Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, 2020

Now that we’ve all got a few early nights under our belts, it feels like a good time to reflect on the second year of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Each edition has been deeply influenced by the circumstances of the year in which they were held. Last year the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival coincided with Tuia 250 and as Tama Waipara noted, “everybody was exhausted.  Iwi were getting up every morning to stand up kaupapa across the district” and emotion was high. The Festival was brand new, the tickets were cheap, and between Tuia 250 and the Festival there was a lot going on.

This year Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival coincided delightfully with a return to Level 1 – a turn of phrase that wouldn’t have meant a thing to anyone a year ago. In this year so utterly defined by the Covid-19 Pandemic, TTAF 2020 in Level 1 offered the perfect excuse for us all to re-emerge and reconnect. Tama reflected on the “presence of uplift” as people came out and “reclaimed space after a period of anxiety, fear and worry with lockdown”. 

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You will not find an arts festival like Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival anywhere else in the country, as it is by its very definition ‘of this place’. Firmly rooted in Tangatawhenuatanga, it is place-based and comes from the knowledge that we are all culturally located. It is a space that has been claimed for our stories, in our voices, for our people.

I have enjoyed the aspects of continuity from 2019 to 2020.  Just as the Festival itself has settled into its own bones, so too has Te Ara I Whiti grown into itself, this year bringing the riverbank alive with barefoot kids in pyjamas and parents jogging to keep up. It was cool to be able to wander amongst the light installations and sculptures and be able to guess at the artists behind the works, knowing that through this platform and over time, the expressions of our artists become a recognisable and familiar part of our story.

It has been awesome to see in ourselves a community which can and does engage with the arts, which shows up to theatres and other venues in droves, steps up and interacts as active participant when asked to do so; a community that floods our eateries and bars before and after events, who can and do bring our CBD to life when the goods are there on offer.

It has been heartening to both observe and experience the flow-on effect of inspiration – the inspiration derived from bearing witness to, or experiencing the creative expression of another, especially when that creative expression comes from someone who looks or sounds like you, who lives in the same part of town as you, or who you might recognise from the farmer’s market.  I look forward to seeing who is compelled to add their voice to Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival stable in the future after experiencing what they have in this year’s offerings.

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival will be a potent force for many many years to come, in helping our community find its voice; its many voices, offering us the opportunity to understand ourselves and each other better.  Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival also offers an important platform for our creatives, laying down the challenge, ‘What is your expression of this place, your place and your people, in these times? What will you add to this story?’

Words Sarah Cleave

Photographs Tom Teutenberg


Last year the production ‘All Roads lead to Ngatapa’ by the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust played to packed houses around the East Coast in the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, and I imagine their follow-up production Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey will do the same.

‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ might be described as a contemporised version of ‘All Roads lead to Ngatapa’ with a new chapter and some slam poetry, audio visual components, puppetry, dance, mixed media and youth voices all added into the mix. It carries the weighty description as a piece of theatre aiming to propel our society into an equitable future.

“Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival – here’s a platform, we’re all artists, we’ve all got stories to tell, let’s learn about each other” Teina Moetara

When the team first got together in August last year, there were no preconceptions as to what they were setting out to create. What they did know was the Tuia250 commemorations that were about to take place all around the country, had presented them with a task.  The task, producer Francis Hare says, was to present another side to the dominant narrative of this country’s history. 

The story of the Rongowhakaata Iwi is not well known, except perhaps for certain bits that involve their ancestor, Te Kooti. Moreover, or perhaps because of that, as Director Teina Moetara puts it “we’re an iwi that often comes out as a bit contentious or with a bit of punch” so the group knew that in presenting their side of the story they would need to create something a little bit different, and approach it in a different way.

Teina describes the contradicting, conflicting narratives that besiege every so-called history as both “the power and the beauty of it all”, which seems to me an incredibly gracious starting point for this task they had faced themselves with.  Nevertheless the paramount consideration for all who were to be involved in this sharing of Rongowhakaata’s story was that “people would walk out from the experience with their mana intact”, including themselves.

It was a chance for us to share our story from our perspective.  History has been told to us from another perspective and some things have been left out. They are heavy stories, but they’re beautiful stories as well” Marcia Akroyd

While the Arts are intricately woven into the whakapapa of Rongowhakaata, the group’s quest to find a different way to tell their story led them to the very ‘English’ medium of theatre.  Within this new medium however, the group utilised the ‘devised process’ – a process as old as Theatre itself, which describes a way of working, which is collaborative and improvisatory, and which Teina describes as aligning very closely to “the way we work on the marae.” 

“As artists with our whakapapa in the arts, it’s all about the process – not just the content” Teina Moetara. 

In talking to all of the different members of the crew, it becomes clear that this approach to creating the works has been huge, providing both the starting point – the space from which different members of the group can speak their own truth – as well as the end point – allowing the resulting production to come together in a way that “people will walk out inspired and empowered, rather than belittled and scared by the history that we have learnt before now”

The cast describe the process as enabling them to find greater meaning in what they create, because “so much more of ourselves has gone into the making process”.

