With less than two weeks till this year’s World of WearableArt® season begins, show director Malia Johnston treats us to an inside scoop of what to expect in this year’s show, as well as sharing some particularly iconic memories from her 15 years working at WOW. Malia has been the Artistic Director for 7 shows (2007-2014), and also directed WOW’s debut show at the 2012 Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Q & A with Maila Johnston

What does your role involve?

As the Show Director, I am in charge of directing everything that happens on the stage. I take the lead on all the creative decisions from the script process right through to delivery on the stage, co-ordinating the music, set design, lighting design, the choreography, and not to mention the 140 pieces of wearable art.

What does each section entail?

This year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of WOW, we have a particularly special introductory segment as an added bonus to this year’s show. It will exhibit a selection of garments, props and costumes of existing work that WOW founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff has hand picked from over the years. This includes some wonderful pieces that have been created for kids, so we’ll have about 40 children on stage for those. It’ll be a wonderful, surreal procession of memories from the past to open the show.

For the Aotearoa section, I really wanted to celebrate the fact that this year is the 125th anniversary of New Zealand women’s suffrage. I wanted to communicate a sense of the female warrior for this section. There’s quite a lot of strong garments in that section that are to do with women so it’s worked out perfectly.

With the Bizarre Bra section this year, which is really a fun and quirky celebration vibe, there’ll be lots of performance and lots of energy. Biz bra is always very ironic and playful around the concept of the bra so we’ve created a section to really celebrate that.

Reflective Surfaces is also another exciting section for me and it will be a fun challenge when it comes to perfecting the lighting design, as it’s all about materials and light. It’s a big playground when you’re dealing with 140 garments in a presentation process, like coordinating a moving gallery. It’s a fun challenge to capture all pieces so people really see them.

Will there be a storyline?

There isn’t a storyline as such to link the sections but there is a consistent flow and architectural shift in the space between each section. Behind the scenes what we’ve been striving for is a theme of nostalgia, bringing back memories from the past because we’re reflecting back. Part of the reason we chosen to include the Reflective Surfaces section is for us to incorporate the idea of reflecting back as well as looking forward. We’ve scripted the show to have moment with each section that will bring back memories for people who have seen the show on a regular basis.

What’s your favourite part of the experience?

There’s a lot of performers from the circus and a big group of fabulous contemporary dancers that perform a range of genres. Because I’m a choreographer I’m pretty keen on big dance numbers. I think for me the level of energy, and the number of people who come together to make this all happen, it’s really fabulous all the different talents and skills that come together, make up, customer, dancers, cultural performers and aerialists.

What can you predict for the future of WOW?

With WOW there is this ongoing growth into the international market with the exhibitions. Every year we get to know more designers from different countries around the world. Whilst WOW is a cultural mainstay here in New Zealand that everyone knows about, for our international guests it’s actually very new. It’s at an interesting time at the moment where we’re established but still new and exciting for those markets.

What is your favourite WOW memory?

After my first year at WOW, back in the days where the show was based in Nelson, Dame Suzie said “Come outside I’ve got to tell you something. I’ve just been speaking to [then Prime Minister] Helen Clark, she loved the show and wants to be involved next year! But you have to keep it a secret for a whole year.” I thought that was amazing. The next year, sure enough she was involved in our show. It was the first time I’ve rehearsed in a closed room with armed people. I was teaching her to walk down the catwalk to a certain bit of the music and it was quite surreal. 

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World of WearableArt 2018 shows run from 27 Sept – 14 Oct | TSB Arena Wellington – buy your tickets here.

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