APERTURE The life and work of Ans Westra

Suter Theatre, Nelson

24/10/2019 - 25/10/2019

4th Wall Theatre, New Plymouth

06/07/2021 - 06/07/2021

Whirinaki Whare Taonga, 836 Fergusson Drive, Upper Hutt

16/07/2021 - 16/07/2021

Arts On Tour NZ 2021

Production Details

A new play about Ans Westra and the beginnings of her long and influential career as one of New Zealand’s best-known social documentary photographers.  

After workshopping the play at the 2018 Festival, award-winning Golden Bay actor Martine Baanvinger returns with this captivating and intimate one-woman play about New Zealand Arts Foundation Icon Photographer Ans Westra.

After emigrated from the Netherlands in 1957, Westra began using photography as a way of discovering her new homeland. Fascinated by Māori culture in particular, she created an intimate and unique documentation of day-to-day life, which led to a successful career capturing the essence of the people of Aotearoa.

Aperture focuses on the start of Westra’s career in the 1960s, including one of her first publications, the controversial school bulletin, Washday at the Pa, about a rural Māori family.

Thu 24 Oct, 7pm; Fri 25 Oct 2019
1.30pm & 7pm
Full $39
Under 19 $25
Senior $35
Group Of 6+ $35pp
Plus Ticketdirect Service Fee
Book Tickets  


“Baanvinger beautifully captures the era, the struggles, the insights and the awakening of self.  A skilful storyteller” – M Giroux

Actor and director Martine Baanvinger, who wrote and starred in the award-winning play Solitude, returns in this creative and innovative one-woman play about Ans Westra, a NZ Arts Foundation Icon photographer.

In 1957, Ans Westra emigrated from the Netherlands to New Zealand and began to take photos of her new homeland.  Fascinated by Maori culture in particular, she created an intimate and uniquely historical documentation of Maori life which led to a successful career capturing the essence of the people of Aotearoa.
DramaLAB’s visually stunning and intimate portrait focuses on Westra’s childhood in The Netherlands, her immigration journey to New Zealand and the start of her photography career in the 1960’s.  Her first publications, including the controversial ‘Washday at the pa’, offered insight into the Maori way of life in rural Aotearoa at a time of urbanisation.

Martine Baanvinger is trained at the Theatre Academy in Amsterdam.  She is the founder of DramaLAB and creates performances in a direct, transparent and intimate way.  Martine invites her audiences to enter a space of innovation and simplicity that calls in emotional involvement with the story and the actor.  The audience becomes part of the journey.  This combined with physical theatre influences leads to unique creations where both drama and comedy are often equally present.  Martine loves exploring a creative approach to lighting, sound, digital imaginary, transformation of set and costume.



Tuesday 6 July 7:30pm New Plymouth
4th Wall Theatre
$30 Adults; $25 Seniors; $15 Students
Book: www.4thwalltheatre.co.nz

Wednesday 7 July 7:30pm Te Awamutu
Te Awamutu Little Theatre  
$25 Book: Eventfinda and Te Awamutu i-Site
In Association with Backstage Pass

Thursday 8 July 7:30pm Matamata
Matamata Little Theatre
$25 Book: www.mds.org.nz 

Saturday 10 July 7:00pm Whitianga
Coghill Theatre
$25 Adults; $10 Child/Youth ( Book: Mercury Bay Pharmacy & Eventbrite https://aperture.eventbrite.co.nz

Sunday 11 July 7:30pm Onewhero 
OSPA Theatre, Hall Road
$25 Book: The Goodness Grocer, Pukekohe or www.ospa.org.nz 

Tuesday 13 July 7:30pm Opotiki        
Opotiki Senior Citizens Hall
$20 Book: www.trybooking or at Opotiki Library

Wednesday 14 July 7:30pm Gisborne
Lawson Field Theatre
$30 Adult; $25 Gold Card; $20 Students
Book: Eventfinda.co.nz
AOTNZ InCahoots with Lawson Field Theatre

Friday 16 July 8:00pm Upper Hutt 
Whirinaki Whare Taonga
$20 Book: www.expressions.org.nz

Saturday 17 July 7:30pm Picton
Picton Little Theatre 
$25 plus booking fee 
Eventfinda & Summit Real Estate Picton 
Sponsored by The Stevenson Collection

Tuesday 20 July 8:00pm Barrytown
Barrytown Hall
$20 Door sales 

Wednesday 21 July 7:30pm Hokitika 
Old Lodge Theatre, 11 Revell Street
$25 Book: Hokitika’s Regent Theatre 

Thursday 22 July 7:30pm Cromwell
The Gate Conference Centre, 6 Barry Ave 
$30 Adults; $25 Super Gold Card; $5 Student
Book: www.artscentral.co.nz 

Friday 23 July 8:00pm Arrowtown
Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall 
$25 Book: www.eventbrite.co.nz 

Saturday 24 July 8:00pm Gore
Eastern Southland Gallery, 14 Hokonui Drive
$30 Tickets; $25 Gallery Members; $10 Students
Book: Eastern Southland Gallery

Sunday 25 July 7:30pm Alexandra
Central Stories
$25 Adults; $20 Gold Card; $10 Children
Book: Central Stories and cash sales at the door if available

Tuesday 27 July 7:30pm Oamaru
Oamaru Opera House 
$20 – $25 (plus fee) 
Book: www.oamaruoperahouse.co.nz 

Wednesday 28 July 7:30pm Twizel 
Twizel Events Theatre 
$20 Adults; $10 Students
Book: Twizel Promotions Office

Thursday 29 July 8:00pm Lyttelton 
Loons $30

Saturday 31 July 8:00pm Mapua 
The Playhouse Theatre 
$25 Book: The Playhouse; The Richmond Mall and Eventfinda 
Dinner/Doors from 6pm, Show from 8pm 

Arts On Tour NZ (AOTNZ) organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand as well as support from Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust of Southland, Interislander, Otago Community Trust, Rata Foundation and the Southern Trust. AOTNZ liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and theatrical talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to their audiences rather than the reverse.

