Hilary Halba – Fission/Wēhenga: Staged Encounters with Quantum Physics through Mātauranga Māori


Hilary Halba

Otago University

Fission/Wēhenga: Staged Encounters with Quantum Physics through Mātauranga Māori

From the smoke-and-mirror illusions of the Victorian stage, to the nineteenth-century surgical amphitheatre where hordes of spectators watched surgeons perform operations, from contemporary biographical plays about scientists to ‘science shows’ where experiments – often spectacular to behold – are carried out before an audience often comprised of children and young people, science and the performing arts have long been drawn together as mutually constructive forms of storytelling and critique. Science tells us the story of our world and universe through practical experiments and new theoretical debates; the performing arts, of course, is also a storytelling medium which tells stories through embodied action.  Likewise, Māori knowledge of the environment and the universe has long been communicated through story, song, performance, and oratory which both reinforce and complement the transmission of knowledge”. More recently Māori storytelling has been interwoven into theatrical performance by generations of Māori and non-Māori theatre-makers, working in partnership.  

In 2016 New Zealand performance company afterburner partnered with researchers, physicists and experts in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledges) to develop a new stage work, Fission, which took conversations between scientists and artists in a fresh direction. Drawing on a southern Māori epistemology, tū taha kē ai, which translates as “to stand at the side of or be an adjunct to”, the partners in this project initiated a syncretic process for experiential research through the development of performance practice that sought to be collaborative, productive, and open to a range of ways of knowing and seeing the world. This paper discusses and analyses aspects of that project.

Hilary Halba is Associate Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Otago. Her research specialisms include actor training, verbatim theatre, bicultural and intercultural theatre and performance, and the theatre of Aotearoa/New Zealand. She is also an actor and director with over 25 years’ experience in professional theatre.