Māori-born Hera and Aboriginal-born Kane are in love. Everything is perfect and planned, except… their families. Can they handle the clash of cultures?
BLACK TIES is a fabulous collaboration between Ilbijerri Theatre Company (Australia) and Te Rēhia Theatre Company (Aotearoa/New Zealand). The show reimagines the typical ‘rom-com’ from a distinctively First Nations perspective, and boasting Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Māori cast and creatives.
With the show opening in Perth this week, I spoke with directors Rachael Maza (Ilbijerri) and Tainui Tukiwaho (Te Rēhia, also playing the Father of the Bride) about their collaboration on the show, and what audiences can expect from BLACK TIES.
Could you tell me a bit about your performance history and how you got into directing?
Tainui: I started acting school at 17 and played around with that for a while, decided I didn’t like actors much and wanted to just work in a video game store for a while. Then I discovered the fun of making my own shows, directing and producing – we needed someone to do it, I’ve got a big mouth and strong ideas so I did it and have been mouthing off like that for the past twelve years. Over the time I’ve found my own style and ways of working that bring together kaupapa Māori and traditional and physical theatre practice to find my own language and ways of working particularly with Māori.
Rachael: I started as an actor after graduating from WAAPA in 1992. But even before that it was the world I grew up in, having literally followed in my fathers footsteps – having founded the first modern Black Theatre Companies (NIndathana – Melbourne and then National Black Theatre in Redfern Sydney in the early 70’s) So theatre was the world I grew up in, but not just any theatre – theatre as a political tool! A means by which to say what needed to be said – and that’s not to say it couldn’t be said with humour which much of it was! So jump forward – I tired of acting as there was such little work around for Black Actors, and what there was was written badly by a non-indigenous writer. So it just so happened when I was complaining about being tired of acting when a colleague from a company called the Torch suggested I Direct the next show! Jump 20 years later and here I am now Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI theatre Company. And I couldn’t be happier! The minute I started Directing was the exhilarating feeling you have when you get out of the passenger seat and into the driving seat for the first time!
How have you found a collaborative production and working with each other’s’ companies and casts?
Tainui: Heaps of learning! It’s been an honour to work alongside Rachael Maza directing, it’s been a real learning experience for us to share the room with two companies coming together and I love being in the position of not knowing or understanding how another culture works, not understanding references and then learning a whole new way of viewing things. Oh and working with Uncle Jack has been phenomenal, he’s such a consummate professional. And it gives us more of an insight into how and why we work the way we do, insight we can’t get when we’re at home.
Rachael: Collaborating with Te Rēhia has been a career highlight – to work with another Indigenous company who has the same values and practise has been empowering. That’s not to say it hasn’t had its challenges but all good work has its challenges. The key with all collaborations is time – allowing the time to build the relationships on a foundation of trust and respect – this takes time! But all-in-all its been an absolute hoot! The evidence of this can be seen and felt in the work itself.
What has been the most exciting part about BLACK TIES?
Tainui: It has to be Community night at Sydney Festival, a room full of Māori and blackfulla, laughing, singing and crying along – that’s who this show is originally for; our aunties, our uncles and our cousins who may not go to theatre much but have storytelling and music in their blood.
Rachael: For me its the fact that we achieved everything we wanted the show to be: the sort of show that your mum or nan would enjoy! It had to be fun and full of joy, live music and food! And based on the response from the premiere season in Sydney it is all that! And more!
What can audiences expect from the show?
Tainui: The audience should laugh, learn and love their way through this show. They should feel like they’re being let into the homes and lives of these two families and they should expect to get up on their dancing feet at the end.
Rachael: A bloody good night out. One you will be talking about for long time to come!
Do you think theatre is a good platform to discuss cultural and political topics?
Tainui: I think that in the theatre we have the ability to smuggle important cultural and political topics in like a trojan horse into the ears of the people who need to hear it.
Rachael: ABSOLUTELY YES! Otherwise, what the hell are you doing wasting all that good Arts Money! But that’s not to say it has to be didactic and depressing or shocking! I’m so proud that BLACK TIES does all that but very covertly! Get them laughing and when they don’t expect it – go in with a quick left hook, and back to laughter!
BLACK TIES is currently touring Australia and New Zealand
More information can be found at the Ilbijerri Theatre Company website.