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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Theatre award shines a light on dark stories

Updated: May 20

11 December 2022

Te Rākau wins the Excellence Award for Performance Ensemble at Nga Whakarākei Whātaitai - Wellington Theatre Awards.


A large group of people gather together for a photo, some crouched on the groun and others celebrating behind them
Members of the cast and crew who worked on The Swing with Te Rākau in 2022

Twelve local artists have been recognised for performances in a revealing play about a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide).

Te Rākau Theatre received the Excellence Award for Performance Ensemble at Nga Whakarākei o Whātaitai – Wellington Theatre Awards on Sunday.

The award was conferred for the group’s July performance of The Swing by Helen Pearse-Otene (PhD), a play that weaves the ancestral pūrakau of Hinetītama and Tānemahuta into a contemporary discussion about issues that impact many whānau in Aotearoa.

Director Jim Moriarty MNZM says the award recognises Te Rākau Theatre’s approach to developing theatre that is both creative and healing.

“Our strength is not the strength of one individual. When we come together on stage we share in one another’s mauri,” says Jim.

“This award is a mark of excellence for the performances on stage and everyone in our small company who supported them: choreographers, tutors, crew, writers, producers and directors.”

Writer Helen says The Swing was the creative outcome of a community kaupapa Māori research project hosted by Kōkiri Marae and Massey University.

“This work is a community-led response to what we are learning about sexual abuse services and therapy practices,” says Helen.

“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.”

Established in 1992, the Wellington Theatre Awards were created to salute the work and achievements of the passionate and hardworking creatives that year on year continue to produce great theatre in Wellington.

The cast of The Swing featured a number of rangatahi from around Te Hiku o Te Ika, including tauira studying at Onslow College and Aotea College.

While the play deals with heavier subject matters, many of the young performers said suppressing discussion about abuse has a significant impact on our communities.

“These are really big, heavy topics. Unfortunately a lot of rangatahi – and older people – are dealing with them,” says Erena Page, who was 16 when she performed in the play.

“It’s important to face the negative things in our lives, because it helps release the trauma that may be preventing us from being the best version of ourselves,” says Rylee Herewini (15).

“Some things can be hard to confront, so we instinctively avoid dwelling on it so we can get a temporary escape. That only makes things worse - it makes the problems harder to fix,” says Kauri Leach (15).

Te Rākau Theatre is Aotearoa New Zealand’s longest surviving independent Māori theatre company.

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