Talking Back: NZ in Edinburgh

Writer and director Dione Joseph invites us to experience and enjoy New Zealand at Edinburgh through her ‘blurry and biased lenses.’

Keep an eye out in August as Dione shares her stories and interviews from Edinburgh, exploring New Zealand’s role on the international stage.

“These are conversations about New Zealand’s collective story, and it is vital that all artists are heard, in their own voice, on their own terms, telling their own story.”

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If all the world is a stage, as some playwright of known repute (supposedly William Shakespeare) once said then for the month of August that stage is the city of Edinburgh.

With more than seven festivals happening concurrently and 200 plus NZ artists (including musicians, authors, performers, and visual artists) heading to Edinburgh this year it seems appropriate there is also a local to bring those stories back to you.

That person is me. I will be listening, sharing and bringing you the latest from our fellow Kiwis abroad at two of the main performing arts festivals: Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I want to have a conversation about the arts and New Zealand’s role on the international stage. It will be their responses, thoughts, sentiments, probably their grumbles too, that I will be religiously chronicling. Of course, the outcome will be dependent on time, place and hour that such chats take place. These conversations, I am confident, will hold up a mirror to our society at a time when we are in transition, shifting from the desire to merely provide meaning through our work and instead to provoke meaning for our audiences.

I believe it is only through actively engaging with the core issues and concerns of our arts industry can we actively start redefining how we have a conversation about the arts. And that’s what I am here to do.

With your help.


Who says Kiwis can’t fly?

In the past two years I have been fortunate enough to travel at an international level and engage in conversation and knowledge building about the performing arts industry. I share my work as an artist, specifically as a writer and director, but also as a performance studies scholar, intent on exploring those relationships that inform how New Zealand identity literally performs on the international stage and also how other countries and their performing arts industries are developing within a contemporary context. More about my work can be found at www.dionejoseph.com

This August, I wish to take you to Edinburgh, to meet our fellow Kiwi artists and also directors, producers, designers and publicists, to catch sight of what it means to be in one of the world’s most famous festival cities.  With twelve festivals that take place annually during the calendar year, seven between June-August, there is a wealth of opportunity for New Zealand talent to shine. And it is vital that as New Zealanders, as audiences, as listeners, as writers, we too are there.

You are there.

According to Creative New Zealand we have representatives across seven of the festivals, a testimony to the diversity of New Zealand arts practice.  New Zealanders are carving a space at the Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival, Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Royal Edinburgh Military tattoo and of course, the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Performance Party 

The two festivals central to my own interest are the world renowned smorgasbords of performance: colloquially known as the Edinburgh International and the Edinburgh Fringe. The former was and continues to be an invited and curated festival showcasing high calibre classical opera, music, theatre and dance. But during its very first year in August of 1947 something rather unexpected happened. Eight theatre companies turned up uninvited to perform. Not being part of the programme they instead chose, rather than return home as rejects from the big brother party, to instead perform at the ‘fringe’ of the official festival. Since then more and more companies began to arrive and by the time they were made official in 1958 the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had made a place for itself in the arts world.

You see why I want you to come to this party with me? But wait there’s more.

According to their website there were more than 45,464 performances of 2871 shows last year, that’s a ridiculous number of artists and audience in one place.

So it is with great excitement (both on my part and for those involved in the shows) that NZ will have a range of different works presented at both festivals.

Three invited artists are performing at the invitation of Jonathan Mills at the International festival: Lemi Ponifasio’s company MAU, pianist Michael Houston and composer Gareth Farr will be presenting Relict Furies.

The Fringe will see eight New Zealand works including performances by Kila Kokonut Krew, Auckland Theatre Company and Te Mataini and many others performing across a number of different venues in the city.

These two festivals are of key interest for me (as a writer and director) but also as an avid theatre lover. These are our works, New Zealand works, and they will be representing New Zealand on the international stage.

Our stories need to be told 

For readers back home, or ex-pats overseas, there are so many stories that deserve to be told. Anecdotes, memories, trials and success – all those stories that go unmentioned. Once the lights have cooled and scripts put away, the final box office count been made and flowers given in congratulations to the leads left to rot in their own decomposing perfume – can we really say the show is over? No. Performance never stops. The curtain might have dropped but the story continues. The conversation with the audience continues. The legacy of the show continues.

I’m in Edinburgh to have conversations. How did our artists get to Edinburgh? What has their journey been like in the last few months? Is it everything they ever imagined? How does being at the Festival add to their career? Acknowledgement, credibility, even the unofficial kudos, does it matter? How are audiences reacting? Not just the reviewers from The Guardian but the locals who come up from Glasgow. Who are the audiences? Do they ‘get it’? Does it even matter as long as they enjoy it? Should all NZ artists aspire to have their work showcased at the Fringe? Is it worth it?

So many questions. I expect a number of diverse, rich and complex answers. I hope audiences both at home and overseas will add to the conversation.

I hope you will come along for the ride. Experience and enjoy New Zealand at Edinburgh through my blurry and biased lenses. I can only promise you one thing and its inspired by what Linda Tuhiwai Smith advised her readers and audience in regards to empowering Indigenous voices:

“The point about the stories is not that they simply tell a story, or tell a story simply… [it is] that these new stories contribute to a collective story”

These are conversations about New Zealand’s collective story, and it is vital that all artists are heard, in their own voice, on their own terms, telling their own story.

Be a listener. Be a writer. Be part of the conversation.