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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Theatre Māori breathes life into history and whakapapa

Education Gazette | July 2022

Te Rākau Theatre is working with the Ōtaki community and Ōtaki College to reinvigorate teachings on Māori history, bringing the past into the future in their production, The Battalion.


A group of girls sing and use poi
Performers check in to see where everyone’s at and how people are feeling in porowhita talking circles.

Actors and students from Ōtaki, Porirua and Te Awa Kairangi ki Tai transported audiences back in time with performances of The Battalion, an original production by Helen Pearse-Otene. 

The Battalion tells the story of rangatahi going off to war in the 1940s. Students involved in the project felt a connection to their characters, as the struggles of being a teenager are timeless and relevant, no matter the context.

For four months rangatahi worked diligently alongside Jim Moriarty and practitioners from Te Rākau Theatre Marae, Aotearoa’s longest surviving independent Māori theatre company. Then in October the budding young actors delivered five breathtaking performances of the play, showcasing the abundance of talent in the Kāpiti region. 

Te Rākau’s involvement with Ōtaki College and community has been a work in progress for many years and finally came to fruition in June 2022. A financial boost from Creative New Zealand allowed the school to engage in one of the theatre company’s community focused arts programmes, says drama kaiako, Tamsin Dashfield-Speight.

“Everyone seems to recognise what a unique opportunity it is to work with Jim and Te Rākau. It’s such a unique experience and it’s definitely likely they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives.”

Te Rākau were also recipients of funding from Creative New Zealand, being granted $1.22 million from the Toi Uru Kahikatea long term funding programme which will be distributed over the next three years. 

Community engagement was an important value of both Te Rākau and the college for the roll out of the programme. They hoped to bring Aotearoa history, whakapapa, connections, and stories into Te Ao Marama – the world of light, through creative mediums and processes.

Read more on the Education Gazette website.

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