A vibrant child’s playground marks where an old West Auckland towing yard once stood and converted workshops are now home to a beautifully intricate theatre and modern restaurant. Monica Tischler sat down with one of the many creatives behind Whoa! Studios: Art Director, Daniel Blanshard.

In this issue, we encourage our readers to have fun. What’s your idea of child’s play?
I’ve been searching far and wide for that one! For me, it’s about being prepared to explore and look at things a different way. It’s the act of being joyous and opening your imagination to what’s possible.

Do you have children?
I have a 16-year-old and a seven-year-old; they’ve introduced me to the magic of child’s play. A lot of us on the creative team are parents. Having children helps to re-engage with that original magic. It’s about putting your phone down and allowing yourself time to sit and be. Of course you don’t need to have children to unleash your playful side; it’s about surrounding yourself with people who are up for having a good time and surrendering yourself to being free.

What does your role as art director involve?
I help assist the venue’s vision. There are six of us on the creative team, including David Sutherland who’s the head guy. He sold his software company, Integral, and put the money into the studio. It’s a gift to the community and I ensure that what we do is true to that vision. I codesigned the playground with Alistair Gillies; it’s a bespoke playspace unlike anything around Auckland. It’s a custom-built imaginary world; there’s a rocket ship to inspire children to try their hand as astronauts, a castle where young princes and princesses come alive, and a pirate cove complete with a wharf and row boat. We’ve explored the theme ‘retro play.’ Children can slide down grass hills in hessian sacks and create masterpieces on the concrete with chalk. And of course there’s that vibrant crochet play net. QA INP

What can visitors expect to find here?
Our vision is to provide an environment where children can expand their imagination and engage with other kids, as well as hopefully bringing parents in on that play too! We created a theatre with the help of Wellington-based model makers who’ve worked on The Lord of the Rings and hold live pantomime shows. It’s interactive; children yell out and it’s hilarious for parents. Then there’s The Grounds restaurant. David’s vision was to create a sense of occasion for families; an accessible, affordable and wholesome experience.

You’re a very creative person. What’s your background?
I’ve worked in television and film for the last 17 years as a prop maker and creative director. I’ve worked on The Last Samurai, The Chronicles of Narnia and helped sculpt the whale on Whale Rider. I’m also an exhibiting fine artist and worked on public art projects under the former Waitakere City Council.

It must be rewarding to look around the studios and see your creative vision come to life.
It’s surreal. I sit at my desk and hear the squeals of delight from children having a really good time. It’s funny, because the first thing I often hear people say when they come in is ‘Whoa!’ It’s about acting on a dream and moving from the idea into fabrication.

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Autumn 2017 issue

More information

See whoastudios.co.nz for more.

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