David O’Donnell – Place and relationships in Indigenous theatre: Taki Rua Theatre’s Alpha Street Years

Presentation

David O’Donnell

Victoria University Wellington

Place and relationships in Indigenous theatre: Taki Rua Theatre’s Alpha Street Years

In the recently published book Imagining Decolonisation, Moana Jackson writes about the centrality of place to tikanga Māori (customary values). In his discussion of Indigenous values that could underpin new constitutional models in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Jackson comments that all of these are based on the values of place and relationships (Jackson, 152). 

From 1984 until 1997, Taki Rua Theatre was based on the top floor of an old warehouse in a dark, industrial back street running parallel to Wellington’s entertainment district. This venue at 12 Alpha Street hosted hundreds of theatre productions, hui (meetings), dance works, play readings, festivals, comedy shows and the occasional dance party. Originally founded as the New Depot Collective, in 1991 the space was re-named Taki Rua-Depot Theatre, signalling its commitment to a bi-cultural approach where tikanga Māori was placed equally alongside Pākehā theatre traditions. In 1993 the English name was dropped, becoming Taki Rua Theatre, at the same time that the theatre became solely dedicated to the production of Māori and Pacific performing arts. 

While Taki Rua became the primary place for Indigenous practitioners to say “hello”, by 1996 many people felt that it was time to say “goodbye” to the space, which had become prohibitively expensive to maintain. Amid much controversy, the theatre venue was closed in 1997 in order for Taki Rua to become a fully professional touring company. 

In this paper, I discuss the significance of Taki Rua during its years as a physical theatre space, during which the company produced or hosted several seminal productions. However the space was as just as significant as a meeting place and drop-in centre for Indigenous performing artists, bringing them together in new performance ventures. It was the meetings and informal gatherings in the space that seeded the vision of a self-determining Indigenous theatre company, led by Indigenous practitioners. The hui and gatherings at 12 Alpha Street were ahead of their time both politically and creatively, and helped to set social, political and artistic agendas for Aotearoa in the 21st century.

David O’Donnell is Professor of Theatre, Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Kay Nankervis – Indigenous cultural load and community expectations in the rehearsal room: social and cultural capital for culturally safe First Nations theatre making

Presentation

Kay Nankervis

Charles Sturt University

Indigenous cultural load and community expectations in the rehearsal room: social and cultural capital for culturally safe First Nations theatre making

Scholarly literature exploring First Nations theatre making and experiences of First Nations performance artists in Australia has identified many challenges: limited programming of Indigenous theatre on main stages, establishing Indigenous control of stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience, pathways for emerging Indigenous theatre artists, definitions of what constitutes Australian Indigenous theatre and issues of cultural safety and cultural load around stories being told. This paper is part of a larger study exploring the problem of the non-Aboriginal theatre maker wanting to contribute to decolonisation of Australian performance storytelling across our stages. Twelve key theatre artists and arts bureaucrats engaged in making or supporting First Nations theatre have conversed with the non-Aboriginal researcher. This presentation focuses on issues of cultural load and cultural safety raised in these conversations; it discusses Bourdieu’s concepts of social and cultural capital and applies them to the knowledges attached to the load many First Nations artists’ carry in the rehearsal room: that is, to the bearing of cultural load and community responsibilities attached to being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander theatre artist in Australia. Increasingly this knowledge includes ability to build ways to establish cultural safety in the rehearsal room and elsewhere around sensitive stories of Australian First Nations history and in collaborative work with non-Aboriginal people. This paper presentation demonstrates that these cultural loads and responsibilities – often framed as a deficit for First Nations people – and the cultural capability to address them are key social and cultural capital in the Bourdieau-ian sense. The application of these cultural knowledges throughout making and performance is a key element constituting the work as “Indigenous theatre”.  When Indigenous theatre is thus made under First Nations artists’ control and through processes which respond to cultural load in culturally safe ways, then living, significant First Nations culture in its most profound sense is being made and maintained.

Kay Nankervis is a non-Aboriginal creative practitioner and academic of english, cornish and german descent. She is a playwright and actor and lecturers in theatre, performance and scriptwriting at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. NSW. Kay is in the final stages of PhD research into the problem of the non-Aboriginal playwright for decolonising Australian performance storytelling and stages. Kay has published journal articles and presented at conferences on theatre-making, playwriting, critical whiteness, representations of First Nations Australians and on communication pedagogy (including issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education). 

Kirsty Reilly – The alliance between First Nations and Non-First Nations practitioners in Australian mainstream intercultural theatre rehearsal practice: “Our shared past does not have to be our shared future” – Uncle Clyde Rigney 2018

Presentation

Kirsty Reilly

The alliance between First Nations and Non-First Nations practitioners in Australian mainstream intercultural theatre rehearsal practice: “Our shared past does not have to be our shared future” – Uncle Clyde Rigney 2018

Within the current climate of the Australian arts industry, cultural and personal safety within arts practice for artists and creative teams is beginning to be questioned. How do we create a more culturally inclusive, ethically aware, informed and safe rehearsal spaces for the creation of First Nations intercultural theatre in 21 Century Australia? My recent research emerges at a time when more First Nations stories are being produced in the mainstream theatrical arena and asks: what steps do we need to incorporate within the present policies and frameworks of the mainstream theatre Industry to bridge that gap, decolonise and redistribute the efficacy of power balance between dominant theatre culture and First Nations artists? 

Redefinition is possible through the promotion of a type of storytelling that combines correct cultural processes and protocols, cultural integrity and First Nations ideology and ontology. Relationship and the development of trust is key, combined with ethical and respectful accountability by the production companies who program them. Responsibility for change concerns everyone. Acknowledgement of responsibility for their cultural bias, privilege, positioning and behaviour is necessary to support a creative environment of generative and diverse impact; to lead to potential growth for understanding through equanimity and equality pre, during and post rehearsal. Arts emanate from the society of which they are a part, and as such they can be a reflection of that society, mirroring its constant state of change and evolution. I believe this research and my sharing of its findings, stories and humanity, helps to be part of that change from the grass roots; shining light into dark places and offering hope through informed knowledge in the creation processes of Australian First Nations intercultural theatre. 

Kirsty Reilly is a performing arts practitioner/educator who has over thirty-three years professional experience nationally and internationally as a teacher, theatre director, choreographer, movement director, theatre maker and performing artist. She also works as an educator/mentor in acting institutions (NIDA), film and television training studios, universities, theatre companies and schools. A Non-First Nations researcher and scholar, she has a B.Ed, Post graduate degree from NIDA and has currently undertaken a PhD at Deakin University researching the alliance between First Nations and non-First Nations culture in Australian mainstream theatre rehearsal practice, whilst maintaining her professional practice and raising her Ngarrindjeri/Wathaurong Aboriginal biological children.