Alice Canton


NameAlice Canton (she/her)
Country of BirthAotearoa
Place of ResidenceTāmaki Makaurau Auckland
EthnicitiesMalaysian Chinese, Pākehā
Decades Active2010s, 2020s


Alice Canton is a performer and theatre artist who — under the non de plume White_mess — often works collaboratively with non-performers to explore the multiplicity of identity and culture.

Canton was born in Te Tai Poutini, the West Coast, and grew up in Ōtautahi Christchurch, where she pursued parallel interests in performance and visual arts, working as an improviser and actor with the Court Theatre from the age of 17 and studying at the University of Canterbury for a degree in fine arts. (“I went to art school because I loved painting and concepts,” she has said, “and ended up almost flunking because I majored in sculpture and never made anything”). She went on to study for a Bachelor of Performing Arts (Acting) from Toi Whakaari: The New Zealand Drama School and the influence of both degrees is evident in the strikingly minimalist production design Canton often employs in her work.

In 2011, she was supported by the Asia New Zealand Foundation to study Balinese mask and shadow puppetry in Indonesia, which informed the development of her solo movement piece Orangutan. The first play to be presented through White_mess, the work is set in the native rainforest of Borneo, where we see the devastating impacts of deforestation and industrialisation through the eyes of a singular creature. This was later followed by White/Other (2016), an exploration of her bicultural Malaysian Chinese and Pākehā identity. “I don’t identify as ‘white’,” she said in an RNZ interview at the time, “And when I visited Malaysia for the first time [where my mother’s family are from] I felt completely disconnected. But once I acknowledged and accepted that it was all part of my own story it was easy.”

White_mess is largely defined by its social practice of working with non-performers to create documentary theatre, exemplified through works like the award-winning OTHER [chinese] (2017), where she worked with more than 100 Chinese non-performers to develop an exploration of what it means to be Chinese in Aotearoa; Dance Like Everybody’s Watching (2017), where teenagers unpack the pressures of social media; Children Talk About (2018), where children discussed what it means to care for our older generations; and Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ) (2019), an exploration of intergenerational connection.

Under her own name, Canton has collaborated with a number of artists and companies, including Red Leap Theatre, Auckland Theatre Company, Barbarian Productions, DynaMotion and Two Productions. This includes co-creating the absurdist comedy Break Bread (2021), an original commission from Silo Theatre that was adapted into a digital video work during the pandemic. More recently, she was a contributing creator of the fantastical dance-theatre tribute to grief, Death. Disco. Heartbeat (2019, 2023).

Through Heartthrobs — a collective of improvisers led by Brynley Stent, Rhiannon McCall and Canton — she has created works including the Basement Theatre Christmas show Sleigh! (2022) as well as Lust Island (2020, 2021), The Salem B*tch Trials (2020) and MacKenzie’s Daughters (2018).

In addition to her work as a theatre-maker, Canton has previously worked in a range of arts management roles across the performing arts sector, including with The Court Theatre, Basement Theatre, NZ Opera and Silo Theatre. She has served on the board of Movement Arts Practice (2014–2019) and Indian Ink Theatre Company (2021–2023). She currently presents Stage Direction, a weekly segment on theatre with 95bFM, and was a member of improv comedy group Snort.


Key works / presentations

Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ)

2019 — CoCA, Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival, Ōtautahi
2020 — Basement Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau

OTHER [ōtepoti chinese]

2019 — Blue Oyster Art Project, Ōtepoti


2019 — Little Andromeda, Ōtautahi
2019 — NZ International Comedy Festival, Basement Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau

Children Talk About

2018 — Auckland Arts Festival, Tāmaki Makaurau

OTHER [chinese]

2017 — Q Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
2021 — Lake Wanaka Centre, Festival of Colour, Wanaka
2021 — Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin Arts Festival, Ōtepoti
2023 — Dumont4040, Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires


2017 — Auckland Theatre Company, Waterfront Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau


2016 — Basement Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau


2015 — Basement Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
2016 — Basement Theatre Schools Programme, Tāmaki Makaurau

Key awards

2019 — Kiwibank Local Hero Award (New Zealander of the Year Awards)

2017 — Metro Magazine: Best Show (OTHER [chinese])

2017 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Excellence in Overall Production (OTHER [chinese])

2017 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Hackman Cup for Most Original Production (OTHER [chinese])

2017 — Auckland Fringe Awards: Judges Special Commendation — Spirit of the Fringe (Little Sister)

2015 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Equity New Zealand Award for Best Show by an Emerging Artist (Orangutan)

Related entries

Last updated: 29 February 2024 Suggest an Edit


A woman sitting on a woven mat chisels into a piece of wood

Alice Canton, Carving Orangutan mask in Bali, 2012

A woman stands in the middle of a group of kids who are sitting on the ground

Children Talk About for Auckland Arts Festival, 2018

Photo by Julie Zhu

'OTHER [chinese]: behind the live documentary theatre project', 2017

A woman sitting on the ground holding a small yellow puppet figure

Little Sister, 2017

A woman wearing an orangutan mask

Orangutan, 2015

Photo by Julie Zhu

A woman in a black box theatre writing on the wall

Year of the Tiger at CoCA, 2019

Photo by Petra Mingneau