikes up a conversation with the call centre agent on the other end.
Performances such as these are essentially what the new theatre movement is about: merging mediums and parting with traditional performance structures to create a style of theatre in which audiences can truly engage, if not directly participate in.
As Stephen explains, "A lot of performance is really heavily experiential now. So it's about how somehow, as an audience, you go into some sort of weird place, or weird situation, [and] the performance is as much about you being there as sitting passively and watching."
Along with showcasing a selection of incredible shows, the Festival is intended to offer support for the development of New Theatre as an art form, and offers a full programme of other activities such as artist conversations, works in progress and short, free presentations around the topic of what it means to create and present theatre in 21st-century Aotearoa New Zealand.
Theatre performer trainer Bert Van Dijk and dramaturg and writer John Downie are among those hosting talks, and festival-goers will have an opportunity to delve deeper into what's happening in the minds of participating artists through both structured forums and informal 'hang out' times, not to mention a quirky new concept for artist interviews organisers have dubbed 'the Ping Pong Pit'.
"We were looking at ways to, again, activate the audience, so we're going to have a ping pong table conversation where the interviewees are essentially playing the game," says Bain of the performance dialogues, which will see artists play a simple game of ping-pong while discussing a range of topics relating to New Theatre. The adjudicator will double as a referee, while the audience will be seated either side of the ping-pong pit, involving them in both the conversation and game simultaneously.
All performances - except Call Cutta - will be held at the Aotea Centre. The conference wing will be transformed into a 'funhouse' for the duration of the event - complete with three theatres and a bar area that will host late-night performances by local bands like Orchestra of Spheres, and provide a space for festival-goers and performers to kick back between shows.
With a programme that looks set to be as thought-provoking as it is full of hilarity and fun, the New Performance Festival is an opportunity for Aucklanders to experience theatre in a whole new way, even by stepping into the action.
What: New Performance Festival
When: 17-25 February
Where: Aotea Centre
*This article originally appeared in The Edge's publication, Live.By Sarah Illingworth