September 6, 2007

Waiata: the new applause?

Thomas LaHood                posted 8 Aug 2007, 04:10 PM / edited 9 Aug 2007, 09:48 AM

Here’s something that’s been eating away at me so I thought I’d throw it out for public discussion.

The night I visited Aurelia’s Oratorio at the St James, the performers’ curtain call was interrupted by an entire row of Toi Whakaari students standing up to perform a waiata.  They sang for several minutes, during which the performers (who had just completed over an hour’s worth of gruelling physical performance) waited on stage politely and the audience craned their necks to look at the singers, with faces expressing a range from delighted to outraged with a lot of bemusement in between.

At the end of the song, the applause began again, although from my perspective it was now unclear whether the clapping was for the singing, the show, or a conglomeration of the two.

This raised a few questions for me – in particular, where this behaviour comes from, whether it is appropriate in a theatre context, whether it in fact robs the performance of its power and presence in its final moments, and whether this kind of protocol is taught and encouraged within Toi Whakaari itself.

I personally found the situation very ugly and awkward, and I have my own opinions about what might motivate young drama students to perform such an action, but I thought perhaps others might like to put forward their thoughts on the matter.

Zia          posted 8 Aug 2007, 07:01 PM

Oh no!! Those Toi Whakaari students! Why do they keep doing this? It’s highly embarrassing and completely inappropriate to both (all) cultures, as Māori friends have reliably informed me (both action and choice of song are often offensive and quite wrong for the occasion apparently). Somebody please tell them to stop it! What a terrible thing to do to our guests, who naturally assume that they represent all of us when this is far from being the case.

John Smythe      posted 8 Aug 2007, 09:54 PM / edited 9 Aug 2007, 12:22 AM

I’ve been pondering this one too. The same thing happened at the end of Ennio Marchetto’s opening night in Wellington. It was a short and dramatic burst of waiata sung in darkness to an empty stage. Marchetto then came out and did his encore routines.

Presumably it was all pre-arranged and sanctioned – and I take it that the visiting performers have been up to Toi that day, or are going there the next, so a bond has been, or will be, formed. Correct me if I’m wrong, someone.

The song itself is the Toi waiata composed specifically, I take it, to welcome, celebrate and offer as a gift of thanks, so it is hard to see, Zia, how it can be culturally inappropriate on the basis of content. It is a wonderful thing to behold and receive when one is a guest at Toi Whakaari.

But in other people’s performing spaces – I think Thomas has a point here – it does sit awkwardly. There is an element of ‘upstaging’ about it, for a start. If it has been negotiated, have the international performers felt in a position to say “No”?

Or is it something we should just get used to? I mean does anyone think a florist is upstaging the diva when she is presented with a bunch of flowers? Is it just the shock of something different that makes it discomforting?

This is definitely a discussion worth having – and an official word from Toi Whakaari would be most welcome.  And so would comments from the recipients. 

Feathy posted 9 Aug 2007, 12:10 AM

And from the students who have to do it too please many of whom I know are sick of it

t opiate                posted 9 Aug 2007, 07:26 AM / edited 9 Aug 2007, 08:36 AM

I had the good fortune to be seated next to Sir Ian Holm at a production of ‘Coriolanus’ in Germany. At the end he performed a short reggae piece. And then when I caught ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ at The Other Place, a visiting Al Pacino got up from his seat and joined Jon Voight, Ellen Barkin and Albert Finney in a seemingly spontaneous series of Irish reels. But the most moving piece of vocalised applause I have ever heard was from Olivier himself, who, while base applause sufficed for others, thought good to deliver the first half of Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ after a particularly moving ‘Doll’s House’ in Frankfurt.

It’s good to see our leading dramatic training ground is preparing its students for a place in the real world.

(Seriously though, someone actually defend this horribly narcissistic practice. I’m taking eggs and tomatoes to shows from now on.)

Dane Giraud       posted 9 Aug 2007, 01:46 PM

That sort of response never seems to work. I am always amused at how certain people interpret the baffled looks of the visiting performers as “very moved”…

John Smythe      posted 9 Aug 2007, 11:34 PM

I have it on excellent authority that it is the management of the St James and Opera House who invite the Toi Whakaari students to attend these international shows, on the express understanding that the students will do their thing at the end.

Given it all happens with the knowledge and agreement of the visiting performers – who invariably, I am told, are delighted – it seems we need feel no embarrassment of their behalves.

If this can be confirmed by those involved, I am sure we would all be delighted.

Feathy posted 9 Aug 2007, 11:52 PM

I also have it on excellent authority that far more of us would be delighted if it stopped

John Smythe      posted 10 Aug 2007, 09:07 AM

It has to be added there is a taint of cultural cringe (and/or resistance to difference or change) in aspects of this discussion. I’d hate to see the new generation of theatre practitioners hijacked by such conservatism.

