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Vanessa Byrnes

Head of School, Creative Industries
School of Creative Industries
Location: 078-1010 or 110-L2


Dr. Vanessa Byrnes

Head of Practice Pathway: Creative Industries

Dr. Vanessa Byrnes is an award-winning director, actor, producer and performance teacher who’s worked extensively in film and theatre in New Zealand and overseas. She has led and collaborated on more than 150 theatre and screen productions during the past 25 years in everything from independent, self-funded works to major international productions. This includes numerous feature films, short films, television commercials/drama, radio, and theatre. She is a passionate advocate of the power of creativity, the significance of the role of the artist in society, and the quality and innovation of New Zealand work.

In 2000 Vanessa was the first Australasian to assistant-direct at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, staging The Two Noble Kinsmen for the Globe’s main stage with director Tim Carroll and the Red Company at The Globe. In 2015 she directed a heavily-cut and highly contemporary version of Antony and Cleopatra for Unitec’s third year actors, which was recently reworked for 9 shows at Auckland’s Pop-up Globe theatre season (28 March- 9 April 2016).

Vanessa was Senior Acting tutor and Manager of the Acting Department at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School; in over 11 years there she also taught acting and directed productions at Toi Whakaari and Victoria University. In tertiary environments and professionally, she has directed many classic, contemporary, devised and text-based theatre productions.

Vanessa trained at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School (Acting, 1994) and Waikato University (MA, 1992: PhD, 2015). Her doctorate focussed on directing, looking at the praxis of selected New Zealand text-based theatre directors. She is currently writing further in this area. She has held senior leadership roles for various arts education bodies, and freelances under her own production company. Vanessa is a past Board Member of Downstage Theatre, PlayMarket, the Shakespeare Globe Centre (NZ) and TAPAC: The Auckland Performing Arts Centre. As a director and producer she brings compassion, rigour and craft to the table.

Vanessa is thrilled to be stepping into this role at Unitec and extending the excellence already on offer in Creative Industries.

“Unitec offers excellent staff and student educational opportunities that is characterised by the ‘threshold’ Applied Learning space. This implies oppositional and reciprocal points of view. Creative brilliance so often stems from such dichotomies. Unitec’s maxim of ‘Think. Do’ aligns with my own philosophy of the necessary opposites that combine to teach and unlock creative processes: thinking and feeling; planning and application; structure and freedom; habit and disruption; logic and imagination; tradition and the search for originality. I can think of no better place than Unitec to combine the artistic and practical sides of the self to collectively drive intelligent, connected, and innovative Creative Industries education on a world-class scale.” 


Byrnes, V.K. (2021). Landscape, Isolation, and Belonging in Performance: The Art of Directing in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. Sixteenth International Conference on the Arts in Society, University of Western Australia, Perth.

Byrnes, V.K. (2021). Creative Industries Tertiary Sector Hui / Talanoa Looking Ahead to our Creative Futures: Purpose and Vitality Co-convenors: Dr. Vanessa Byrnes (Unitec) and Professor Federico Freschi (Otago Polytechnic). Unitec, Auckland.

Byrnes, V.K., (Guest Actor) (2021). The Panthers at TIFF: Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Hern, Tom. (writer)/ (director), Finau, Halaifonua. (writer)/producer, 'Ilolahia, Will. (co)-executive producer, & Napier Robertson, James. (co)-executive producer. (2021). Guest Actor in The Panthers. Film/Video. New Zealand: Tavake Ltd and Four Knights Films for TVNZ. Canada and World-wide, Four Knights Films.

Byrnes, V.K. (2020). Floating Islanders. Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa. Lisa Warrington & David O'Donnell, RECHERCHE LITTERAIRE/LITERARY RESEARCH (Vol. 36).

Byrnes, Vanessa. (2020). 'Here is my space; the nobleness of life is to do thus': Democratizing Performance and Emboding Presence at the Pop-up Globe Theatre in Auckland. Fifteenth International Conference on The Arts in Society, Galway, Ireland.

