TBI Q&A: Te Kohe Tuhaka

Taking on 'an actor's dream role' of Michael James Manaia, has taken Te Kohe Tuhaka across the country and the ditch, before arriving at writer John Broughton's hometown in Dunedin.


It's a good thing Te Kohe Tuhaka (Ngati Porou, Ngai Tuhoe) likes to tour new towns and feed off their energy, to 'grow the show and keep it full'.

Taking on 'an actor's dream' as the sole vehicle carrying iconic NZ play Michael James Manaia, has taken him across the country and the ditch, before arriving this week at writer John Broughton's hometown in Dunedin.

"I have been given so many gifts and teachings through my constant exploration through the show."

Michael James Manaia is a poignant story about a New Zealand man who, after returning from the Vietnam War, finds himself at odds with his culture, his history and his memories.

Twenty years after it burst onto the stages of the world, the new Taki Rua production, directed by Nathaniel Lees, has been touring New Zealand and Australia during the last two years to great acclaim.

It plays at Fortune Theatre from 2 - 16 Feb, with an audio described performance on Sunday 10 February.

Te Kohe tells us more about himself and the work.

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

First thing in the morning. I’m very much a morning person.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Sophisticatedly rugged, where town meets country.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Getting to work with established actors, being and seeing their creative process.

How does your environment affect your work?

When I’m out touring the affect is both positive and creative. I’m getting to perform to a new audience base in their home town, and being able to feed off their energy, a new input really helps to grow the show and keep it full.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

I’m very much a big picture kind of guy, but when one is striving for that big picture the finer details are the things that are most important to achieving that big picture, so a bit of both.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

You are your business, your body, your voice, your health make up all the aspects of you. Being employable, keep it well tuned and be ready to work at any given time, you never know who may ring you tomorrow with work opportunities.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

The Brothers Size, this piece of theatre which I had the privilege to be apart would be the most satisfying project. It was an amazing process which I thoroughly enjoyed, plus I got to play a really evil character which is always a lot of fun.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

Nathaniel Lees, he is an amazing Director and friend. I’m inspired by his craft and his knowledge of the acting craft. He is a great teacher and amazing colleague.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up in Gisborne, went to Toi Whakaari. Once I left Gisborne I set out to follow my dream of one being an actor but two to get the chance to work with the actors who made me want to get in to acting.

Once I graduated I have worked here in NZ as well as abroad which has been a great experience and one I will continue to do as long as the finer details are been attended to.

What drew you to Michael James Manaia (MJM)? What does the story mean to you?

MJM is an actor’s dream role. It's full of so many storytelling challenges, be it physically or emotionally, you are the sole vehicle that carries this iconic piece of NZ theatre and that’s what drew me to the piece. In essence you need to be happy in your own skin to fully inhabit that of Michaels, and I felt that I was when I was first approached to audition.

The story to me is one of responsibility and respect, responsibility in telling this very kiwi view and story of growing up in NZ, how the landscape here moulded its people and its view on what was out there in the world.

Respect, in the sense of those who served in the Vietnam War, who have seen the atrocities of war and are in some way scared by them. Acknowledgment and making sure that today’s generation have the chance to hear, see and touch these places and people that they may not ever see or meet, but also to know that we are very world renown in our theatre history and our stories which is why they need to be told and I’m happy to be a part of the fabric that keep telling them.  

What have been the challenges and rewards of the one-man play?

Doing a one man show is a challenge in itself, but for this particular piece for me is finding a process that works in keeping me balanced between working on getting ready to do the show and enjoying and exploring the new centres that I visit with it.

How has it developed since you first started performing it?

It’s developed so much from our very first season at the NZ International Arts Festival in Wellington's Downstage Theatre back in 2012. We have three versions of the show that can be performed to suit any festival requirements but from a performers point of view I have been given so many gifts and teachings through my constant exploration through the show. The art of play and discovery is an actor’s biggest tool to not settle, to look for and refine, to be able to hold an audience and to allow them to energize what is happening on stage is the biggest development for me, understanding my craft and then letting that grow in me and the piece.

How have you worked with writer John Broughton? Any extra pressure performing in his home town?

It’s been great having John be a part of the process. As the playwright John has been able to open up certain worlds and areas of the text for me which has be awesome. As far as pressure, no pressure just honoured to be able to bring it here and put it on for him, his friends and family.

Tell us about the process of working with Taki Rua?

It’s a pretty simple and whanau orientated process working with Taki Rua. Like any theatre company there’s a formal business process but in the case of Taki Rua, there is also a tikanga side to working there which is a cultural protocol that ties you to all who have work there before and also acknowledgement of the work that is about to be created. I absolutely love being a part of the Taki Rua whanau.

What are some of your other upcoming projects?

I’m part of a new television show with Tumanako Production called “marae kai masters”, also I will be directing a little this year for takiruas season of the Te Reo Maori tour, and I’m also currently a Crossfit coach at Crossfit Mt Eden so I have a somewhat of a full an exciting year ahead.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

I wouldn’t want to go back and change it I believe I’m in my dream job, but if I did change careers I would love to be an All Black because let’s be honest who wouldn’t want to be an All Black really.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

I'm a gizzy boy who loves his home town so where ever I go the water always comes with me.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Loud and naked because music an being naked make anyone feel free.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

The string would turn in to ninja whip, the stick in to a ninja sword and the fabric in to a ninja mask.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

When it all gets a bit much, pick up the guitar and sing it all away.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

6 Feb 2013

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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