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Drama School director exits stage left to get sporty

Christian Penny has resigned from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School after 16 years.

Toi Whakaari director Christian Penny, speaking on the pae at the 2016 Pōwhiri for new students. Photo by Philip Merry.

Penny’s new role for High Performance Sport NZ will see him working in 2019 with élite coaches from Olympic and professional sport in their Coach Accelerator Programme.

In announcing his decision to staff and students on Monday, Penny said, “When I took up the role in 2002 I said to the Board I thought six or seven years would be an appropriate time frame to lead the school. That time has come. This has obviously been a big decision to make. Toi has been a huge part of my life, and my family’s life, for 16 years now. I have poured my heart and soul into the school. I am very, very proud of all we have managed to generate over that time.”

Board chair Tim Walker praised Penny’s contribution as Director.

“Christian has played a defining role in the development of Toi Whakaari. It is impossible to imagine the school being the exceptional learning organisation it is today without the brave and insightful leadership he has provided.

“Christian will leave behind a rich legacy that is held, in many different ways, across the members of the Board and staff – and the many students whose growth and development he has personally given so much to.

“Christian leaves the school in good heart and a state of readiness to transition to new leadership. In the past year he has led the recruitment and development of our brilliant Strategic Leadership Team, who are well placed to support the staff as the recruitment for a new Director begins.

“The Board wishes Christian well as he moves on to new challenges. His vision and courage as a leader mean he has much to contribute to the development of leadership in others.”

Prior to joining Toi Whakaari, Penny had been a successful freelance theatre director and co‐director of the company Theatre at Large

During Penny’s time at the helm, the school has seen major developments in a NZ‐focused pedagogy known as Kōiwitanga, developed with senior staff. Kōiwitanga sits alongside the important craft skills that every performing arts school must teach, to help students in all disciplines develop leadership and collaboration skills that will stand them in good stead both inside and outside the industry they graduate into.

As part of the development of Kōiwitanga, Penny was instrumental in introducing the leadership programme Ruku Ao which has been using these indigenous frameworks to develop collaboration and communication skills across government departments.

This year’s 43 graduating students will receive their degrees and diplomas at a ceremony at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre on Wednesday 14 November.