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"It is Us!": Māori Stories for the Next Generation

Whakarongomai Playwrights Baylee Watene-Kay, Ava Williams, Colleen Maria Lenihan, Te Aorewa Areta. Photo: Supplied.
A promising group of emerging Māori creatives are making their voices heard - on the eve of a festival that puts their ideas in the spotlight.

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Kōanga, the arrival of spring, gathers the community together for the season that is traditionally a time to combine efforts to plant for the next harvest. 

In the same spirit, the role of Te Pou Theatre’s Kōanga Festival (23 September -9 October) is to develop a fertile Auckland Māori theatre creative economy outside of the busy Matariki season, focused on developing new creative talent and work. 

Now into its seventh iteration, Kōanga is celebrated annually at Te Pou Theatre, which was established in 2015 as a response to the Māori theatre sector's desire to have a home for their work, offering a place for artists to develop and present their work within a kaupapa Māori performing arts space. Under Tāmaki Makaurau's current Alert Levels, the festival has once again shifted to a digital viewing experience.

The marquee feature of the festival is Whakarongo Mai, a series of play readings offering a chance for the public to hear brand-new works from exciting emerging playwrights to support the development of new ideas from Māori playwrights. 

Two of these works are specially for tamariki, Hoki Wairua Mai by Baylee Watene-Kay (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine) and Atarangi: Morning Sky by Tom Knowles (Rongowhakaata). They explain to The Big Idea what sharing their mahi means to them.

 

 

Baylee Watene-Kay

Baylee Watene-Kay. Photo: Supplied.

Pua i te whitu, pua te harikoa, te tūrangahākoa, o tātau te iwi e noho nei i ngā kāinga tuatinitini, i ngā hīhī o tamanuiterā, kua eke mai a Kōanga, anei au e mihi atu nei ki a koutou. Me he kiwi e huna ana i te rā e whiti ana, ko tātau tonu e noho mohoao nei, kia mahara tātau ki tō tātau waimarie. 

Uia mai te pātai, he aha te whakaaro nui o te wā? 

Me pēhea e kore ai e whakaaro ki ngā mate o te wā. 

Me pēhea e kore ai e whakarongo ki te pakepakētanga o te ngutu tāngata ki ōnā tohenga mō Te Reo Māori.

Me pēhea e kore ai e whakaaro ki te āpōpō o taku tamaiti, a Te Rangihuatau. 

Whātaretare mai ki taku pukapuka tapu. I konei i hura i te pitomata o tōku whakaari hou ‘Hoki Wairua Mai’.

“Kia manawanui, e māmā e.

Kei hea te āpōpō o te tukunga ihotanga o ōku kōrero tīpuna?
Mā hea taku Rangihuatau e whakakorikori i ngā taura whakapapa ō roto pena kua mau heretia tōna tinana ki Tāmaki Makaurau?

Kia manawanui, e māmā e.

Kei hea aku whetū tārake i te rangi? 

Ka mate ana ahau, he aha taku pare ā waha ki ōku tīpuna mō te oranga tonutanga o te reo?

Kia manawanui, e māmā e.” 

E mihi ana ki te āwhā o roto o tōku hinengaro, nānā ahau i ākina kia whakawhakaaringia ēnei whakaaro. Nā wai i hē? Ehara.  Anei te hua:
 

‘Hoki Wairua Mai’
Ko Waiata rāua ko Hāparangi ngā māhanga nō runga o Nukutaimemeha Waka. Kei a rāua te haepapa o te kawe i ngā mate i Hawaiki ki Aotearoa kia aha? Kia hoki ki ō rātau whānau e whakawhānau pēpi ana! Hūrō! Kei hea i kō atu he mahi rangatira i tēnei. 

Huri ana te tai, huri ana te waka, ka pakaru ririki te waka ki uta. Ka ahatia?

Tom Knowles

Tom Knowles. Photo: Supplied.

From the time I began writing the original draft, it was always the plan to make a show that is as accessible as possible for our people and our whānau but also to be a large scale extravaganza. To give our tamariki the opportunity to see something that is huge with all the bells and whistles and to reinvigorate a new theatre audience. 

I wanted to offer back the opportunities I experienced during my school days and the chance to be part of some amazing big scale productions where I gained the majority of the friends I still have today. I got hands-on experience in the arts and also gained so much confidence which propelled me into a full-time career in the arts today.

I always wanted to create two versions of this show to be performed for as many people as possible, both by tamariki, and by a professional team of creatives and actors for a family-friendly audience. Giving our wider community an authentic, big-scale, theatre experience - some for the first time - but with an authentic New Zealand story.

I have spent my career thus far mostly speaking in accents and telling other people's stories. I have never felt as passionate about a production until I began work on the first school development of Atarangi: Morning Sky earlier this year. 

It is our music. It is our stories. It is our words. It is us!

I grew up with a distinct Aotearoa music sound always playing and never saw it represented on stage. 

The music in this show is the driving force and resembles my favourite bands and artists such as Troy Kingi, Ria Hall, Kora, Fat Freddy's Drop and The Black Seeds and sets the tone for the whole show landing you firmly in Aotearoa!

Tom Knowles. Photo: Supplied.

Seeing the kids, most of which would never be part of a conventional musical, stand up and feel so much pride and mana has been extremely breathtaking and has pushed me to further this work to infect all of Aotearoa with that feeling.

This story is very much my story as well. I have used this story and the writing process to learn more about my people, to investigate our stories and to develop my knowledge of te reo Māori, kaupapa Māori and te ao Māori.

I am no expert but this show explores and encourages exploration of self and our personal stories, as well as diversity, culture, and self-worth through acknowledging multiculturalism within Aotearoa.

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