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