#mytoistory Toi Whakaari the New Zealand Drama School

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

I’m delighted to (somewhat belatedly) announce that at the start of May I accepted the position of Senior Tutor, Costume Construction at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School.

Toi Whakaari is New Zealand’s oldest and largest performing arts school, and offers the only tertiary course focused on costume construction for stage and screen in New Zealand.  The two-year Diploma course covers everything from dyeing and corsetmaking to leatherwork and worbla.  It’s very small, with a maximum intake of only 8 students each year, and very competitive.


Teaching at Toi is the perfect job for me: it gives me the opportunity to teach both academic and hands-on craft skills, and to expand my own learning, both through historical research and technical experimentation.  I’m incredibly privileged to be able to contribute to the next generation of costumers, and to learn from all my immensely talented colleagues.

Teaching at Toi is also almost literally a dream come true.  When I first moved to New Zealand almost 13 years ago I looked at the career options in Wellington, and saw the course at Toi Whakaari and though “teaching there would be the dream job”.  I ended up using the art history and museum work parts of my degree and experience, and going into museums instead, but Toi Whakaari stayed on my radar.

I went to the Costume Showcase (the graduating costuming students theatrical presentation of their major works) most years.  And then, after my Fortnight in 1916, Kaarin Slevin, the Head of Costume, asked me to present on it at the school.  This led to contract work teaching costume history.  I loved my time at the school so much that when the previous Senior Tutor left to become head of the Royal NZ Ballet workroom I applied for her position – and now I’m part of the school.

It’s fantastic to be part of an organisation that combines creativity with rigour, and where, on any given day, you see students practicing Shakespeare in the corridors, making a shared salad for lunch in the plaza (by holding a clean tarp below a walkway and pouring the vegetables and dressing down on to it, and then tossing it, as you do), hand-sewing while reading in the library, or improvising costumes out of pieces scrounged from the lost and found bin.  Toi Whakaari shares its building (Te Whaea) with the New Zealand School of Dance, so you can also watch the ballet and contemporary dancers practicing.

Toi Whakaari is particularly amazing and unique because the school’s processes are based around Tikanga Māori (the Māori way of doing things), rather than ones founded in a European tradition.  Coming from an academic and professional background that has usually been rigidly hierarchical and heavily focused on Western ideas of success and accomplishment, being somewhere that provides space for the entire organisation to speak and listen to each other, that allows for a multitude of ways to learn, and succeed, and that works for success built on collaboration and support, rather than competition, is a revelation.

On a lighter note, Toi Whakaari is also fabulous because Te Whaea’s bilingual pun game is on point (you could almost say it was on whaea…(hint: ‘wh’ is usually pronounced like an F in te reo Māori).  The school’s advertising slogan is #mytoistory (toi means art in Te Reo Maori, whakaari is to perform).  The New Zealand School of Dance runs a programme called TÅ« Move (tÅ«: stand up).  While sometimes (jokingly) used by the students, describing the male half of the student body as Toi Bois is not, however, officially endorsed.

A final reason why Toi Whakaari is the best: it’s the kind of school where the Set & Props course makes a full-sized, moveable, operational Dalek.  Yussssss….

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming Obviously I’m very excited about working for Toi Whakaari, and think its a fantastic school, and would be delighted to talk to anyone who was interested, or to direct you on to the right person if Props or Design or Acting is more your thing.

Here are a few photos of the workroom and student work:

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

The bright pink half-scale dresses were the students trials for their patternmaking course.  I designed the dresses, and taught patternmaking, and they turned my designs into reality!

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School Costuming

And some behind the scene images from Costume Showcase 2018:

Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase 2018, thedreamstress.com

Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase 2018, thedreamstress.com

Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase 2018, thedreamstress.com

Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase 2018, thedreamstress.com

Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase 2018, thedreamstress.com

Joining Toi does explain why my blogging and Scroop patternmaking have been a bit sparse since May: I’ve been focused on learning the ropes and class planning.  Stepping in to a whole years worth of new classes is quite a bit of work.


  1. MJ Ruisi says

    WOW!!!!! Congratulations!This really is Your Dream Job!Best of Luck!xoMR

  2. Jennifer says

    Congratulations! This really looks like a dream job, even if a lot of hard work. But sometimes those are the best jobs!

  3. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    worldcon.orgOh my. What a job for someone with your skills and likes.

    “making a shared salad for lunch in the plaza (by holding a clean tarp below a walkway and pouring the vegetables and dressing down on to it, and then tossing it, as you do)”

    Yes, we all learned salad-making “a la tarp” in culinary school.

    And WorldCon will be in New Zealand soon. Go for the gold!
    78th World Science Fiction Convention will begin on
    Wednesday, August 12, 2020

  4. Deanna says

    Congratulations! It is so wonderful that you have been able to realize your dream. It seems like an amazing place to work.

    Now I must ask – does the Dalek have space inside for a person, like some of those from the show? And if so, DID YOU GET INSIDE?!

  5. Lillianne Barrett says

    Congratulations, this is really wonderfully inspiring for those of us who still have long-term dreams we are hoping to make come true!

  6. Congratulations! That seems like such an awesome dream come true! I’m sure it came with hard work, as well. I’m so excited for you. Thanks for sharing your news!


  7. I’m so happy that it is working so well for you! What a job!! Such a range of skills and such interesting results!

  8. Lyn Swan says

    First, congratulations!!! There is nothing in the world like working in a place you love, doing the work you love. Thank you for continuing to blog for us all. I have learned so much from you and the others who respond here. This is a safe and gentle place to be when the rest of the world hurts my soul. Good luck, and joy to you in this next phase of your journey.

  9. Congratulations on getting your dream job …and can i say how wonderful it must be to be able to teach your amazing knowledge to 8 students! Im a little jealous if i’m honest
    I myself teach on a simular BA hons costume course in the uk, london but i have over 30 students per year !36 last year ,plus advising the MA costume and 3d effects course on their projects.tge course got 100% in our student survey last year and one of our MA students have just won the ‘world of wearable art ‘ competition, so we/I must be doing something right i love my job too but my dream would be to have smaller cohorts , enjoy your time there.
    your images are wonderful thanks for sharing x

  10. Big congrats to you!! Looking forward to hearing about more of your adventures there – sounds fantastic in every way!

  11. hearthrose says

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer – or better – person. Here’s to a wonderful job for a wonderful woman!

  12. Kai Jones says

    Congratulations! What a wonderful future for you!

  13. Elise says

    Ivy-dog and I wish you many congratulations! How wonderful to create art, to teach sewing skills and clothing-as-communication skills, and to give back to your new country. The ethos of the school seems so nurturing, and the biculturalism inherent must feel so validating during a time of worldwide hyper-nationalism. Congratulations!

  14. Rhys says

    I was so excited to see you were teaching at Toi Whakaari over on Instagram, I applied for the costume course this year so fingers crossed I’ll get to learn under you next year!

  15. Gillian Stapleton says

    Congratulations, you deserve your success. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person xx

  16. Stafford Belinda says

    Yes congratulations! How wonderful to land such a dream job right in the middle of your skills and passions! Hip hip hooray!!!! Can’t wait to see what your students create. Thrilled for you.

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