• Sat, 30, Sep, 2017 - 5:00:AM

What happens when women take over the theatre?

Sometimes, a text of encouragement is all you need. Even when you’re creating a brand new show that is due to go on stage in less than a week. No pressure.

For choreographer Malia Johnston, working alongside two other women (from whom the texts of encouragement came) to push the boundaries of theatre has been made easier by a sense of sisterhood. With fellow creators Kate Parker and Katie Wolfe in her corner, Johnston has felt inspired.

Theatre, like most other things in life, remains dominated by men. While the statistics are improving, and more female creators and artists are being celebrated now than perhaps ever before, there is still a way to go. Auckland Theatre Company’s The Navigators is meeting that challenge head on, giving three talented female directors the chance to develop their work in front of an audience. And giving audiences the opportunity to fall in love with the work of three up-and-coming stars.

The Navigators will feature three works by the company’s first ever Associate Artists, The Wild Seed Thief by Parker, MOON, by Johnston and The Haka Party Incident by Wolfe.

Johnston – whose work as a choreographer has ranged from tutoring at the New Zealander School of Dance to seven years as Artistic Director for WOW – The World of Wearable Arts – is currently in the midst of rehearsals for MOON, a dance piece performed by seven dancers to the live music of Eden Mulholland. Or, as she describes it, “a playful theatrical experience using movement and motion as its script”.

“With MOON we are aiming to playfully bend the rules. There is some time to play and you can keep your phone on during this performance to take photos or videos,” she explains. “It will be fun.”

As one of the inaugural Associate Artists, Johnston has found the experience to be, “a great opportunity to explore new territory”. She also describes Auckland Theatre Company’s decision to name three women as its first Associate Artists as “awesome”.

“Ironically, art and film industries are high on bias towards male work the world over, including galleries, theatre makers and choreographers. If ATC are making a decision to do something about that then I take my hat off to them.”

When it comes to sexism, Johnston is pragmatic. “I have encountered sexism in various forms throughout my career. I choose not to focus on it but instead be aware of it at all times along with other social and cultural bias – we are all responsible for challenging ourselves with this and my challenge is making sure I am aware of it when I am making work. I can’t change other people but I can be in control of how and what I create.”

Sexism has been just one of the challenges Johnston has faced. “In the early days people would really raise an eyebrow when I said I was a choreographer – nobody could imagine that could actually be a job in New Zealand; they thought it more a hobby than a career.”

Those people can retrieve their eyebrows from their hairlines now. Johnston is busier than ever and has some valuable advice for others wanting to follow in her footsteps: “Develop good relationships and nurture them – seek out the environments that support you most strongly and invest in those.”

So what happens when women take over the theatre? If Auckland Theatre Company’s Associate Artists are anything to go by; creative mastery, innovation, and enduring friendships.

In short, girl power.


Auckland Theatre Company’s The Navigators runs from October the 6th until October the 8th. Tickets can be purchased here.

This content was sponsored by Auckland Theatre Company.


  • Auckland Theatre Company /
  • Malia Johnston /
  • Dance /
  • Theatre /
  • Moon /
  • Choreography /
  • Choreographers /
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