Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland

Twenty years ago, Hone Kouka wrote a play for the New Zealand International Arts Festival, set in the 1960s called Waiora. It toured nationally and internationally for several years afterwards and has been staged in places as diverse as the UK, Japan and Hawaii. It is studied in universities and high schools.

Waiora is being restaged in Christchurch at the Court Theatre and I spoke to playwright Hone Kouka about the play. He describes it as “an immigrant story”, specifically that of his own family who moved from north of Gisborne to the Catlins, later settling in Rangiora.

Hone Kouka
Playwright, director, screenwriter and producer Hone Kouka (image supplied)

One of the key phrases for me, was my mum said a few times that it felt like we moved to another country. So it was a really interesting story of being like immigrants in our own country. And yes there were other Māori there… but even so for her going from a community that was predominantly Māori to a community that wasn’t was a major shift.

And my family eventually settled in Rangiora and have pretty much been there for the last 30-odd years. So that’s pretty much the basis of my family, and that’s where the story came from. My dad was a saw miller, and I just wanted to pay a homage, to a degree, to them.

It’s really interesting being here in Christchurch. There are a lot of new immigrants here…

For this reason and others, Kouka feels that Waiora is as relevant now as it’s ever been.

There are a lot of reasons why I said yes to it happening down here, just engaging with the Māori community down here. There are a lot of great artists and yeah, just wanting more art in regards to all the changes that have happened to the city. And it’s great to be partnered with the Court Theatre and they are working really hard to try and engage with Māori here which is just fantastic.

One of the reasons it’s being done here at the Court was that 20 years ago it was done here as well, at the old Court Theatre…

He’s hopeful the play will encourage people, Māori particularly, to discover theatre.

Waiora
Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland. (image supplied)

Lots of Māori I know would never have been to the theatre before. This (play) is a really great example of something that’s travelled around the world and is lauded over there and bringing it back for our people… It’s been a great experience to be back here.

It’s just an art form that Māori don’t usually associate with and that’s really what it comes down to, and what I’ve found is lots of the shows that I’ve put on around the world, and around New Zealand, once Māori turn up they go, oh yep, this is ours… and it (Waiora) covers a whole lot of things in regards to us as Māori – there’s haka, waiata, reo all through it as well – and that’s one of the things that theatre, because it’s live, can do that books can’t. That you’re actually living and breathing it.

We’ve got kapa haka exponents in the play as well and I wanted to wrap those art forms up. So it’s really bringing together, the strength of Māori all over the place to tell a Māori story.

He goes on to explain that theatre offers something that other media can’t.

I spend a lot of my working world between the film and the theatre industry, and at the moment people want a live experience because they’re constantly in front of screens, and they want, actually, communication with other human beings.

…it’s not like a movie. You can’t talk through it. You can’t turn it over or anything like that – it’s right in front of you. You can hear them breathing. You can see them sweating and people really like that.

Kouka has worked on recent features such as Mahana (based on Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha) so I asked him if there is much of a difference working in film and working in theatre.

Yeah there is. I was the original screenwriter for it (Mahana) and then I was one of the producers. I prefer theatre to the film industry. And the biggest difference is money, to be honest, as it therefore goes through more people’s hands, and as an artist it’s more diluted – what you create. And that’s why I prefer theatre because you can say exactly what you want to say, how you want to say it, where you don’t have to abide by the finances and things like that. So it’s just more difficult that way.

I feel really lucky that I can move between the two. Mahana and Born to dance are two projects that came out recently that I worked on and I’ve got others coming up as well. So I’m just really lucky that that’s what I do – that I’m an artist who moves between both art forms.

Oh the horizon are another film project, travel, and more indigenous theatre.

Our company’s got a new feature that’s basically, you know the French film Amelie? – it’s a Māori Amelie. I wanted to write something that was light and really colourful, bursting with energy… so that’s where that came from. So I just had a Skype meeting with a financier in Denmark so that’s one of the most recent.

I leave on Saturday to do a theatre project to travel to Vancouver – our company’s got a co-production with 2 Canadian First Nation companies over there, It’s super active at the moment and it’s really on a big upswing, and that’s another reason why I wanted to engage with Christchurch and get the Court Theatre involved because globally there’s a lot of work happening – in Wellington it’s really on a big upswing and upsurge there so it seems to be  a good time to be involved in Māori work and travelling around the globe because they’re very open to it, which is great.

