The FAME Mid-Career Awards 2023 Winners

The FAME Trust (Fund for Acting and Musical Endeavours), the Acorn Foundation and PANNZ (Performing Arts Network of New Zealand) are honoured to announce the five recipients of The FAME Mid-Career Awards for 2023. The three recipients for the Artists Awards are Ben Crowder, Tānemahuta Gray and Hannah Smith. The two recipients of the inaugural Technical Awards are Jane Hakaraia and Rowan Pierce. Each award-winner will receive $15,000.

The assessors want to acknowledge the high-calibre of artists, designers and technicians who applied this year. PANNZ CEO Louise Gallagher noted that “the applications paint a promising snapshot of the talent, capability and perseverance in our industry. It is truly exciting to see.” 

The recipients of this year’s FAME Mid-Career Awards demonstrated not only an ability to create excellent and diverse works over their careers, but also a strong commitment to performing arts advocacy, and a generosity in creating pathways for peers through mentoring and collaboration. It is this holistic exemplification of career that serves the community as a whole, and makes these five arts-makers worthy of such an award.

The FAME Mid-Career Awards offer recipients one of the largest cash prizes available to the performing arts community. The prize money will be used at the discretion of the award-winners, and their plans include conducting further research, undertaking new studies, building international relationships, and developing new works.  

The awards are made possible by the generosity of private Tauranga-based philanthropic donors who make up The FAME Trust. The FAME Trust has partnered with the Acorn Foundation and PANNZ to manage these awards.

A message from the Acorn Foundation: “Huge congratulations to these talented and passionate artists and technicians, whose contributions to the performing arts fabric of New Zealand are so highly valued. The Acorn Foundation, on behalf of the FAME Trust, is immensely grateful for everything that you do to challenge our thinking, make us laugh and cry, and bring music and theatre to our lives.”

Founded in 2007, The FAME Trust has long provided support for young and mid-career artists, plus funded national organisations like the NZSO, Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School and the NZ School of Dance, and local groups such as Opus Orchestra, Youth Philharmonic and BOP Symphonia.

The Acorn Foundation is a community foundation based in the Western Bay of Plenty that enables generous people to make a bigger impact in their communities, by investing the funds and distributing the returns to causes that matter – forever. Thanks to the generosity of local donors, since Acorn was established in 2003, the foundation has distributed more than $13 million to the community. Find out more about the Acorn Foundation at:

About the 2023 Recipients

Ben Crowder is Co-Artistic Director of Nightsong, a company that delivers innovative New Zealand theatre with high production values. Having trained at The John Bolton Theatre School in Melbourne, Ben has been creating theatre for more than two decades. After his studies, Ben set up Theatre Stampede with Vanessa Chapple creating a range of works including ‘The Young Baron’, ‘Blossom’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. In 2005 Ben began collaborating with Carl Bland and Peta Rutter from Nightsong Productions. Together they made ‘Head’ and ‘360’ – a theatre of recollections. Ben and Carl officially formed Nightsong in 2017 and have produced ‘Te Pō’, ‘Spirit House’, ‘Mr Red Light’, ‘Call It A Night’, ‘A Stab in the Dark’ and ‘The Worm’, with their new work ‘I Want To Be Happy’ in development. 

Ben demonstrates the ability to lead a major production to fruition; keeping artistic integrity and humanity at the fore. During his career Ben has also worked generously in community settings such as youth justice facilities, and refugee and mental health communities; as well as mentoring, supporting, and inspiring many younger and emerging artists. 

Carl Bland, who nominated Ben Crowder for this award, says of his colleague, “Part of being an independent artist in New Zealand is being incredibly resilient. This is something I cannot imagine anyone displaying more of. He has endured incredible set-backs; often whilst in mid creative process. Yet he has managed to navigate and retain ambition. He has created work that has employed so many artists and taken huge financial risks to achieve, always prioritising the work and the collaborators. He also advocates strongly for the sector and other artists.”

Tānemahuta Gray’s has focused on telling contemporary Māori stories combining the artforms of contemporary dance, kapa haka and aerial theatre. 

After graduating from the NZ School of Dance in 1994 he went on to present works including ‘Te Ao Hurihuri – The Changing World’, ‘Māui – One Man Against The Gods’, ‘Arohanui – The Greatest Love’ and ‘Tiki Taane Mahuta’.

Since 2010 Tānemahuta has has guest choreographed the South Pacific and Aotearoa section  WOW – World of Wearable Art Awards whilst also providing mātauranga Māori support for the WOW team.  

