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Science festival holds no fears for former fire-eater

  • 30 Jan 2018

Article written by Kay SInclair, Otago Daily Times.


Five months from his first New Zealand International Science Festival as director, Dan Hendra is not looking at all nervous.

Hardly surprising for someone who, in a previous life, performed as a fire-eater.

Mr Hendra was also responsible for transforming Dunedin's infamous Hyde St party from an out-of-control nuisance happening and a drain on taxpayers to a template event for emergency training for St John staff.

He took on the management of the annual party event about seven years ago, a year after a roof collapsed under the weight of numbers. As a result of the numbers injured, huge pressure was placed on the city's emergency services.

Making the Hyde St party a ticket-only event meant numbers were controlled and, in the process of organising the event, Mr Hendra developed good relationships with the university proctor, police, ambulance and fire service staff.

He also talked with the students who responded well to the management strategy.

Before moving to Dunedin in 2002 following three years studying business computing at Waikato Polytechnic, Palmerston North-born Mr Hendra (38), ran a performance company, responsible for events such as the Taranaki Festival of Lights

During his ensuing years in Dunedin, he has built up an impressive CV in event management as well learning how to fire-eat, stilt-walk and juggle.

The fire-eating and other performance activities tied in well with his studies for his BA in performing arts, which he gained from the University of Otago, the clearly enthusiastic Mr Hendra said last week.

While he was a student he started the University Cultural Club where he taught others how to fire-eat, having taught himself ``during an afternoon in the back yard''.

From there, he started a performance company, travelling and providing performers for shows.

Although himself a performer, Mr Hendra said he was more fascinated by the organisational, management and technical side of events.

He organised and managed Orientation events hosted at the Forsyth Barr Stadium when the two other possible venues, the University Union Hall and the Dunedin Town Hall, were both under redevelopment.

He organised the international food festival and for several years and produced the annual University of Otago Capping Show, the world's longest-running capping revue.

A passionate ``foodie'', Mr Hendra also founded and managed the highly successful Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival which began in 2013.

From 2013 to last year he was event manager for the Otago University Students' Association responsible for events attended by up to 45,000 people throughout the University calendar year.

Since his appointment as director of the two-yearly New Zealand International Science Festival, Mr Hendra has been concentrating on the programme of events for this year's festival, scheduled for July 6 to 15.

He describes the festival as a wonderful celebration of what was happening in the city, as well as bringing in an impressive array of national and international events.

This year's theme challenges participants to ``go beyond, navigate new horizons'' and Mr Hendra promises ``some amazing guests'' and ``some fascinating and intriguing stuff'' although the specifics were still ``under wraps''.

But he was willing to disclose there would be two new venues - Cargill Enterprises in South Dunedin and Vogel St - in addition to the existing venues of Wall St, the Otago Museum, the university, Otago Polytechnic and the Dunedin Library.

And while the festival would focus on interesting topics for children, there would also be a focus this year on talks and panel discussions for adults.



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