When it comes to libraries he is unequivocally in favour.

I didn’t start reading until I was about 7… and then I went crazy. I love them. For me, it gives me time to think because it’s quiet, most of the time, if that makes sense?

Libraries, they’re essential. They’re great meeting places. They are places of space and thought – that’s really what I associate with libraries. They should be one of the absolutely protected things that we have. It’s important for us to have knowledge and share it and at times the Internet – there’s not always a lot of depth to what you can gain from there – but you can from books. And also I really love the tactile nature of books. I really love them.

Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland plays at The Court Theatre 13 August – 3 September

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Naxos Theatre presents…

Logo of Naxos Video LibraryWhilst making myself aware of what library resources we have via the Source today I came upon ‘a gem’. Now I quite understand if you don’t think this tidbit of information is mind-blowing, because, let’s face it, we all appreciate different things.

If someone mentioned in passing that they had found a fantastic library resource all about the history of football which showed vintage games of yesteryear, you would probably find me in the foetal position banging my head on any available wall (not as easy as it sounds!).  But theatre productions – now, that’s a totally different ball game (every pun intended).

I clicked on Music, audio & video and chose the option Naxos Video Library. I then selected the option Genres and Programmes which showed me Theatre.  I would have had much more immediate fun if I hadn’t clicked on Opera, Monuments/History/Geography and Feature Films first, but maybe I had to wade my way through the potential of these first to truly experience the excitement I felt when – alphabetically by playwright’s surname – I found plays and theatre productions I had never heard of before. Some of these productions go back as far as 1960 with the most recent being a Shakespearean play put on at the Globe Theatre in 2011.

Cover of Much Ado About NothingAnyway, back to the 1960s and 70s…  Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman, Ingrid Bergman, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jason Robards, Walter Matthau are just a few of the American actors who ‘trod the boards’ in their younger years before Hollywood beckoned. Some of the offerings are literally on stage sets, whilst others are televised versions of plays.

Chekov’s The Seagull , Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are just a few of the more recognised plays, but there are also playwrights and plays I’ve never heard of before.

After much dithering I’ve decided to watch the 1979 production of Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill’s ‘classic American drama of love, revenge, murder and suicide’ with hopefully not a football in sight!

Have a look at the Naxos Music or Video Library next time you are on the library website – there’s a HUGE amount of material to cast your eye over.

 

Dave Armstrong, playwright, puts it on the line

Reserve Bro'town DVDs and annuals at Christchurch City LibrariesGoing to the first public reading of Dave Armstrong’s new play reinforced to me how much creative people bravely put themselves on the line when they go public. Reading from a published work can be pretty brave but an unpublished work? (See the wrap up of the opening night of the Festival)

Two actresses, the director and the dramaturge (new word for me – literary manager, in this case of Auckland Theatre Company) on a platform reading through General Ward (yesterday the title was changed to Visiting Hours). They have had two days of workshops prior to this and Dave Armstrong had supplied rewrites the morning of the reading. So it is all under development.

Plot – two women Iona (white, middle aged teacher at a private school and played by Catherine Wilkin) and Shinayd (17, Maori, check out operator and graduate of Harakeke High, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) find themselves side by side in the general ward of the local hospital recovering from serious surgery. After an initial period of cultural, generational and racial misunderstandings and disagreements they start to bond in their shared troubles of health and life and love.

The play has a way to go – the ending for instance needs work for the play to succeed and hearing the actors and the playwright talk and answer questions after the read was fascinating. The play begins with a lot of laughs and gets more serious as things go on. Shinayd about reading books “I had to read them at school so why should I do it now”. Shinayd on hearing about food and drink at the themed book club evenings that Iona loves so much. “So if you were reading Once Were Warriors you’d cook fried eggs and give each other the bash”

Dave Armstrong says he values workshopping as a potentially dangerous but valuable experience in writing a play. ATC is looking to include the play in its 2011 season. Dave Armstrong’s plays include Niu Sila (with Oscar Kightley), The Tutor, Le Sud, King and Country. His television writing includes Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, Bro’town, The Semisis, Skitz and Shortland Street.