Meet: Chris Gillies

Chris Gillies has worked in the entertainment industry most of his adult life, starting off building road cases for a large sound and lighting company in Auckland before eventually running the business, to event managing Rhythm & Vines on the East Cape. For the past nine years, Chris has been doing the event and production management for Te Matatini (NZ’s biannual kapa haka competition), which he says is “a real privilege, I love it.” And he also runs Rotorua’s annual variety show, Lakeside, “which involves everything from the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra to headline acts like Moana and the Tribe to all sorts of musicians who’ve played in local bands forever and a day.” Chris has been based in Hawke’s Bay for the last 2 ½ years, describing himself as “peripatetic” and a Kiwi first and foremost. Responding to the question, “How did Pitsch co-opt you onto the HBAF team?” he jokes, “He caught me at a weak moment, I think.” This is his first year of involvement in the production side of the festival.

What does it mean to be the production manager here at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival?

Technically a production manager is involved primarily with the technical aspects of the show – looking at the rider’s specifications of the various acts and ensuring that they are being covered off by the technical providers, and commonly you’d be working with a sound company, a lighting company, AV, staging, props. There’d be a variety of different companies providing those services.

However, here we’ve got quite a unique situation where there’s really one stand-out sole provider of all those services in Hawke’s Bay: Henry Norton Sight & Sound Services. Henry has his heart and soul in the job, and his contribution to the festival goes well beyond what we actually specify or ask for. In addition to that, he deals with a lot of the technical side of it. Most of the technical conversations happen directly between Henry and the touring lighting designer or production person, and I’m cc’d in the loop and occasionally have a word to say.

A lot of my role is coordinating things like what’s happening here on the Domain, tying in the various components that come in to make the festival site here work. The added complication is, of course, that’s there’s not just one but multiple venues spread right across the Bay. With the number of acts that we’ve got, combining all those acts in all the various venues and coordinating staff, that’s the challenge – that’s what wakes me at four in the morning.

The Spiegeltent build is a highlight so far

While I know the Spiegeltent as a venue, I’ve never been involved with the build of it before. I’ve done carpentry in the past and I do cabinet making as a hobby so seeing how the Spiegeltent all ties together, it’s very interesting.

It was quite an ambitious project to build that structure in the first instance because it would have been expensive, and also when you consider that the Spiegeltent comes in three 40-foot containers, weighing 54 tonnes in all, it’s really quite remarkable. It takes three core crew plus local labour (up to 12 people at a time per day) three and a half days to build.

In terms of what I’m looking forward to most when the festival kicks off, I’d have to say Greg Johnson – I haven’t heard Greg play for quite a long time, I’m pleased he’s playing. I tend to gravitate to the music events first, so Louis Baker, Shuffle Demons, and I’m sure Carnivorous Plant Society and Hopetoun Brown are going to be a wild finish. As a leftfield idea, we’ve got tickets to Jane Doe. And I’m looking forward to Ann-Droid, which I’ll be on duty at the Blyth for.

I think in the programme there’s enough variety, there’s something in there for everybody. I approach arts festivals in much the way I do movies. Often I go into a movie with a very low expectation and come away feeling like I’ve been treated to something I genuinely didn’t think could occur, and then there are other occasions when I go to a film which everyone has raved about and I go, what did they see in it?

With all your different event management experience, what’s unique about this particular event?

A lot of the work I do has been in the larger cities – Wellington Festival, Auckland festival of the arts – so there is a mood shift here. At those big festivals it’s all professional companies, professional people delivering the event. I’m not suggesting for a minute the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival isn’t being professionally run, but here it’s a community, it’s a family, there’s a much tighter family feel to it, which is great. I like being a part of that. There’s a real sense of belonging within the wider community too. Small things like Tumu’s just going, ‘Not a problem, you can have our forklift, we’ll deliver the wood for you’, and they’re just one example of many who have turned to us and said, ‘We would like to help’.

But there’s also quite an eclectic and challenging range of acts in the programme, which for somewhere other than Auckland or Wellington is quite refreshing to see on offer. It’s definitely a spoiling.



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