More than sets, it’s about building connections

Pitopito Kōrero


August 2, 2023



Alex Martyn | Ngāti Tūwharetoa

Graduate of the NZ Diploma In Scenic Construction & Properties (2022)

Alex Martyn came to Toi Whakaari because it allowed him to combine two things he was interested in, building things with his hands and the performing arts. Already equipped with carpentry experience, the Diploma In Scenic Construction and Properties (Set & Props) opened a pathway to grow and adapt his skills for the creative industries.

“I did a little bit of set building work on an amateur level and I was starting to discover that I really liked working in a creative, performing arts environment” says Alex.

Alex working on his major work in the Set & Prop workshop. Photo: Philip Merry

Set & Props students have a dedicated workshop equipped with a wide range of equipment, supplies and machinery which makes it possible to dream big, and build big. He shares, "The physical floor is so huge which means you can just lay things out and not bother anyone by having a huge mess.”

The hands-on and practical learning opened Alex to a broad range of making skills, introducing him to new skills like welding and laser cutting. The course helped him realise what tools he enjoyed, and changed his opinion on the things he didn’t like before, such as workshop machinery. 

Fellow peers perform a haka at graduation ceremony. Photo: Philip Merry

For Alex, the school culture and values were equally as important as the course. Having completed a course with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, he was looking for a learning environment that had Māori values at its core. “From looking on the [Toi Whakaari] website I knew it had a bicultural kaupapa which interested me,” he says.

The level of commitment to uplifting te ao māori was more than Alex was expecting, but he was eager to support the schools growth in this area. This led him to take active leadership amongst the student body, particularly in promoting kotahitanga amongst the different disciplines. Leadership and people skills became another valuable skill-set Alex was able to grow. 

The set of Matenui by Mitch Tawhi Thomas, built by Set & Prop graduates Alex Martyn, Amberley Middlemiss and Eden Winters. Photo: Roc Torio

Alex was assigned a role as Set & Prop Maker on the Double Bill Season of Matenui by Mitch Tawhi Thomas, where he could see his skillset as “being an integral cog in that machine”. The play required a big set build resembling the inside of a home, with a kitchen, living room, hallways and front porch. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have a lead role on a large scale production show. I got heaps out of it from being chucked in the deep end.” he says.

The relationships and connections Alex built was a “huge benefit” during his time at Toi Whakaari, sharing “I don't think anyone’s coming here to make connections but it definitely happens”. By embracing discomfort, sharing kōrero about his methodology, and whakawhanaungatanga in and outside the school, opportunities would present themselves. He was noticed, in particular, by Tumuaki Tanea Heke who went on to commission Alex to create the props for the Auckland season of the play Witi’s Wahine by Nancy Brunning.

Interested in the NZ Diploma In Scenic Construction and Properties? Applications are open to study at Toi Whakaari in 2024. Learn more about the two-year diploma here or apply online now.