Theatre Passe Muraille’s newest Twin Theatre is the New Zealand theatre company Taki Rua, New Zealand’s national Māori theatre company. Their office is in Wellington, but they are an itinerant company, producing Māori theatre that tours to diverse audiences throughout Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the world.
I met James Ashcroft, the Artistic Director of Taki Rua, eight months ago on Skype. It was an arranged marriage. I had heard Andrew McIntyre talk about marketing in mid 2010 at our annual national theatre conference of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres. Andrew is from the UK but he works worldwide. His positive ideas about community engagement were resonant with what we believe at Theatre Passe Muraille so I struck up an easy relationship with him. He works a lot in New Zealand and at some point he said that he wanted me to meet James Ashcroft, the Artistic Director of Taki Rua.
That was what brought us together to talk on Skype and we soon discovered that Andrew was right, we had many areas of similar interest as theatres. Not the least of which was our desire to engage with the community and the audience in the development and presentation of our work.
As they explain on their web site (http://www.takirua.co.nz/) they have four strands of interest:
Te Reo Māori (Community)
(The literal translation of te reo maori is “the Maori language”. So in this case they are touring shows in the Maori language for presentation within the various Maori communities in New Zealand.)
‘Unique in Aotearoa’
Taki Rua Productions annually tours works in Te Reo Māori for schools, marae and community centres throughout the country promoting the holistic use of Te Reo within theatre for audiences and practitioners.
Te Wai Paapaku (Development)
‘Bridging emerging artists with experienced professionals’
Envisioning and developing new, New Zealand work by encouraging new voices in Māori and English while providing professional development for the next generation of theatre practitioners.
Te Wai Hōhonu (Main Stage)
‘Raising expectations and setting new levels of achievement’
Ensuring Māori theatre has a high profile presence nationwide and is accessible to wider New Zealand audiences.
Te Wai Rangimārie (International Presentation & Relationship)
‘Securing involvement within the global theatre community’
Promoting our company and successful works to international opportunities and securing off shore and local production commitment.
As you would imagine this last strand is where Theatre Passe Muraille comes in.
James visited Canada to speak at our AGM this May and I spoke at his AGM this June. We used the opportunity to ask each other questions and you can see the edited version (10 minutes long) below
When I went to New Zealand this June I got a chance to see Taki Rua’s work (and staff.) The show I saw was Awhi Tapu. It was a powerful piece about the effects on a community when a major economic engine closes down. In this case it was the forestry industry. For a story about loss and disorientation, it was remarkably funny and that seems to be characteristic of their work. The New Zealand Herald said about the production that it was:
‘Two parts comedy, two parts tragedy and several shots of intense drama. .. Considerable humor is generated by (their) attempts to package their story as a Hollywood screenplay starring Denzel Washington’
A recent signature production for Taki Rua is Strange Resting Places. “Set in Italy, 1944. The allied onslaught stalls at Monte Cassino and the 28th Māori Battalion find themselves centre stage. A young Māori soldier goes out to steal food; an Italian takes cover in a stable. Both find themselves trapped in a potentially deadly stand-off, but with Germans just outside, their survival depends on co-operation.
Combining live music with drama, comedy and performed in Māori, Italian and English, Strange Resting Places shines a light on the complex emotional bonds of New Zealand’s wartime history and the three universals that Māori shared with the Italians: whanau (family), kai (food) and waiata (song) – not to mention wily cunning, a love of vino and a passion for the ladies. Strange Resting Places is theatre crafted from extensive research, contemporary storytelling and personal experience.”
It has been a huge hit with audiences and has toured extensively. Theatreview.com goes so far as to say:
‘Strange Resting Places is as piquant a piece of ‘celebratory’ theatre as you may ever hope to experience anywhere. While ‘celebration’ may seem a strange quality to bring to a war story, it turns out to be an inspired way to make truly moving theatre’
‘Strange Resting Places is a celebratory commemoration that deserves to remain in the permanent repertoire, to be seen throughout New Zealand, Europe, Australia and America at least’
“Although detailed statistics are not yet available, it is estimated that some 50,000 New Zealanders, almost all of Māori descent, are fluent speakers of Māori, while perhaps a further 100,000 understand the language.”
For 28 years Taki Rua has been an arts industry leader – a creative rule breaker, unpredictable and unconventional, challenging and evolving the definition of Māori theatre. They exist to connect their heritage, past and present and ensure a foundation for Māori voices to be heard worldwide.
Stemming from a traditional culture and adapting to a multicultural world, Taki Rua is a call to their audiences and artists to celebrate and share stories from their own back yard that define and challenge the essence and perceptions of who they are as the indigenous culture of Aotearoa.
We look forward to a relationship with Taki Rua rich with collaboration between our two companies, that may also lead to a joint production.