Actor Rahera Taukamo-Bidois describes having to prepare herself each morning to find the growth or learning in whatever will occur that day. She describes the process as “a Māori way of making”, where everything is done as a group, through wānanga, co-creating and making.  

“Whatever we make, whether it lands or not, may have triggered something in someone else – everything is a stepping stone.  You have to be brave and build your confidence in yourself, even if you think something is dumb, you still offer it up, because it might draw something out of someone else” Marcia Akroyd

Raiha Te Ata Hapara Moetara, another member of the cast, talks about the “intense moments” but mostly about returning to the room after those intense moments, “the work is juicy” she says, “it’s mean to watch, it tests and challenges you so much”. The upshot of using this kind process Rahera reckons, is that everyone has that “much more connection to the piece, and are able to perform it in a much more impactful way”.

It is the constantly evolving nature of this way of working which has seen more rangatahi brought into the cast this year. Raiha talks about how important it is for her to be showing the next generation that ‘we’re not in that stage anymore, we’re moving through it. Our young people can be proud of our history and not scared of it anymore’. 

“This is about healing intergenerational trauma from the past. It’s important to heal that part of ourselves to be able to move forward in a stronger way” Marcia Akroyd

Everyone involved in ‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ hopes that their work will encourage and inspire other Iwi to tell their own histories. “We are giving this as a koha to our community and if we can be an example to other Iwi, that would be massive” said Marcia.

All of the cast also spoke passionately about the impacts of being involved in something like this in their own lives “through this process, we learn things we can apply in our daily lives, in terms of being resilient, vulnerable and standing up when something doesn’t align with our values”, as well as of knowing now what it feels like to be excited for a day’s work, and to leave at the end of the day fulfilled, “this is how I want to spend the rest of my life” says Rahera.

“I think we are definitely changing the world doing this kind of mahi” said Raiha and I wholeheartedly agree.  Make sure you check out ‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ on October 9, 2pm & 7pm at Lawson Field Theatre, the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust bringing their stories into the light as a part of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2020.

Story & photos by Sarah Cleave.

Pakiwaitara – If This Wall Could Talk

Amongst the 6500 of children who took part in the Children’s Tile Wall project in 1999 were two nine year old dudes, Thomas Teutenberg at Central School, and Jack Pullen at Mangapapa School.

The adult Thomas, now mostly known as Tom, speculates that he “probably stared at that tile for quite some time.”

He is rather perplexed by his self portrait, in which he appears as a Pokemon character by the name of Charizard, with red wings emerging from his head. “I probably had some Pokemon cards in my pocket at the time, and I do remember that I had acquired a whole set of the Charizard cards, which were pretty rare, and I was quite proud of.  So that’s probably where that all came from”.

An adult Jack, now known as Jack Marshall, recalls that he was probably living in a cow shed with his dad at the time of the Tile Wall project, which he remembers thinking was the best thing in the world, “We had a little potbelly fire we’d heat the jug on. It was very rustic – like camping, but all the time”.  Jack also recalls 1999 as the year in which the internet came on the scene; the year he touched a cell phone for the very first time. 

Jack’s tile is especially memorable for the bars that feature as the background to his self portrait. And while Jack’s face is in front of the bars as opposed to behind it, he ruminates that the bars were probably a reflection of the powerlessness he was experiencing as an individualistic nine year old still being told when to go to bed, and to do the dishes.

Pakiwaitara – If This Wall Could Talk – is the first project that has been announced for the 2020 Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival and it involves the creation of a digital retrospective of the Children’s Tile Wall.  

The intention of the organisers is to try and track down as many of the tiles’ creators as possible and for those creators to then create an updated digital portrait for a new digital wall; a work to express that generation as they are now.  

It’s an interesting proposition for those original artists as they attempt to conjure up memory of that time they painted a self portrait on a tile twenty years ago; as they come face to face with that artwork, which now also exists in the digital realm; and moreover start to consider how they might represent themselves as they are now, here in these interesting times of 2020.

The project organisers suggest some simple starting points to that challenge: “Me pēhea koe? How are you?” “Where are you? What have you been up to? What is your life now?” 

It is tempting to try and draw parallels between past and present selves; Tom admits to still collecting things, with cameras replacing the Pokemon cards “I’m trying to get rid of a few actually..not all in working condition” and Jack muses that he’s a different man to his nine year old self because of his different name, but still essentially still the same “just hairier, wealthier and more independent”.

I am looking forward to seeing what a wall of selfies looks like in 2020. I imagine it might not be the easiest process for a lot of people, but for those who manage to dig it in and produce something, it will provide a poignant window into more hazy memories of another time and self, once we’re another twenty years down the track.

Pakiwaitara will feature when the Festival runs from 2-11 October.

Words by Sarah Cleave, Images X Tom Teutenberg, Sarah Cleave.

