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No Laughing Matter for Director

No Laughing Matter for Director

By Natasha Burling

Polynesian theatre directors deserve more authority and respect, says one Auckland director. Samoan director Justine Simei-Barton says that Polynesian directors are often brought in as co-directors, rather than being given full control of plays.

"Don't just bring us in as consultants because it looks good on the programme.

"Bring us in as equals," she says.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Simei-Barton says there are now more Polynesians on stage than when she started directing high school productions twelve years ago but that the power and control of theatre has not changed.

She says the country is too small and everyone is competing for the same positions.

Writer and director Vela ManuSaute says he directs the plays he writes because he wants to have control of the final product.

But he says it does not matter what colour skin the people who direct Polynesian plays have.

"It has to be a person with credibility and experience so they do justice to the work.

"As long as they don't change the words and it is true to the voice of the author," he says.

Simei-Barton is worried the popularity of Polynesian theatre will not last.

"Everyone has jumped on the Polynesian bandwagon. When they jump off the bandwagon we will be left to our own devices."

Vela ManuSaute says Polynesian theatre will always be fashionable. "We're telling the same stories we have been for 10 to 15 years- just in a different way."

He says the common theme of finding identity and a voice will always be part of Pacific theatre and that theatre is a way the views of Polynesians can be expressed.

He says a lot of people do not visit South Auckland, where many Polynesians live, so he needs to bring the message of Polynesian people to theatre.

"We can put it in the medium of theatre so people can have a laugh without shoving it down their throats."

Simei-Barton has a similar view.

She says Polynesians have a unique sense of humour because they don't take it too seriously.

It acts like a mask because it allows them to criticise something or someone without fear of retribution.

"Polynesian humour is used as a healing power," she says.

Simei-Barton is currently producing The Stadium as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.

This political satire about the hosting of the Rugby World Cup comments on the lack of leadership in New Zealand today, says Simei-Barton.

The play combines traditional Samoan satirical clowning with Greek mythology and is structured on Aristophanes' play The Frogs, in which the characters seek help from the underworld.

Likewise, the characters in The Stadium descend to get assistance; this time from old New Zealand heroes.

The fact the two actors have over twenty parts means they don't just play Pacific Island characters. This gives the actors experience playing a wide range of roles, says Simei-Barton.

  • The Stadium runs from Tuesday May 6 to Saturday May 10 at the Herald Theatre. Phone 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 5385) to book.
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