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Source: University of Waikato

Alexandra Lodge loves telling stories and performing and has done so since she can remember. Being a writer is what she has always wanted to be, even though over the years she has taken a detour as an actor. This week, she proudly graduated from the University of Waikato with a Doctorate in Philosophy.

Her studies have explored multilingual creative practice in theatre, combining the three languages of Aotearoa – New Zealand Sign Language, te reo Māori and New Zealand English – with her own love of acting and writing.

Alexandra was asked by the University to speak to her graduating class as the Student Speaker. In the audience, she was supported  by her partner, their son, her mother. In addition, her father Martin Lodge, who is a lecturer in Music at the University,  sat with her on stage. To make it extra special, Alexandra is 7 months pregnant with her second child.

A personal setback and finding a way forward with her PhD 

Her journey to get here was full of many twists and turns. Alexandra and her partner were both working at the University when she applied for a University of Waikato Doctoral Scholarship with an idea to research and practice more accessible theatre. She decided that she would only do the doctorate if her scholarship application was successful, and it was.

She had been working with a company called Equal Voices Arts for a while, learning about New Zealand Sign Language in theatre and noticed that there were really similar stories of linguistic oppression in te reo Māori and NZSL. She wanted to find a way to collate those two parts of Aotearoa storytelling into a research topic.

Alexandra started her PhD when her son was three years old. However, in 2017 their lives changed forever when her partner suffered a major stroke. Although he was lucky to survive without permanent paralysis or major brain injury, he was faced with chronic health issues and as a result unable to work. As he was the main income earner, they had no idea at that point what the future would look like for their family.

Alexandra considered giving up her studies in order to work fulltime, but her partner insisted that she should complete her studies as he knew how much it meant to her and the hard work she had already put in.

To make it work, they made many sacrifices as a family. They moved to her partner’s family in Rotorua and were very fortunate to have not only family support, but also her supervisor’s patience and support while they were figuring out how to manage and balance their new life.

Alexandra finished writing and editing her doctorate at the Rotorua Public Library during weekdays while their son was at school.

Working in theatre, learning and collaborating 

Prior to starting her PhD Alexandra had worked as a sessional assistant in the theatre and English departments of the University of Waikato and had also freelanced as an actor and playwright.

Before the birth of her son, she did a Master in Scriptwriting at Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters with Ken Duncum – an experience she says shaped her work ethic well towards the necessary PhD discipline.

She then also did a short internship at Shortland Street and had her short film script directed by Gaylene Preston as part of her study.

Currently, Alexandra runs a Wellington-based theatre company called with two of her friends. In 2018, they wrote and produced a show called Modern Girls in Bed. She also developed her newest script, called Sing to Me, which is being produced by Taki Rua Theatre Company and as part of developing that, she has been to a few different wānanga around the motu.

A highlight of her studies was the collaborations with her two linguistic advisors – the late great Shaun Fahey, who was an incredible Deaf actor, artist and storyteller, and Mokonui-a-rangi Smith, one of her oldest friends and a real leader in the next generation of exceptional tāne Māori.

Getting to have very frank and awkward conversations with them both about language and privilege, as well as witnessing them ‘spin linguistic gold’, was an absolute gift for which she will always be grateful, she says.

Making the arts more accessible to Deaf and disabled communities

Since August 2019, she has been doing what she describes as her ‘dream job’. She puts her PhD to practical use every day while working for the Auckland Arts Festival, designing and coordinating their access and inclusion programme.

She works with artists to talk meaningfully and honestly about making their work accessible and talk with Deaf and disabled communities about art and creative practice and how to serve them.