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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Play written by Massey PhD graduate addresses urgent community issues

Massey News | 8 July 2022

A Māori theatre company based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) is opening a discussion on sexual abuse and suicide through its upcoming production, The Swing, this July.


A group of performers sit on the ground by a swing, raising their arms into the darkness around them
Young performers in The Swing by Massey University graduate Helen Pearse-Otene | Photo by Aneta Pond 2021

Theatre company Te Rākau's The Swing weaves the ancestral pūrākau of Tānemahuta, atua of light, and Hinetītama, daughter of dawn, into a contemporary portrayal of a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide).

The play was written by Massey PhD graduate and practising psychologist Helen Pearse-Otene, and is the creative outcome of a community kaupapa Māori research project hosted by Kōkiri Marae and Massey University.

Ms Pearse-Otene says The Swing is a community-led response to what is being learnt about sexual abuse services and therapy practices. "Te Rākau worked with a group of wāhine and tāne survivors and whānau members in the research leading up to this play’s development. Through this work, we wanted to meet the needs of Māori drawn to group settings, whose experience of one-on-one talk therapy was retraumatising, judgemental, and culturally irrelevant."

Te Rākau Theatre director and registered psychiatric nurse Jim Moriarty MNZM says the production shines a light on subjects that are kept hidden in our communities. “We’re seeing an urgent need for kaupapa Māori therapies and holistic services to bring these issues into the light, where ways of moving forward can be explored."

"Once you start talking to people about this stuff, you realise how hurt our communities really are. Child abuse, sexual violence and suicide are big issues for us in Aotearoa New Zealand. We need to be able to connect our wider community with the organisations, policy makers and experts tasked with addressing these issues."

The cast includes Hariata Moriarty (Cousins, Beyond The Veil), Angie Meiklejohn (The Three Sisters, Angie), Jeremy Davis (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Ngāti Whakaue, Hinepau) and Kimberley Skipper (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Hinepau).

“Our cast includes a number of rangatahi performers, and they tell the story with detail and care. Each of the cast members brings their own experience to the stage, to show the relationship between survivors and perpetrators,” Mr Moriarty says.

“These aren’t just issues to be debated by government task forces. They’re relevant to everyone who is part of a community – whether you’re a whānau member, social worker, advocate, educator, medical professional, iwi or Government organisation.”

Te Rākau Theatre has a long history of working with Massey's School of Humanities, Media and Creative Communication.

Te Rākau will present The Swing by Helen Pearse-Otene at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre in Wellington from 23 - 24 July 2022.

This article was originally published on the Massey University website.

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