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Vanessa Byrnes

Head of School, Creative Industries
School of Creative Industries
Location: 055-1003 or 110-L2


Vanessa Byrnes

Associate Professor

Head of School: Creative Industries

Associate Professor Vanessa Byrnes is an award-winning director, actor, producer, and performance lecturer who’s worked extensively in performing and screen arts in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. She has led and collaborated on more than 200 theatre, screen, and radio productions during the past 30 years in everything from independent, self-funded works to major international productions in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. This includes numerous feature films, short films, TV commercials/drama, radio, and theatre. She is a passionate advocate of the power of creativity to activate brilliance beyond the creative sector, the significance of the role of the artist in society, and the quality and innovation of Aotearoa New Zealand work. In 2000 she was the first Australasian to assistant-direct at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (London), a watershed experience that allowed her to deepen a style of interpretive directing that abides by form to find creative freedom in postcolonial contexts. Her creative practice skills have translated into a range of teaching methods and applied andragogies in the tertiary education sector over three decades. Vanessa is currently Head of School: Creative Industries/Manukura: Te Kura O Ngā Mahi Auaha at Unitec/Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka (Auckland) encompassing Design & Contemporary Arts and Performing & Screen Arts. She has been fortunate to educate many diverse industry professionals at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School, Unitec, the University of Waikato (including Te Timatanga Hou), Victoria University of Wellington, Beijing Dance Academy, Shanghai Theatre Academy, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (London), Otago Polytechnic, and The Film School (NZ), amongst others.

Research interests include practice-based and practice-led discourse in directing, acting, and creativity in action. She publishes on art and performance ecologies and praxis (the intersection of practice, methodology, and theory) and its connection to evolving educational knowledge.

Vanessa has held senior leadership roles for various arts education bodies and freelances as a director, producer, and actor. As a practitioner she brings compassion, rigour and craft to the table. As a past Board Member of Downstage Theatre, PlayMarket, the Shakespeare Globe Centre (NZ), and TAPAC: The Auckland Performing Arts Centre, she is keen to ensure that the futures for our developing art and design sectors are dynamic and led with integrity.

A practitioner who is driven by the power of collective impact through art-making and the impact of mana-enhancing kaupapa through creative practice, Vanessa is a keen proponent of bicultural approaches to creativity and storytelling. This is underlined by the aim to centralise indigenous methodologies and knowledge-making practices to elevate intergenerational mana for all.

‘He toi whakairo, he mana tangata’: ‘Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity’.


Byrnes, V.K. (2023). Book Review of Looser, Diana. Moving Islands: Contemporary Performance and the Global Pacific. Recherche littéraire/Literary Research (Vol. 2023).

Byrnes, V.K. (2023). 'ART IS NOT SNATCHED, BUT WON BY STUDY': WHY ART(S) EDUCATION MATTERS. Public Lecture at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, Otago.

Byrnes, V.K., Miller, M., Whitham, A., Wallace, W., Hawthorne, E., & Ilgenfritz, P. (2023). Tertiary Education Reforms Challenge the Conservatory: Actor Training at Unitec and the Creative Agency of Change. AusAct Australasian Actor Training Conference, Ballarat, Australia and online.

Toi Mai (2023). Te Wao Nui o Toi: Screen Sector Capability and Development Plan. Wellington, Toi Mai Workforce Development Council.

Byrnes, V.K. (2022). Essential 'SHARP' skills: Defining creative abilities in a post-pandemic World. ADSA Australasian Conference 2022: Travelling Together, University of Auckland.

Byrnes, Vanessa., Miller, Michael., Wallace, Will., Whitham, Alexandra., Hawthorne, Elizabeth., & Ilgenfritz, Pedro. (2022). Values-based Education in the Te Pūkenga Conservatory: Successful Actor Training at Unitec. Unitec/ MIT Research Symposium 2022, Auckland.

Gallagher, Sarah., (writer), Byrnes, Vanessa., (Director), Wigmore, Lucy., (Actor), Szusterman, Jeff., (Actor), & Henderson, Gary., (Dramaturge) (2022). Dinner and The Disconnect. Lopdell House, Titirangi, 21-22 October.

Byrnes, V.K. (2022). The Future is Closer than you Think! Unitec/ MIT/ ITPNZ Combined Tech Week Event, Unitec, Auckland.

Byrnes, V.K., (artist) (2022). Home: Two Grandmothers (Ballinderry, Tipperary, Ireland; Point Chevalier, Auckland, Aotearoa/ New Zealand) 2 x A2 Photographic Images on paper. Hannah, Dorita; Ferguson, Gina, and Woods, Rebecca, Gallery One, Unitec, Auckland, 18 March-14 April.

Byrnes, V.K. (2022). Guest lecture: 'SHARP' Skills: Essential Creative Abilities in a Changing World/ Te Ao Hurihuri. College of Creative Practice & Enterprise Otago Polytechnic | Te Kura Matatini ki Otago Dunedin Campus. Dunedin, New Zealand.

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

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.