Where The Wild Dogs Are

Actor Anapela Polavatio photographed for Canvas. 22 July 2019 Photograph by Greg Bowker/New Zealand Herald

“Alofa go for da walk…walking walking Alofa find alofa everywhere in da bush in da tree under da bush under da tree in da dark alofa…plenty alofa in da dark”.

Excerpt from ‘Alofa’ from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is the title of both a book of poems and a theatre piece. Samoan-New Zealander Tusiata Avia described them once as a pair of ‘sisters’. She wrote them alongside each other, with some of the poems belonging to the page, some to the stage, and some on both.

Both incarnations ofWild Dogs Under My Skirt depict a very personal view of two very different cultures; Fa’asāmoa and the ‘Kiwi way’ and the ways in which these two cultures often collide for the Pacific diaspora of Aotearoa, particularly the women.

From 2002–2008 Avia staged Wild Dogs Under My Skirt as a one-woman theatre show, which she performed to acclaim around the world.  Upon returning to New Zealand she reconnected with her cousin, playwright Victor Rodger; a meeting which saw the single woman show reimagined as an ensemble piece under the direction of Anapela Polata’ivao and a cast of six powerful Pasifika actresses.

Leading up to her arrival in Gisborne this week I spoke with Anapela Polata’ivao who has been lauded for both her direction and acting roles in Wild Dogs Under My Skirt.  Of this dual role, she stressed the importance of finding the ease of it all ‘there’s big stuff going on in there you know, so it’s important to know ‘What time is lunch’, where are the shops, and who’s driving there..’ She laughs.

And while humour is often a hallmark of the Pacific voice, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt does not rely on such a crutch to navigate difficult topics such as domestic violence and sexual assault.  Instead the poetry, the way in which each of the actresses bring their “own interpretations, the sounds of their own voices, their own physicality to their roles arriving in their own being, walking with it” and the simple power of raw honesty come together to normalise the experiences of Sāmoan womanhood.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is often described as an unapologetic lens into the Sāmoan woman.  “Sāmoan women are just are sensual, without having to over-exude it, and especially in the way that Tusiata has written them. Some people can find it confronting and uncomfortable” says Anapela.

“Sometimes, we hold back from revealing our true snapping tongues – my upbringing has a lot to do with that too. I was brought up to censor, be subservient. But underneath, I think there’s an almost tangible fe’ai-ness (fierce/violent) at the core of an Island woman.”

Anapela spoke of the array of emotions, from anger to celebration that they the cast members witness in their audiences as the show draws to its close “there’s a real fierceness in the piece; some people want to come and haka with us or rip their clothes off and come up on stage with us.  Sometimes there is just silence.  People will say ‘I want to say everything and nothing at the same time.’”

All of these offerings from Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival invite us to look through windows into other peoples’ worlds, opening doors for us to understand different perspectives through insights into the lived experiences of others.   I’m looking forward to seeing what my own response will be to Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Whatever it is, and whether I am able to articulate it or not, I am looking forward to being moved. That, I suspect, will be a given.

Get your tickets now at iticket

Reb Fountain’s Return to The Dome

Reb Fountain and Band will play at The Dome on October 17, as part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival. This will be a happy return – she performed there last September, opening for The Chills.  The tour was on such a tight schedule that the Dome was pretty much her only Gisborne experience. But that was fine by her, she loved the venue and the fabulous people, Sally Shanks and Shelley Murphy, running the show.  She remembers it as a magical space, exuding a “female, badass aesthetic, rich with creative energy”.  Much like herself I believe.

This time  Reb Fountain will be playing with her band, an incredibly accomplished group of musicians, including Dave Kahn, who co-produced Reb’s album. And this time, most of the material she plans to play will be from her new album.

Reb Fountain’s highly anticipated, self-titled album is planned for release in 2020, and we get to experience a big taste of it when she performs in Gisborne.  It is her third album, one which she describes as her most purposeful “I woke up one morning with an absolute conviction that it was time to make another album”.  She fearlessly went about making it happen, and is super proud of the result, calling it her best work.  

If it’s her best work, I cannot wait to hear it, as everything she’s already put out has been spectacularly good.  It’s no surprise to me that she won the Tui award for Best Country Album/Artist 2018 and also the APRA Best Country Song 2018 for the title track ‘Hopeful & Hopeless’.  

It seems to me that Reb’s star has been rising steadily for a long time, and it’s now shining brighter than ever before. We talked about motherhood, and the tug between being “the best Mum ever” and pursuing one’s own creative path. Incredibly, she has slowly but surely carved out her career in music whilst bringing up her two children as a solo parent, and achieving a BA in gender studies.

Recently, Reb’s youngest child graduated from high school and “it was like I graduated as well”.  Now that her children are older and becoming independent young adults, Reb has a new lease on life, with the opportunity to throw herself into her music more than ever before.  Hence the recent tour of UK, Europe and the US – her first international foray. Next, her NZ tour in October, followed closely by the release of her album.

Reb Fountain is on fire!  Don’t miss seeing her and her band play on Thursday the 17th of October at the Dome. You’ll be blown away, I guarantee.

Story by Anna Harris