Byrnes, V.K., (Dramaturge) (2019). Boys' Night In (Tom McCrory) The Conch Theatre Company. Unitec Theatre, 23 March 2019.

Byrnes, V.K. (2019). How to start a Creative (R)evolution. Empowering Women, Growing Artists, and Reclaiming the Real through Live Performance. Performing the Artefact: University of Otago, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V.K. (2019). 'SHARP' Skills: The Need for Creativity for Tomorrow's Learners. 7th Sino NZ Vocational Education and Training Model Symposium, Qingdao, China.

Byrnes, V.K. (2019). 'SHARP' Skills: The Need for Creativity for Tomorrow's Learners. Trish Chaplin-Cheyne (Chief Editor), Tony O'Brien (Editor), Su Bolland (Editorial Assistant), Proceedings of the 7th Sino-New Zealand Vocational Education and Training Model Programme Symposium, held 14-15 October 2019, Qingdao Technical College, China.

Byrnes, V. K., (((Actor))) Dr. Tammy Lawson (2018). Shortland Street: Blk. 1299/ ep.6491. New Zealand, South Pacific Pictures.

Byrnes, V. K. (2018). Collaborative Creativity: Pedagogical Practice and Relational Innovation in Aotearoa/New Zealand Contemporary Dance Training. An Outlook on Future Dance Training Beijing Dance Academy: International President's Dance Forum, Beijing, China.

Byrnes, V. K., (Executive Producer) (2017). Waiting (short film). Unitec, Unitec Performing and Screen Arts.

Byrnes, V.K. (2017). Directing, 'Fraternity', and Belonging on the Threshold. Australian Drama Studies Association Conference (ADSA 2017), Auckland, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V. K., & Harcourt, M. (2017). 'Shared truths': Directing praxis in New Zealand. Panel discussion with Miranda Harcourt. Drama New Zealand Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V. K. (2017). Creative 'response-ability': Teaching, directing, and practicing creativity in a contemporary world Keynote. Drama New Zealand Conference, Otago Settler's Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V. K. (2016). A globe approach to performing Shakespeare. Actors' Professional Development Series: A Globe Way of Working, Pop-up Globe Theatre, Ellerslie, Auckland, New Zealand.

Aumua, A. J., (Director), & Byrnes, V. K., (Executive producer) (2016). Waiting. New Zealand, Unitec Faculty of Creative Industries.

Byrnes, V. K., (Director) (2016). Antony and Cleopatra. Pop-up Globe Theatre, 28 Mar - 3 April, Byrnes Productions.

Byrnes, V. K. (2016). 'Working the Open Air Stage'. The University of Auckland Pop-up Globe Theatre Symposium, Auckland, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V.K. (2016). The value, place of, and need for creativity. Shanghai Theatre Academy, Shanghai, China.

Byrnes, V. K. (2015). Removing the 'Cloak of Invisibility': New Zealand Directors Discuss Theatre Directing Praxis. University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V. K., (Director) (2015). Antony and Cleopatra. Unitec Theatre, 11 - 17 June, Byrnes Productions.

Byrnes, V. K. (2014). 'Shared Experiences': Influence, Tradition and the Legacy of Mike Alfreds in New Zealand Professional Theatre Practice. The Australasian Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies Association (ADSA) Conference, Wellington, New Zealand.

Byrnes, V. K., (Actor), & Hawkins, B., (Director) (2013). Step Dave. New Zealand, South Pacific Pictures.

Byrnes, V. K., (Director) (2013). Tarnished Frocks and Divas. ASB Arena, Dates required, Byrnes Productions.

Byrnes, V. K., (Executive Producer), & Burger, P., (Director) (2012). Seven Shorts. New Zealand, M3 Productions.

Byrnes, V. K., & McKie, D. (2012). 'Stand and Unfold Your Praxis': Reflections on connecting experiments to make theatre directing and leadership learning more dynamic. The Sixth Art of Management and Organisation Conference, University of York, United Kingdom.

McKie, D., & Byrnes, V. K. (2012). 'Performing Emotion': Experiences, practices and theories. The Sixth Art of Management and Organisation Conference, University of York, United Kingdom.