Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand is a force to be reckoned with – a pou of the performing arts community, showing leadership and dedication in all aspects of her life. It was not only her commitment to theatre that made her stand out – but her dedication to learning te reo Māori that makes her our 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year - Te Pou Whakarae o Aotearoa.
Her exceptional artistic talent has guided her to the pinnacle of the performing arts industry where she has amassed an impressive body of work as an actor and director alongside a lifetime of voluntary work, using her mana to advocate on important issues affecting the performing arts community.
Jennifer was gifted the name Te Atamira (The Stage) by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Dr Te Wharehuia Milroy for her championing of te reo throughout the performing arts community.
We caught up with Jennifer on what it meant to receive this award, the impact it’s had on her work and her advice for others. Here's what she had to say:
How did it feel to receive the 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award?
- It was a tremendous honour - not to mention a huge surprise. My jaw was firmly on the ground from the moment the short list was announced so to have been chosen by the panel of judges was very humbling.
What does this award mean to you?
- It keeps me going. I have a full plate of community and volunteer work but the award gives me further impetus to get involved with as many kaupapa as I can - whether that be by participating in something completely outside my usual circle or in being able to boost those within.
How has this award impacted your work in the performing arts?
- The mana of the role gives me more of a platform to continue supporting and advocating for the Arts and those who work in this arena, and also to champion te reo Māori.
What advice do you have for Kiwi’s wanting to learn te reo Māori, but don’t know where or how to start?
- Find a friend who wants to learn alongside you and is on your level and in it for the long run - they will have your back and keep you on track. There are so many resources and classes available, and at little or no cost, but I think the driving force has to be your desire to learn. Mā tō ngākau e ārahi - your heart will guide you.
What has been the highlight of your career?
- Too many to mention! My motto has always been “I work with great people on great projects”, and so far this has played out. I’m particularly satisfied that we have strengthened our performers' union, Equity NZ and now stand over a thousand members strong. My most recent role training as an Intimacy Coordinator for stage and screen, and advocating for best practice in this area, is one that has been really rewarding. This work has informed the development of our Equity NZ Intimacy Guidelines for Stage and Screen released last month and will see enormous change in how these scenes are handled in the future.