The high calibre of entries from the University of Otago has led to two School of Performing Arts students being awarded $10,000 FAME Emerging Practitioner Awards.
Six performing arts institutions across New Zealand were provided with a $10,000 award from the FAME Trust, in partnership with the Acorn Foundation. However, after considering the applicants from Otago, the trustees selected two winners from the University for 2021 – third-year Bachelor of Music performance student Abhinath Berry and Theatre Studies master’s student Jordan Wichman.
The trustees said they couldn’t choose between the two applicants, both of whom made outstanding submissions.
“The decision was made due to the very high standard of the applications and the potential inherent in both Jordan and Abhinath that the FAME trustees are keen to support.”
Abhinath entered as a performer on piano, sending in a recording of him playing a Liszt piece in the Dunedin Concerto Competition, in which he was placed second. Abhinath is also a talented composer and has been chosen for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Todd Composer Awards.
Jordan entered as a theatre director and is currently doing a Diploma for Graduates and a Master of Arts in Theatre Studies. She has a wide range of skills, and her goal is to become a professional stage director and create work that integrates music, dance, circus and technology into physical theatre.
Head of the School of Performing Arts, Professor Anthony Ritchie, says the University is proud of the students and what they have achieved and appreciates the opportunity the FAME awards provide.
“The awards offer the selected students both money and publicity, and a real morale boost as they strive towards establishing careers for themselves in the arts. In addition to helping with student fees and living costs, the awards bring the students to the attention of the arts scene in Aotearoa and signal that these are practitioners who are worth watching out for!”
Abhinath, who grew up in Dunedin and attended Otago Boys’ High School, says he is “thrilled and immensely grateful” to have his work recognised by the panel.
“I feel like in performing arts there’s a lot of things we have to do that are unnoticed. There’s a lot of work that no-one sees going on. You practice alone for hundreds of hours, for a few minutes on stage,” says Abhinath. “It’s a huge acknowledgement of all the work I have put in. It’s incredibly motivating to have someone external to the University recognise the passion I have for my work.”
Before coming to Otago, Abhinath had limited music performance education, and initially planned on studying Physics and Botany but enrolled in music “because I couldn’t help myself”.
He says the School of Performing Arts and his mentor Professor Terence Dennis have been very supportive, and Otago has “done wonders for my playing”.
Composition, however, is something he’s done for a while. “It felt like having formal education for composition was slightly less important if you have things to say. There have been a lot of composers in history who have been essentially self-taught.”
He says he enjoys exploring ways in which composers “manipulate the 10 fingers”.
“A lot of piano music is very revolutionary in terms of the technique they demand and I just really enjoy exploring all the different colours and a variety of sounds and techniques and how that all translates to the composer’s vision.
“Coming to Otago really helped me refine my composing technique and be more convincing about getting my ideas across. I like to explore the idea of tension in sound. A lot of my music is quite unsettling and unpredictable. There is something about making your own music which playing other people’s doesn’t quite satisfy.”
Otago’s Head of Classical Performance, Blair Professor Terence Dennis MNZM FRSNZ FNZAH, describes Abhinath’s development as an undergraduate student as exceptional. “His examination recital at the end of 2021 was awarded the highest mark we have given for that level since my appointment to this position in 1981, and his regular appearances in public concert contexts are testament to this talent. His dedication and potential are exemplary.”
Abhinath is also the recent recipient of the University’s Outstanding Achievement to Arts and Culture Award. Next year, he will be studying for his honours in piano performance and composition and is hoping to be able to perform in public at national competitions.
Jordan says she was very excited to receive the FAME award and it means she can focus on her work and study in the coming year, without financial stress.
“My little brother is coming down to start university next year, so it was going to be quite financially tough on my parents having both of us down here [from Auckland]. It’s just really, really nice that I can support myself.”
In her application, she talked about what she wants to bring to the arts community in Dunedin and nationally.
“My work focuses a lot on interdisciplinary art, which I think there’s a little bit of a hole in the market for at the moment. So, my big master’s project next year is going to be looking at immersive and interdisciplinary art and whether or not it is marketable – seeing audiences’ reactions and thoughts.”
She describes interdisciplinary art as “essentially taking all of the aspects of the performing arts and kind of mashing them together to create something that’s really beautiful and cohesive”.
Jordan does a lot of directing and producing and behind-the-scenes work, although she will still get up on stage if the opportunity arises.
“I’ve kind of worked out that the best way to have a career in theatre is to be able to put your fingers in all the pies.”
During her time at Otago, she has especially enjoyed the lunchtime theatre programme. “It’s such a safe place to try things and experiment and learn new skills, without the risk of failure that you face in the real world. And the community is absolutely so nice.”
To help build a network for her future career, next year she will be going on tour to the New Zealand Fringe Festival with the company ‘afterburner’ and working as a theatre manager during the Dunedin Fringe Festival in March 2022.
Professor of Theatre Studies, Stuart Young, says by traversing dance, music and theatre for her Bachelor of Performing Arts, Jordan has emerged as a truly interdisciplinary theatre-maker.
“That interdisciplinarity has distinguished the work she has done for her Diploma for Graduates and her Master of Arts. Through the combination of these two qualifications, she is broadening and deepening her knowledge and skills, while also displaying considerable, commendable artistic flair and boldness as well as intellectual curiosity.”
Founded in 2007, the FAME (Fund for Acting and Musical Endeavours) Trust provides support for young and mid-career artists, and has funded national organisations such as the NZSO, Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School, the NZ School of Dance and local groups such as Opus Orchestra, Youth Philharmonic and BOP Symphonia. In 2021, the FAME Trust developed Emerging Practitioner Awards to support young artists during their tertiary study.
This year, the Acorn Foundation has given away more than $2M to 194 local charitable organisations and scholarship and award winners.