Vanessa Immink on ‘Co – Lab’oration in the arts

New Zealand producer Vanessa Immink has teamed up with Disco Turtle Productions for the Adelaide Fringe premiere of her award-winning show Talofa Papa. A trained musical theatre artist, Immink has devoted much of her career to paying it forward and helping artists develop the skills to create and stage their work.

Kasiano Mita of Talofa Papa | photo by Tabitha Arthur

Immink created The Co – Lab in 2016 as a way to produce and create theatre in New Zealand, focusing on stories and characters that do not usually appear on New Zealand stages. The Co – Lab has produced two productions, Bleeding Black and Talofa Papa.

The Co – Lab won “Most Promising Emerging Company” at the 2018 New Zealand Fringe Festival and Talofa Papa won “Most Outstanding Performer”, “Adelaide Fringe Tour Ready Award” (NZ Fringe 2018), and a Weekly Award at FRINGE WORLD (Perth Fringe 2019).

Originally from Whakatāne, Immink moved to Wellington in 2012 to study Performing Arts. Once graduating from the Whitireia Performance Centre with a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Musical Theatre), she began working as a production assistant for Lunchbox Theatrical Productions on international touring shows such as Singing In the Rain, Cats, Blue Man Group and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.


How do you feel about having the opportunity to bring your production to the Adelaide Fringe for the first time?

I’m incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival family. Talofa Papa was awarded the Adelaide Fringe Tour Ready Award in March 2018 at the New Zealand Fringe Festival which was an incredible confidence boost for our team by saying Pasifika (Polynesian) Theatre can and should work in major mainstream festivals such as the Adelaide Fringe.

Vanessa Immink | photo by Tabitha Arthur

What prompted you to start a business in the arts?

I have a goal to work and develop our arts industry for my remaining days, and although I am a trained musical theatre performer, I quickly realised there isn’t enough paid work for MT performers in New Zealand so I would need to upskill and add more tools to my creative toolkit.

While studying, I taught myself and found mentors in marketing, publicity, stage and production management, and worked on shows in production in the evenings. My training at Whitireia Performance Centre facilitated many production skills, and gave me a greater understanding of how productions get put together, what roles and expertise are required, and how to speak in many different technical languages.

I saw many of my friends and colleagues (who are incredibly talented) tap out of the creative industry for various reasons. Some were because they had whānau/family to support, some because it wasn’t financially viable and some because they just didn’t know where to go next. I want to help support and develop performers and creative artists so they feel like they CAN have a career in the arts. I want to champion emerging artists to give them some confidence in producing and understanding how to make their shows/ideas happen.

How does the New Zealand Fringe compare to the Adelaide Fringe?

New Zealand Fringe is amazing. It’s like an incredibly supportive, wacky, small family where you can try and test anything and there will always be the cool mom saying “you’re doing great sweetie” who gives you a hug at the end of your season. It’s definitely not as large as Adelaide (140 shows vs 1300 shows), but each festival I have done I’ve learnt, grown, felt safe and welcome.

Adelaide Fringe is MASSIVE! We just came from FRINGE WORLD in Perth and thought it would be a good taste of the big leagues before Adelaide Fringe, but it’s still overwhelming. There are so many events, so many artists, so many opportunities such as the Fringe Works sessions and Honeypot. I’m like a kid in a candy store and don’t know what to try first.

L to R: Heather O’Carroll (former Programme Manager/co- general manager of BATS Theatre), Vanessa Immink, and Waren Thomas (former Business manager/co-general manager of BATS Theatre) | photo supplied

What highlights and challenges have you experienced whilst running your business?

The highlights are:

  • Winning 3 awards at NZ Fringe Festival with Talofa Papa and leading us on this year long journey to get to FRINGE WORLD, Adelaide Fringe and Auckland
  • Gaining a Creative New Zealand Grant which has allowed us to actually come over. Even a small season in Wellington can cost a lot of money, let alone touring to 3 different cities with new markets in each one, flights, accommodation and still making sure I’m paying my team (and myself) at least a living wage. We would not be here without this grant.
  • The support our mahi (work) and team has had on this journey has been overwhelming. We have had letters of support from some of the biggest players in New Zealand Theatre, and almost everyday we get a message of support from friends or whānau back home. We’ve also had incredible support from Marcel and Ele (Fringe at the National Wine Centre) and Adelaide Fringe team, making sure we are having the best experience possible at Adelaide Fringe. It’s this type of support that makes all the difference when you’re away from home, especially as emerging artists here for the first time.

The challenges are:

  • Not being able to work on the company/shows full time. At the end of the day, I’ve still got to pay my rent and feed myself and, at the moment, I need a day job to help support my lifestyle. This restricts how much time and energy I can invest in shows and most of my mahi happens late at night with my laptop in bed. I’d love to produce full time so I can add even more to our industry and hopefully actually get a good night’s rest.
  • Adapting my communication style per practitioner. It’s not a struggle, just something I have to keep an eye on. Not everyone is computer literate, not everyone checks Facebook Messenger. So I try to have a conversation about how people like to communicate (whether it’s FB messenger, emails, phone call or face to face) and go from there.
  • Finding audiences. Each city requires a completely different marketing plan, and you have to adapt as quickly as possible if something you thought was going to work actually isn’t. We were pleasantly surprised with how well our season went in Perth, however, we’re struggling for ticket sales here in Adelaide. So I’ve got to think on my feet, rally the troops and find a new way to get bums on seats here.

What are some issues in the arts industry that your business helps to address?

I am still an emerging producer in New Zealand, but I’ve got a lot of passion to help our Māori/Pasifika and other minority groups get their voices and stories heard on main stages in Aotearoa as well as internationally. Talofa Papa has been a fantastic learning opportunity for me to help hone what I want to stand for as a producer and creative artist.

The core purpose of The Co – Lab is to learn and upskill in a collaborative environment. You never know who might have the solution you’ve been looking for, and so we have everyone at all production meetings, have open rehearsals if friends or other practitioners want to come in to observe, and getting people to ask for help if they need it.

I want to have a thriving performing arts industry in Aotearoa where artists feel safe, welcome, are getting paid fairly and our stories are getting the opportunity to be seen and heard. After Talofa Papa I have another project lined up for the 2019 Kia Mau Festival (an indigenous theatre and dance festival in New Zealand) with female Māori practitioners. I’m looking forward to seeing how that show grows and I’ll be developing more company policies that can cater towards creating the best work possible from my practitioners.

Talofa Papa is at the National Wine Centre Corner Hackney and Botanic Rd, Adelaide until 6.00 pm Wednesday 27 February.

Did you like this content? The Serenade Files invites you to leave a comment below