Tānemahuta joined Taki Rua Productions as its Kahukura / Kaiarataki Toi – CEO / Artistic Director in 2015, and in that time has made a significant contribution to nationally touring over 20 artists works in both Te Reo Māori and on the mainstages of Aotearoa. Alongside his work at Taki Rua Productions, Tānemahuta has worn numerous advocacy pōtae for the arts sector, including ensuring the survival of the Wellington Theatre Awards as a member of the Wellington Theatre Cluster, re-establishing the National Māori Theatre Hui as part of He Waka Urungi, and being on the G8 – Ngā Hua Toi team that provided significant care and support for freelance Māori performing artists, during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Tānemahuta is currently a member of Te Rōpū Mana Toi, an advocacy panel advising Creative New Zealand’s advocacy team. He has taught the kapa haka and pōwhiri preparations for the students at the New Zealand School of Dance for the past 12 years, and chairs Ngā Kaiwhakahaere of Toi Whakaari – NZ Drama School.

Upon receipt of this award Tānemahuta said, “This is the first time in my career that I have received an award of this kind for recognition from my peers. It is an honour to join the next year of alumni for this wonderful acknowledgement for mid-career artists.”

Hanah Smith is a Wellington based director, designer and producer with a background in puppetry and paper-art. She is co-founder of Trick of the Light Theatre with her partner Ralph McCubbin. Trick of the light is an internationally award-winning company which has toured its original productions around Aotearoa and the world for the past decade. Through her directorship of works (‘The Bookbinder’, ‘The Road That Wasn’t There’, ‘Tröll’, and ‘The Griegol’) Hannah has steadily built a reputation for creating some of the country’s leading exponents of high quality, original theatre shows, particularly within the Theatre for Young Audience sector.

Trick of the Light Theatre has had sell-out seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe, been the first NZ company programmed at the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (twice), performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, and premiered work at the Aotearoa NZ Festival and Auckland Arts Festival

Hannah has BA (Hons) in English & Theatre from Victoria University of Wellington. She received a nomination for Most Promising Director at the 2011 Wellington Theatre Awards, and received the same award in 2013 for ‘The Road That Wasn’t There’. In 2023 Hannah was awarded Director of the Year for her work on ‘The Griegol’

Hannah’s work has a commitment towards environmental sustainability. She is focussed on prioritising environmental practice when negotiating contracts, setting budgets and planning tours. 

Hannah’s desire through her work is to keep flourishing and thriving while navigating the post-pandemic world, to continue sharing work across Aotearoa and overseas, to forge new connections for other artists, and to use her platform to advocate environmentally sustainable practice.

Jane Hakaraia is a theatre, set, and lighting designer who has worked in the industry for 35 years. Jane has a degree in Product Design from Unitec and an honours degree in Sustainable Furniture Design from AUT. In 2014 she received the Excellence In Theatre award at the Auckland Theatre Awards.

Based in Tamaki Makaurau Jane has worked all over Aotearoa with Te Pou Theatre, Silo Theatre, Massive Theatre Company, Taki Rua, Auckland Theatre Company, Bullet Heart Club, and many more. More recently she has produced work in Australia with Tasmania Performs and Ilbijerri Theatre Company

Jane’s recent productions include ‘Hemo is Home’ for Te Pou Theatre, ‘Nora’ for The Actors Program, and ‘The Wasp’ with The Oddballs (nominated for lighting Wellington Theatre Awards 2022). 

Jane’s other areas of focus include installations as a way to inspire and encourage young people into looking at careers in the arts, as well as actively working to make her theatre practice more circular resulting in less waste and less landfill. Jane hopes to pursue her masters in design between AUT and Te Wānanga O Raukawa, allowing her to work on her Reo and learning Raranga and Whakairo (Weaving and Carving), in the hopes of combining them with modern day technologies and then translate these practices back into the theatre world.

Rowan Pierce is a performance designer whose work encompasses all elements of scenography including spatial, object, video, light, sound and any other elements that make up the physical performance environment. 

Rowan’s notable past work includes ‘UPU’ (Upu Collective/Silo Theatre), ‘MEREMERE’ and ‘RUSHES’ (Movement of the Human), ‘PANGO’ (Atamira Dance Company), ‘Mana Wahine’ (Okareka Dance Company), and many more. He has recently collaborated with choreographer and creator Bianca Hyslop on ‘Pōhutu’ (Tempo Dance Festival, Kia Mau Festival) and ‘He Huia Kaimanawa’ (Auckland Arts Festival, Kia Mau Festival). 

Rowan’s work centres around the ethos that technical craft and conceptual artistry are not mutually exclusive. It is through the considered and well-researched application of technologies and physical design practice that performance can become a transcendent experience – where design acts as a performer in itself. 

His collaborative work sees Rowan either designing specific areas of a project, or taking on a more holistic design approach. He says it is the holistic design practice in which he feels most creative and successful, “My drive as an artist and designer has always been to create exceptional and transformative performative experiences. I aim to uplift and amplify cultural perspectives and societal narratives that are immediate and important to Aotearoa, as we move towards a post-colonial future. This is what drives me and what will continue to drive me throughout the remainder of my career.”