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Wāhine Works staging WAIORA: TE-Ū-KAI-PO

A Northland theatre company, run by teenagers is bringing WAIORA: TE-U-KAI-PO (THE HOMELAND) to Wellington to challenge Creative NZ, Māori MPs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Māori Development, Ministry of Regional Development and the Minister of Arts, to make the effort to see the show!

Wāhine Works, the theatre company formed last year by five young Māori women from Te Tai Tokerau, has sent individual invitations to the Creative New Zealand Board, the Ministry of Education Board, the Ministers of Regional Development, members of the Ministry of Māori Development, all Māori Members of Parliament and the Arts Minister to their production of WAIORA: TE-Ū-KAI-PO (THE HOMELAND) BY HONE KOUKA at the Hannah Playhouse in Wellington from June 1 – 9 when it opens the Kia Mau Festival of Māori + Pasifika + Indigenous | Theatre + Dance.

The production of Waiora: Te-u-kai-po (The Homeland) made the news in December last year when Don Brash accepted an invitation to attend after he complained of Te Reo being used on RNZ. Although he conceded nothing in regards to RNZ, Brash acknowledged how much the reo spoken in the play was appreciated by many in the audience. He also described the show as ‘Excellent.’

Spokesperson for the Wahine Works, Zahra Cherrington, says, ‘Don Brash cancelled appointments to make the two hour trip from Auckland to see the show, some of the cast got up at 3.00 am on Waitangi Day and travelled north to personally invite government ministers to the show, including the Minister of the Arts herself, before they dished up breakfast for us all; we are putting ourselves in debt, organising a massive and expensive undertaking and travelling from one end of the island to the other – one of us, in fact, is flying half way around the world from Ghana - in order to put this play and the issues it speaks of in front of the powers that be in Wellington. We hope they take us seriously and make the small effort to get across town to see the show.”

When the former Whangarei Girls’ High School students set up Wahine Works, they included in their aims for it to be an ongoing company that would produce accessible theatre by charging no more than they or their whanau could afford. Zahra says, “Theatre is for everyone. If it’s really good and people can afford it, they will come.” Last year, Waiora played to over 2000 people in Whangarei.

The play is set in 1965 and depicts a Maori family struggling with the transition to an urban culture. It lends a powerful theatrical voice to issues the country is discussing right now, such as mental health care, youth suicide and the status of Māori in modern Aoteroa.

William Walker, a former Artistic Director of Downstage Theatre, director of the production and former teacher of most in the cast says, “For years, I, like all teachers have been encouraged, harangued even, to find ways to raise Māori achievement and to retain Māori students at school by acknowledging the importance of Māori experience in our teaching practice. Since they were Year 10s, these rangatahi have been part nurtured, part bullied by me into sticking with Drama until Year 13 so that we could have a critical mass in the class to do a Māori play for the Graduation Production. The school Principal, Anne Cooper, was very supportive and allowed there to be two Year 13 classes last year so that it was possible. What a great decision! Give Maori kids a chance to attain with something they care about and, boy, do they take it to another level.”

He praises their effort and commitment. ‘They have served food and drinks to VIPs, washed rally cars, organised a restaurant dinner, run raffles and made submissions for support to every organisation they could think of that has the means and stated interest in this highly unique, once in a blue moon sort of project.’

To date, Wāhine Works have raised $30 000.00 in just ten short weeks but still need to more than double that to break even.

“Te Tai Tokerau is full of artistic talent and enterprise and I hope that is included in Shane Jones’s vision of regional development. After all, these young Maori women and men too are made of ‘fire and earth’ and are the future of this land. They are theatre practitioners who want and need a pathway to a career. Like everyone in the arts, particularly in professional theatre, they need a champion in the corridors of power. It’s more than fifty years since theatre we had one when Alan Highett was the first Minister of the Arts. From a high of nine, we are now down to just three wage-paying company’s producing theatre year-round; and the wages are so low most actors can’t afford the price of a ticket!”

Zahra says, ‘In coming to the capital, we’re not looking for a pat on the head. Wahine Works, like all of Te Tai Tokerau and probably New Zealanders in all of the regions, wants to be taken seriously. With this theatre production, we are making the maximum effort to be acknowledged with our contribution to the korero on Maori mental health and youth suicide and to our inclusion as Maori women in the future of New Zealand. Because of this play and the reaction we have had to it, we think theatre is really, really important so we want Wellington, especially Maori, to put on their coats and beanies to come see Waiora!”

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