I, George Nepia by acclaimed playwright Hone Kouka debuted as part of the Rugby World Cup REAL Arts Festival. It made audiences think hard about rugby and its heroes (yes, that’s possible). The play won theatre awards but more importantly, opened up new conversations about sport.
I, George Nepia by acclaimed playwright Hone Kouka debuted as part of the Rugby World Cup REAL Arts Festival. It made audiences think hard about rugby and its heroes (yes, that’s possible). The play won theatre awards but more importantly, opened up new conversations about sport. Renee Liang spoke to director Jason Te Kare, as the play opens again as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.
Do you play rugby? Are you good?
I used to play rugby and thought I was pretty good however I always got far more positive feedback for my ability on the stage rather than the field.
What was it like premiering I, George Nepia during the World Cup?
It was a real rush. Nerve wracking, exciting, humbling. It was an honour to have George Nepia's whanau trust us with his story and I'm incredibly proud of what we've created.
You've acted, directed and produced for film, TV, theatre and radio. What do you find the most rewarding and why?
I think they're all rewarding in different ways but theatre is my first love, it got me my first start and it's the people who make it so special. There's not a lot of money in theatre so people really do it because they love it. In my experience theatre people are like a whanau to me, we just get each other.
What have been some of the best audience responses so far?
The Nepia whanau cheering and talking to their koro on stage was pretty special. I'll also never forget the night a group of Welsh fans came and sung Land Of Our Fathers.
What's challenging about the solo play format?
A huge challenge with the solo play format is that it can tend to highlight any weaknesses a production may have. There's no hiding for the actor but this is also true of the writer, director, producer and designers. It's why I feel blessed with I, George Nepia. I'm surrounded by experience and quality. It lessens any feelings of being limited and opens up feelings of endless possibilities.
How did you research the life of George Nepia before taking on the direction? Was there anything in particular that helped you 'channel' him?
I read and watched anything I could about George Nepia, as well as the period. I was lucky there is so much out there, his own writings, newspaper clippings, the This Is Your Life programme done on him. His biography though was the key.
Why do you think New Zealanders find rugby heroes so fascinating?
The game of rugby is part of the NZ psyche because of the achievements of the All Blacks on the Originals and Invincibles tours. The legacy of taking on the 'home country' at their own game and dominating is something New Zealanders are proud of. So it follows that we'd make heroes of those who play the game well. The story of the underdog fighting above their weight is a classic and is why the George Nepia story connects with audiences today.
The man was very humble, from a small town and it was before the legacy of the All Blacks was fully cemented. Hone Kouka has done a great job of balancing a story for those who are fans of the game as well as those who are not. Using it to ask questions of why we see things a certain way including why we make these men heroes for what they do on the rugby field. What sums this up best is this line from George in the play - I hope I was a better father than I was a player.
What are you working on next?
I'm developing a work by Kirk Torrance next called GrandFatherSon.