Pitsch Leiser

2 August 2018

Originally from Switzerland, Pitsch Leiser moved to Hawke’s Bay from Auckland five years ago, with a whole string of creative leadership talents to his bow. He’s the instigator behind the Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival.

Tell us about your festival role – what do you actually do?

First and foremost my role is to create content for the programme, and then, as a result of developing relationships with sponsors and patrons, productions, agents, festivals, to make it happen. So, it’s building a programme based on the relationships and networks that enable content to come from that.

I email a lot, I’m on the phone a lot, I talk with a lot of people, but I also spend a lot of time researching other festivals, arts organisations, other arts celebrations around the world. I find inspiration every day, it never stops, I never not have that hat of festival director on, I suppose. Sometimes there are two or three hats over the top. But I’m always thinking what else we could do.

I’m an artistic director for lack of a better word. I have an overall perspective of what the offering is, the bigger picture.

And then I spend a lot of time trying to communicate these ideas and thoughts and promises to the rest of the team. The other part is bringing the team together, finding the right people who can work in harmony and who have the right attributes, skills and attitudes to work in this festival environment.

I’m constantly looking for the pieces that are missing in the puzzle… and making up new puzzles. At the same time I try to maintain a reasonably stable core team with a shared vision. I’m not precious about whether that vision comes from me, I am always looking for that shared content to come through from everyone.

Take our programme, for example, it’s a collaborative effort between all of us really, in that pretty much everyone has contributed towards it, whether it’s ideas around design, whether it’s programme content, whether it’s the way we use this content, the way it flows as a story, the sequence of events throughout the festival. But also, you know, the sponsors, the patrons, the advertisers, they all contribute towards this final piece.

And then again in the physical manifestation of the festival, particularly around the festival garden, the hub, it’s a collaboration of various talents and people that implement different operational aspects alongside quite a clear aesthetic vision.

Curation of the programme is a really interesting balancing act. There’s obviously my own personal taste around music, theatre and stories and what I look for in a work, and that usually is closely linked to the emotional response I get from that work. And then the balance between what our audiences look for, what we think our audiences are looking for. There’s a balance between giving the audience what they think they are looking for and also giving them stuff they don’t know they’re looking for. It’s about a relationship of trust, building that trust.

The works we show are of a high standard of skill, expertise, presentation, content; they are, generally speaking, well-honed works or have come out of a deeper process of making.

My biggest strength is probably making connections: connecting people, networking, drawing links, making introductions. That’s what I always do.

 What excites you about the festival?

The first night of the festival when people arrive and I get to watch their expressions on their faces, when I get to see their responses to what we have created. That’s something I’m excited about. That’s also the moment when the last piece of the puzzle falls into place, that’s when the show begins. There’s this strange combination of anticipation, a bit of nervousness around the unknown, and also a great sense of achievement to have got to that point. I always look forward to that as a moment in time.

Threes shows Pitsch is personally looking forward to and why

I’m looking forward to Le Moana and 1918 because I love contemporary dance.

I particularly love contemporary Pasifika dance. And I look forward to discovering a slice of New Zealand history that I had no knowledge of, taking us back exactly 100 years. Over the last three years we’ve commemorated the First World War and New Zealand’s role in that and this story firmly sits within that bigger story, but to me it’s not a well-known one.

With 1918 I look forward to welcoming more people from the Pasifika community as well to the Festival. And alongside that, of course, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt and Still Life with Chickens, which all feature strong stories from our Pacific region, one with a powerful all-women cast, one a strong solo actor.

I’m looking forward to Delaney Davidson because I think he’s an absolute genius, without a doubt one of New Zealand’s most talented musicians and creatives.

I particularly look forward to Ship of Dreams because we had conversations about this work prior to him going on tour to Europe. It will be a beautiful work of deep, dark folky tales he’s unravelled while working with some of Europe’s most talented film makers and musicians to create the visual content for this show. He will have produced an amazing work of footage that will be an integral part of the performance, and in true Delaney style it will land just beautifully.

Delaney lived in Switzerland for quite a long time, so he inadvertently knows something about my surroundings growing up there, and I love how through his eyes I discover my old home in a very different way. He goes and makes a little clip of a railway station, and it’s in itself the most ordinary content – there’s just a train at the train station and there’s nothing happening, or not much. But the way he puts it in there, what he focuses on, captures a really deep essence of that place.

What he does, in my eyes, is he transforms the ordinary to the extraordinary through, I think, just letting in some unseen or unspoken or unarticulated things. I don’t know how he does it, but that place or that spot will never be quite the same. I don’t want to say it loses its sense of innocence – it’s the opposite really, in that there’s a whole new layer of depth that’s been added. It’s always a bit dark, in a kind of artistic Cinema Noir way, so I definitely look forward to that.

I look forward to Jane Doe because we need to have that conversation in a more open way.

I look forward to this in the sense that it will trigger more conversations – it will be uncomfortable for some, but I think it’s the show that we’ll probably talk most about. In itself it’s quite a simple set up, but I look forward to the impact I believe this show will have on us and that transformation.

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