The interdisciplinary artist from Te Whanganui-a-Tara shares all the mahi that happens behind the scenes.
Ana (Ngāti Tāwhaki, Ngāi Tūhoe) has won multiple awards for her theatre work, and has been the recipient of the Te Tumu Toi New Zealand Arts Foundation Springboard Award, where she was mentored by Dame Gaylene Preston. Most recently, she has been a student at A Wave in the Ocean, Jane Campion’s pop-up film school, and has toured her show ScatterGun: After the Death of Ruamoko, to critical acclaim. She also makes music under the moniker Kōtiro and recently released the award-winning podcast True Justice, about people who have lived under the criminal justice system.
The start of the week
My pre-work rituals are important! I live in Mount Victoria, and if the weather’s fine, I’ll go out swimming with my little ocean swimming group The Washing Machines which is this chill WhatsApp group, and then we’ll usually go for coffee at Lola Stays on Marjoribanks Street, which is where I’ll start the process of going into work mode for the day.
It’s usually random stuff, like addressing admin stuff for a forthcoming show, or invoicing, all of that kind of niggly stuff that I’ll try and tackle on the front-end. It’s the same for any freelancer, right? It just depends on what you’ve got sitting there in that first bout of admin for the week.
If she’s high res, she’s up at 6.30, she swims like 2km in the moana. But if she’s feeling a little low-format, like 8-bit as opposed to like a high-quality PDF, then the day will start either with some Buddhist prayers to psychically ground me, or I’ll sleep a little longer and then hiss into the city to go and get a coffee and start tackling those emails.
Working on a script as an actor
Script work for me at the moment looks like just taking a good couple of hours or however long it takes to read a piece in its entirety, then I’ll read it again, make some notes and then give feedback to the writer or the director or whoever’s made it. Then, if someone’s sent me references to watch, as well, I’ll just try and really go in on those. So if I’m looking at a horror, which is well outside of my territory, I know I’m going to have to cover more mileage to actually get there.
This process can be as simple as going and looking at two or three features for 2024 or 2025, bearing in mind that the process for a writer developing a feature, or even a short, can take years. Like, they’re not necessarily confirmed, or I haven’t necessarily booked them, but I’ll go and get them professionally printed at Harvey Norman, get them bound so that I just have them as they are being developed. I feel protective for writers as I’m printing them. Like, “don’t look!”
It’s about respecting the breadth of time it takes for that individual to conceptualise, actually write, get funding for, then execute and realise, it’s like the least that I can do is like read your script every few months or years when you’ve got an update and keep track of it for you and be like, “this was really strong here, where did it go? Why did you delete Mrs. Whoever?”
Working on my own mahi
The bulk of the mahi in that middle bracket of the week is that wānanga and really workshopping whatever project is at the foreground of my mind, whether it’s Scattergun, True Justice or something else. I find that opening that rehearsal at 10 or 11 and closing at 2pm, that’s heaps.
But if I’m working on music, because it’s based on the availability of my friend Thomas [Arbor, music producer], then we might just have a couple of informal sessions on a Wednesday or Thursday evening at Pyramid Club, which is where he has a recording studio. I lean into the evening time bracket to work with him, and then the days will be for rehearsing either for that film mahi or sovereign rehearsal periods for my original work.
The hard stuff
It’s the unsexy back end of all of the admin that comes with all of the freelancing. It makes up the majority of the job – so communicating with venues, making budgets, making applications or like writing proof of concepts for applications for stuff, sending invoices.
For example, It’s the end of the financial year and I’ve got all my GST or whatever stuff looming. At the same time I have like a week or something that I need to get back to a director to give him notes on his script which he’s hoping to shoot. And then it’s also that I need to get back to everyone from the Whakatāne Art Gallery about when we’re next doing ScatterGun. And then get a press junket of footage together for Marnie (Karmelita, creative director of NZ Festival) that she can show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival people. Also I need to have my script ready for Campion Movie School!
It’s never one specific thing, but it’s the conglomeration of the admin mind needing to be on, as well as the creative mind. There’s the expectation on one’s self and to deliver to everyone that all cylinders will be consistently charged and ready to fire.
The end of the week
I have a Taurus moon, so my home environment is vitally important to me, and because what we do as artists is so front-facing having a flat whānau is really important to me. So doing shared dinners with my flatties is important, or going to a gig, having a few drinks with the girlies, but more recently it’s been cool getting back into going on missions.
Me and my homegirl Lily (Paris West, Mermaidens), we have this little crew called the Sea Hag Summit, very Wellington twee vibe, and we have these quarterly or bi-annual summits where we come together with a cast iron skillet and we make a bonfire and we cook saussies and go in on the AGM. We’re just like, “What’s going on? Where are you at?”
We just go for a big heart-to-heart and it’s so restorative and so important.
Support is crucial
Firstly, I had rad foundation here in Wellington which came through being a part of Long Cloud Youth Theatre when I was a teenager and finding a community at that seminal age where your self concept and identity is still taking form. A lot of the people that I trained in Long Cloud with are still really close friends and collaborators today.
Going to Toi Whakaari was also seminal in terms of developing as a performer and as a storyteller, and one thing I took for granted at that time was training in a place which had a pedagogy that was derived from kaupapa and tikanga from Manutūkē Marae.
But the people that have helped me in my career are my tuakana, my elders Coco Solid, Jackie Van Beek, Maddie Sami, Ains Gardiner, Puti Lancaster, Briar Grace Smith, just to name a few, and then the homies of my generation who, through being raised in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, it’s the people who have made this career and lifestyle, and dare I say vocation, too fun to drop out of.
What makes the work worth it
“The beauty, radiance and radness of what we do is that aspect of travelling, and not being fixed in one place. It’s like getting back from Whakatāne a few days ago, taking Scattergun to perform for whanau in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and into the mountains in Te Urewera after that, or being able to go with Bad Behaviour to Sundance, SXSW and New York. The thing that I love is telling stories from our place from Aotearoa and being able to do that in a local and international way. That’s the sexy front end of this thing that I love.
Even though there are certainly moments where the stress of needing to output in all of these different facets is like literally performance, literally to be expected to show up and deliver like an athlete, sometimes I clock a feeling of agency, and a feeling of freedom that I really cherish. There’s also the very sort of literal and practical surplus and deficit, also needing to be sharp and tuned into dealing with budgets and dealing with people who work in that very mathematical, Gregorian realm.
All that stuff gets overwhelming at times, but I just think there is something that is so heartening for me about knowing, “Yeah but actually Ana, this is towards you being able to do what you love”, which is, as twee as it sounds, telling stories and making people reflect on stuff that is experienced.
So within that Gregorian cycle of a week, what I cherish is those private, little psychic blocks where I realise I’m doing something that I legitimately love and it’s all part of that.
As told to Sam Brooks