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr 10 min

Gets under the skin of Ans Westra and will get under your skin too

Review by Lisa Simpson 07th Jul 2021

“A photograph is a moment in time, not the complete truth,” says playwright and performer Martine Bannvinger as Ans Westra, of her work in photographing Māori in the early 1960s. Westra was criticised for her School Bulletin Washday at the Pā, which depicted the day of a mother and her children in Ruātoria in 1964. The Māori Women’s Welfare League were among the staunchest critics, fearing that the run-down condition of the family’s house would reinforce negative stereotypes of Māori in the minds of the nations’ children. As result of the controversy the 38,000 copies of Westra’s book were withdrawn from circulation.  

Baanvinger leads us sympathetically to this moment in Westra’s life through a well selected series of biographical details, anecdotes, telephone calls and journeys. These document the shaping of her character from a 13-year-old in Holland at the end of World War Two watching her playmates disappear from the streets around her home, to an independent woman who joins the Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club in Wellington. From there Westra steps in to a world of marae, weddings and tāngi that most Pākehā of the time did not know existed.

The contrast Westra sees and feels between life on one side of the fence in the home of her Dutch immigrant father, who instils the values of hard work, discipline and conformity in his daughter, and the love and freedom experienced by Māori children on the other side of the fence is depicted poignantly. This becomes a major influence on Westra’s desire to capture the life of a people that she sees becoming urbanised and detached from their rural roots.

The people shown in projected still images of Westra’s photographs during the performance seem to have just stopped for a moment as Baanvinger sets them into stories of places and times in which they were taken. This is done with a beautifully light touch, so that the images themselves have as much to say to us as Baanvinger, as playwright.

Other projections and deceptively simple pieces of scenery, designed and created by visual artist Klaasz Breukel, are cleverly used to create an astonishing number of settings in the performance. Baanvinger’s interaction with these is delightful and fresh. A clever device is used allow us to hear from Westra the artist about her craft. The performance has a pleasing depth and nuance as Baanivnger as Westra speaks to us of about her desire to tell the truth of people’s lives with respect and authenticity.

The visual elements of the production are complemented by Mark Manson’s soundscapes which resonate with echoes of the multiple worlds Westra inhabits. More of this could have been used in moments of transition, which despite their swift execution feel ever so slightly awkward.

Baanvinger’s skill in physicalising ideas for the audience is apparent in spades. Her characterisations of Westra’s parents, flatmates and a fickle Barry Crump are lively, humorous and adept.

Themes of ownership of image, and the role and responsibility of the of the artist and playwright when taking images and telling stories, are rolled around like a good wine in the mouth. Baanvinger’s own journey with these issues are explained in projected text at the beginning and end of the performance. I, for one, would not have minded Baanvinger the playwright voicing this as another layer in the relationship between viewer and viewed.

Westra wanted to use the camera to get under the skin of her subjects. Aperture gets under the skin of Ans Westra and will get under your skin too. 


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A tour de force and labour of love

Review by Gail Tresidder 25th Oct 2019

To be in the theatre for a world premiere is an exciting thing. Even more so when the subject of the story, Ans Westra, is in the audience.  It must be strange for her as we revisit her childhood in occupied Holland, her playmates disappearing one by one.  Very sad – for Ans and for us.

In Westra’s own words and through her images, we follow her journey: the ground-breaking photographic exhibition The Family of Man, it’s influence on her choice of career and the other journey to New Zealand, and her delight as she meets  “the neighbours over the fence” – their lifestyle so different from her own upbringing.  They are Māori. She sees their beauty, loves their spontaneity, their joy in life.  Together with her trusty Rolleiflex – and this means “film not food”: an emerging artist’s choice – she is away, and nothing can stop her. 

Washday at the Pa is recognised as Westra’s magnum opus.  35,000 copies were printed for distribution to schools – and 35,000 copies were later withdrawn and destroyed.  This was in the 60s and it was thought by some authorities at the time that the family’s living conditions gave the wrong impression; never mind the love and warmth so tenderly captured in this book of images. Luckily for us, the originals survived and many feature in this production.

Deceptively simple, the set is clever and creative.  A three-sided screen turns in to a camera; a cabin on the ship; is used in many forms.  The music and sound throughout are atmospheric; back projection of Westra’s photographs is stunning and the two colourful paintings of the sea, night and day, a clever counterpoint to the black and white. 

However, this play is too long in the telling.  Stories of boyfriends, a slightly tedious sequence of life or lack of it at the stern father’s dinner table and the over-used metaphor of ‘walking a tight line’ could do with some judicious cutting. Martine effortlessly moves from Dutch to English, English to Dutch; is passionate in her delivery which, to my ear, is sometimes high-pitched and would benefit from more light and shade. She is 99% word-perfect with only the slightest slip quickly corrected.  No mean feat, especially for a very first performance. 

Aperture can only improve in the telling and is already a tour de force and labour of love from one Dutch woman to another. 


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