02 Sep 2022
Creative New Zealand acknowledges the passing of much-loved and influential writer and director, Phillip Mann. Stephen Wainwright (Chief Executive), Amanda Hereaka (Arts Practice Director – Theatre, Dance & Festivals) and Malcolm Burgess (Arts Practice Director – Literature) reflect below.
The passing of the much-loved and influential theatre director and writer Phillip Mann has already been acknowledged today on Radio New Zealand. No doubt many other acknowledgements will shortly follow.
This reflects the fact that Phil (he was always Phil) was a notable creative, and something of a creative polymath. He was also a significant writer - Chevalier & Gawayn: The Ballad of the Dreamer, his final book, is on my bedside table, and it feels only tika to read it now.
Phil was a renowned theatre director as well as an academic/theatre teacher in Drama Studies at Victoria University of Wellington for many years. Several of us who work at Creative New Zealand passed through his hands, including myself and Amanda Hereaka, whose reflections follow, together with those of Malcolm Burgess. Amanda and I (and many other former students) considered our time with Phil amongst the richest learning tertiary experiences we encountered.
In addition to being a cricket-loving Yorky New Zealander, Phil was also the husband of our dear colleague of many years Nonnita, who together with their whānau, did such a terrific and loving job of nursing and loving Phil as his health declined at their home in Wellington.
In an act which seems all the more remarkable in hindsight, given Phil’s health, whānau and friends also recently pulled together an 80th birthday party and book launch at Te Whaea; the National Dance and Drama Centre. This was, of course, a wonderfully fitting venue and there were some heartfelt and beautiful tributes. How wonderful to be present to hear those, especially I think for Phil who was very aware that his time remaining time was short and precious.
Below are some recollections from Amanda Hereaka, our Arts Practice Director, Theatre, Dance and Festivals.
A few weeks back I was privileged to be asked to speak at Phillip’s 80th birthday as a graduate of the Victoria University’s Theatre and Film department and as a student of Phil’s. It gave me the chance to reflect on my time as a student and the impact it had on my career and life, and to thank Phil for the massive contribution he made to New Zealand theatre.
As a student I had no idea at the time how lucky we were – not just the access we had to facilities such as 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn Parade, 225 Aro Street nor the creative freedom being in those spaces allowed – but that the course also provided access to people. People who were professional artists with lived experience of the worlds we aspired to be part of. But also, to those, I think, access to a cohort of likeminded students who would go on to be collaborators, co-conspirators and, in my case, lifelong friends.
Phillip was responsible for establishing a university course that was so much more than just a few papers, but it was a space to explore creativity, deepen practice, to learn about all aspects of theatre, not just performing.
It was a course that engaged all aspects of your being – your mind, body and soul. It was a great foundation that gave you knowledge about classical theatre, to modern classics, learning how to think deeply and critically. Where you also learnt by being thrown in at the deep end learning practical skills – how to plug in a light, operate a board and most importantly, how to create your own work. It gave us the opportunity to learn the importance of our relationships, our shared humanity and how theatre can connect us on so many levels.
It gave us the tools and the confidence to create our own platforms and vehicles to tell our own stories in our own way and to add to the legacy of theatre in Aotearoa. And for that, Phillip Mann, I will be forever grateful.
Our Arts Practice Director Literature Malcolm Burgess also shares fond memories of friendship and collaboration with Phil:
I cherish the time I spent with Phil over the years – whether enjoying his perceptive takes on writing, science or mythology, to being fortunate to have visited him in France.
He was – and is – a great and sensitive soul who had a great impact on many writers, through his encouragement of new talent, his kind and nurturing qualities and unique abilities to evoke wonderous worlds on the page and stage.
His legacy will long be felt on many levels, both locally and internationally.
Here are some lovely tributes from the writing community, speaking about Phillip’s new book Chevalier & Gawayn at the launch last month: