Last year, Karin McCracken and Eleanor Bishop (aka the theatre-making partnership EBKM) created Heartbreak Hotel, a musical play that explored the complexities of dating and heartache, which quickly became the talk of NZ’s theatre scene and was widely considered the best piece of homegrown theatre produced in 2023. 

This year, as part of Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival, they follow up on Heartbreak Hotel’s success with a show about failure: Gravity & Grace. Karin McCracken spills the beans on what it means to make art in Aotearoa in 2024.

Your most recent work, Heartbreak Hotel, scored some of the best reviews of any show in New Zealand last year. Why do you think it was such a resounding success?


I think it resonated with people because it’s a fairly universal topic: almost everyone has an experience of grief or loss or heartbreak, and we know from the research that, physiologically, people generally process heartbreak in similar ways. The number of people that approached us after the show saying “I had that exact argument,” “I also listened to that song on repeat,” or “My chest felt like it was going to cave in too” was significant. So I think people saw some of their experiences in the show. And people like songs. And everyone likes Simon Leary.

How nerve-racking is it to follow up on that success with Gravity & Grace?

I don’t feel nervous about showing the work at all! They are really different shows, and are being presented in really different contexts, so it’s pretty easy not to compare them. Gravity & Grace is much bigger than Heartbreak Hotel, and Eleanor and I have been working on it for 4 years. A true labour of love, and I love the show. We’ve been working with an extraordinary team to get it to stage, and I’m really excited. Eleanor feels the same, and if the show fails, that works pretty well in a ‘meta’ way!

Right, because Gravity & Grace is a story about ‘not succeeding’! Tell us about that.

The story follows writer Chris Kraus writing a book about how her film Gravity & Grace turned out to be such a ‘failure.’ So she’s going back in time, rehashing how it was made, what went wrong, and then goes further back in time to think about artists that inspire her that were also considered ‘failures.’ On stage, you’ll see five actors, four cameras, a lot of video projection and several excellent wigs. Parts are funny, parts are moving and parts are surreal. Expect to see some artists you recognise (like Andy Warhol) and prepare to meet some artists you’ll want to know more about (like our beloved Paul Thek).

Talking of artists, what impact do you think your queerness has on your art?

I’ll quote Chris Kraus here, from her book Aliens & Anorexia (the text that we adapted to make Gravity & Grace):

“‘Art’ is really ‘artifact’; Exhibit A, Exhibit B, of something else: a person’s whole experience and life.”

I guess that’s to say – in whatever ways sexuality has an impact on someone’s life, it has an impact on their art.

We’re post-pandemic, and a few months into a National government – what is it like to make art in New Zealand right now?

It’s a bit of a hellscape. The holy trinity of sector under-funding, inflation and changing audience behaviour due to COVID has been ‘challenging!’ We’re still running on the last government’s financial year, so yet to see how the new numbers stack up, but safe to say no one is holding their breath for a relaxed 2025.

All that said, I love my job. I’m extremely lucky to make theatre in the way that I do, and I love sharing my work with audiences. I truly believe Aotearoa has the people/talent/drive to make the most innovative live performance in the world, but we need the infrastructure to make it sustainable.

So how important are festivals like the Auckland Arts Festival to you as a creator?

Very important. Gravity & Grace is by far the biggest show we’ve ever made as a company, and we only get to take big swings like this because festivals like Auckland Arts Festival and Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts support us through development. Support from major festivals ensures artists get better, the work gets better and the audiences see more stuff they like.

Gravity & Grace runs from Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 March at Q Theatre as part of Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival. For further information and to book tickets, visit