2020 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the Sir Roger Hall Theatre Award
Born in the UK, bred in Aotearoa, Ahilan Karunaharan is a writer, actor, director and producer of Srilankan Tamil descent. From intimate encounters to large scale epics, pioneering works for the South Asian community, International Arts Festivals, immersive participatory installations and musicals, Karunaharan has been involved in shows, productions and festivals both nationally and internationally. Upon graduation from Victoria University of Wellington and Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, Karunaharan travelled to the UK and worked with the acclaimed theatre company Tara Arts, collaborating with various artists from around the world. Other stage appearances include Counting and Cracking for Belvoir St. Theatre, Awhi Tapu for Centrepoint, and The Night Mechanics for Tawata Productions, where he was also an associate producer for Public Service Announcements.
In 2012, Karunaharan founded the theatre company, Agaram Productions, which curated and produced the first ever South Asian Writers Festival here in Aotearoa, and continues to be one of the most important development theatre companies in the country. Karunaharan’s focus is on amplifying voices and telling stories that often go untold. “I’m most excited by creatives and practitioners looking to break boxes that they are put into and collaborate with those who don’t get the centre stage often.”
Directing highlights include A Fine Balance and Swabhoomi: Borrowed Earth for Prayas Theatre, the interactive outdoor extravaganza Kollywood Extras, Bollywood Blockbuster, Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Light vs Dark: The Adventures of Rama for Auckland Theatre Company and the immersive participatory experience Samaroh: The Great Indian Carnival for the Auckland Arts Festival.
Karunaharan’s writing credits for stage include Aotearoa’s first full-length Sri Lankan play The Mourning After, Anchorite, and Melodic Maladies. His play Tea which he wrote and directed for the 2018 Auckland Arts Festival, was the hottest ticket in town and sold out well before the opening night. Tea was awarded Excellence for Overall Production at the Auckland Theatre Awards.
More recently Karunaharan wrote and directed My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak for Silo Theatre and produced First World Problems for Agaram Productions and Yatra for Prayas Theatre. He has been Artistic Curator for Short and Sweet Festival, freelances as a dramaturg, tutor, musician and has worked for BATS Theatre and the Basement Theatre in the Programming Department. He has also worked with Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney Festival and Adelaide Festival and with Native Earth and Planet IndigenoUS Festival. In 2018 Karunaharan won The Bruce Mason Playwright Award, recognising his work as an outstanding New Zealand playwright.