The questions raised are legitimate, the practice does not appear to be fully ‘owned’ by those undertaking it, those receiving it may or may not be clear about what’s happening, and members of the public who witness it clearly have mixed feelings.

The sooner this opportunity is taken, by those responsible, to publicise the thinking, principles and values behind the singing of waiata by Toi Whakaari students – from the auditorium, following the audience applause for an international production at the St James or Opera House (in Wellington), apparently of behalf of the NZ hosts – the better.

t opiate                posted 10 Aug 2007, 09:31 AM

I wouldn’t regard opposition to this silly practice as reactionary or conservative.  This is how I see things working:

* Toi honchos reckon waiata is where it’s at

* Toi students are a little unsure about this, but go along with it because, you know, it’s not a good idea to tell the people marking you that they’ve had a bad idea.

* Visiting practitioners are told the waiata is, like, so amazingly culturally significant. They are left with no choice but to accept their offer.

* The audience, having paid to see a show, are made to feel that their applause is somehow second-class as a mix of embarrassed and self-important students stand and warble.

Not rushing to embrace a pointless practice isn’t evidence of a ‘cultural cringe’. I’d be opposed to this no matter where I saw a show and who was saying ‘ta’, unless it was some sort of audience participation rap battle.

The message that Toi students are sending is that their appreciation of the show is so much greater than the plebs that they need to upstage the rest of the audience in expressing it.

Why would a venue want to invite/endorse this spectacle? I can’t understand that…

Michael Smythe                posted 10 Aug 2007, 10:22 AM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 11:07 AM

* Mainstream theatregoers reckon clapping is where it’s at.

* Mainstream theatregoers who didn’t think much of the show are a little unsure about this, but go along with it because, you know, it’s polite.

* Practitioners are acculturated into believing that clapping is, like, so absolutely fundamental to completing the performance. They are left with no choice but to go along with it.

* Mainstream theatregoers, having paid to see a show, feel that their clapping is sufficient and feel upstaged and inclined to dismiss other cultural expressions as mere warbling.

When I have witnessed waiata as acknowledgement and reciprocation it has usually seemed spontaneous and heartfelt. We could question its authenticity and integrity when it is delivered as a matter of course – like clapping.

Other interpretations of this practice could include:

* bringing a deep-rooted indigenous cultural practice to the surface to balance the mono-cultural norm;

* an exercise in post-modernism.

Clare Needham posted 10 Aug 2007, 10:44 AM

I was also at Aurelia’s Oratorio and saw the Toi Whakaari waiata.  I spoke to Julio, Aurelia’s leading man/dancer, after the show and he asked whether the singing was a standard response in New Zealand.  I explained that is was not “standard”, but rather an expression of positive feeling in response to a performance.  I said this having experienced very moving and heart-felt haka, waiata and karanga in response to the show Maui (which I production managed in Wellington and Christchurch).  On occasion, with Maui, we had haka and waiata gong back and forth between the audience and cast for quite some time after a performance and it was an energising and exciting experience.  Julio seemed to be saying that he and Aurelia were both moved by the waiata after their show, that it was something that they had never experienced anywhere else, and that they were intrigued and pleased by it.  My personal feeling, as an audience member, was that, initially, the singing was a lovely addition to the audience’s clapping for the performers and that is seemed heart-felt, but that it then went on too long (perhaps because no one seemed to be leading it towards a close) and started to seem less genuine, as those who were singing began to feel awkward, perhaps.  I’m all for waiata provided it’s a genuine response to a work.

Anon#2                posted 10 Aug 2007, 10:57 AM

Bravo t opiate

M. Robb               posted 10 Aug 2007, 11:01 AM

How many Toi students are actually Māori?

t opiate                posted 10 Aug 2007, 11:28 AM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 11:28 AM

Ah, live and let live I suppose.  I just don’t see the point of this exercise, when all’s said and done. But not everything needs a point, I guess. Just remember Toi students, you’re borrowing money to pay salaries, so don’t go doing anything you think sucks just to appease the folks whose rent you pay.

Anon#2                posted 10 Aug 2007, 11:48 AM

Bravissimo, t opiate

Moya Bannerman            posted 10 Aug 2007, 12:28 PM

Just remember, ‘t opiate’, the students are getting free tickets to shows at the high end of the cost range – and they are getting to witness some pretty extraordinary international work as part of their training. So I don’t think anyone’s being ripped off.

I was thinking there might be an issue if the general public are being held hostage to a relatively private transaction between Toi Whakaari and visiting artists. But Clare Needham’s comment makes me realise that if it is sincere and heart-felt – and brief (which is the standard for waiata that follow speeches on the marae) then yes, it can add a whole new and exciting dimension to the experience.

