Wānaka Sun       

Finishing on a high note

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 15 Apr, 2021 | By Pat Deavoll editor@thewanakasun.co.nz

Philip Tremewan has been at the forefront of Wānaka's Festival of Colour as director since its inception in 2005. After this week's festival, he is stepping down, handing over the reins to Sophie Kelly.

And this year's Festival has been the trickiest yet, as he and his team have had to negotiate Covid-19 and all the hassles this has brought.

“It was a tricky year,” he said. “The big difference was that usually, I'd be travelling to look at festivals in Australia and the big one in Edinburgh  – it's a massive festival. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has 2500 different shows every day. It is the grand-mama festival of them all.

“Usually, we bring over one or two shows from Edinburgh every year. It's a long way to bring shows from Europe – but we bring one-person shows and we share them with other festivals.”

But none of that happened this year, he said, so he focused intensely on New Zealand work. The way it happens, he finishes one festival and is on to planning the next one. He was thinking about what shows he would bring in well before Covid-19 hit.

“A lot of it is around collaboration,” he said. ”Can we get someone else to share the cost? This time around it was quite different. The Dunedin Arts Festival had to cancel last year because of Covid-19 and they had asked if they could line up with us.

“So this year a lot of the work we show is going to go across to Dunedin.”

Tremewan was head-hunted to become the festival's director after working as the visual arts director for the Festival of Wellington and the director of the Festivals of Taupo and Tauranga.

Born in Wellington and educated in Christchurch, Tremewan studied English and theology at Cambridge University in England with the original intention of becoming an Anglican priest.

He then taught English for a year in Egypt and a year in the east end of London before returning to New Zealand and becoming involved in the arts.

He said festivals were a real source of inspiration because they allowed him to work with artists, the community and with different stakeholders.

The job of a festival director was complex as it involved putting together a programme with a strong core that reached a lot of people and pushed a lot of boundaries, as well as allowing for a degree of community participation.

With the Festival of Colour, as well as constructing a programme Tremewan has to get the funding. A lot of local businesses were knocked back by Covid-19, he said, and he had to look elsewhere.

“About 25 per cent of our income is from ticket sales and that means a lot of chasing up of other funding to make the thing work.

“So even during the lockdown, we were working away talking to people about shows they were cooking up. And people come to us some time- there is a brand-new show this year that asked if they could use us as a test-bed. Wānaka first and then the big city afterwards.”

The real stakeholders in our festival are from the community, Tremewan said. These people are putting tens of thousands of dollars into the festival. And a lot of these have been there from the start, making it happen.

“Has the festival grown? It has got a little bit bigger and longer and has more shows in it than ever. It's pretty substantial now, and has a range of work and some top-quality companies- we are delighted.

“This is my last festival and I am handing over to Sophie Kelly. I will do one more Aspiring Conversations and then exit gracefully into the sunset.”

Tremewan said he would programme the next Aspiring Conversations so there was a proper succession strategy.

 He planned to continue living in Wellington and stay involved in the arts, but he would also work on climate change.

Read edition 1022 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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