As for ‘how many Toi students are Māori?’ – that’s beside the point. We are a bi-cultural nation first, then multi-cultural, and Toi Whakaari as a cultural institution is absolutely right to embrace, explore and express that.  Today’s students are bloody lucky to get that grounding in my humble opinion. 

M. Robb               posted 10 Aug 2007, 12:46 PM

Please don’t presume to tell me what my culture is. You pronounce your views as if everyone agrees, and they don’t. To say we’re something ‘first’ and something else ‘second’ is absurd. It’s what we all are NOW that matters. We are a whole different mix of people and each individual’s culture deserves equal respect. I’m particularly irritated by Pakeha-filtered versions of Māori culture, as in this case, and I’m sure many Māori are too. There are many aspects of Māori culture that don’t impress me at all, and with which I have no desire to be associated.

t opiate                posted 10 Aug 2007, 12:55 PM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 01:00 PM

I think all Moya was really saying was that Toi is a cultural institution and the waiata a cultural custom, and the twinning of them is a pretty natural thing. I also have problems with the ‘first’ and ‘second’ stuff, but I’m not going to question the letigimacy, in principle, of a cultural institution making use of a cultural custom.

Thomas LaHood                posted 10 Aug 2007, 01:25 PM

I think what made it so awkward for me was the interrupting of the transaction between the applauding audience and the performers, by a new transaction with a smaller group.  It began a secondary transaction and to my mind it somehow jarred the sense of closure of the show as a whole.

I have my own opinions about the cultural relevance of institutions adopting Māori waiata, but I don’t really think that’s the issue here – that’s another, perhaps bigger argument.

This is more a question of theatre protocol.  I wouldn’t like to write off wholesale spontaneous, heartfelt tributes by audience members that go beyond standard applause, but there’s a lot of things to be aware of – the intimacy of the space for example plays a huge part for me, where smaller venues can sustain slightly more personal transactions…

I dunno.  Ultimately people can do what they like but I personally think it would be cooler for Toi Whakaari to keep their waiatas confined within their own premises.

Moya Bannerman            posted 10 Aug 2007, 01:55 PM

Settle down, M Robb. ‘Bi’ implies a duality of views, ‘multi’ a multiplicity, so of course you are perfectly entitled to you own as long as you respect others’ entitlements to theirs. But hey, if you want to stand up and try to drown out the waiata with a rounding rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ or ‘Danny Boy’ or whatever, go for it!

Presumably you are also irritated by Kiwi-filtered versions of Greek democracy, Aristotle’s dramatic unities, the Westminster systems of parliament and justice, rugby, Rock ‘n Roll (a perversion of R&B for a start!) … etc, etc. Hell, what about the way Shakespeare ‘filtered’ stories from other cultures? Then we ‘filter’ his plays when we produce them …

Need I say Mâori is a living/ evolving culture, so is Pakeha culture, so is the swirling blend we call New Zealand or Kiwi culture … so continuous change is inevitable?

Incidentally, have you – or anyone else – been to a university graduation ceremony recently, still rooted as they are in pomp and ceremony and archaic costumes and rituals? What’s your response when the production line of degree conferring is interrupted by a waiata or haka from the floor when a Mâori recipient takes the stage?

t opiate                posted 10 Aug 2007, 02:23 PM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 02:24 PM

Side Issue Time – What if it’s his view that certain other views aren’t worthy of ‘repect’? Is that to be supported, and, if not, how is that logically consistent with entitling people to their own views? Are there only a certain number of accepted ‘views’ we support in this multi-‘view’ world? I don’t respect the views of religious extremists, for example. In turn, I know that they don’t ‘respect’ mine either.  I don’t think ‘respecting other people’s views’ is a prerequisite for having them. Have all the ideas and views you want, just make them sound as opposed to respectful. At least, that’s my view. Hurt people’s feelings if you’re sure they’re wrong. I’m looking at you, Osama bin Laden. I don’t respect the way you see the world. Same with you, Leighton Smith.

Thomas LaHood                posted 10 Aug 2007, 03:10 PM

au contraire!  And hoping to bring this topic back to the specific behaviour of singing your praise for a show (waiata or sea-shanty or whatever), to my mind this is indeed all about respect and sensitivity – or lack thereof.

For me the bottom line is when you attend a performance it is on the artists’ terms.  You suspend judgement as long as possible, immersing in the experience, and then you begin to think about your responses to it, how it made you feel, etc.  They are giving something to you, something to provoke and stimulate your mind and soul.

Unless they have specifically proposed a forum, discussion, ‘share-fest’ or whatever after the show, that to me is where the transaction ends and the next stage is for the feelings and responses to trickle down into the channels of analysis and criticism that follow any artistic expression, for better or worse.

But to respond with a song to me is the beginning of a dialogue, a statement along the lines of ‘I am an artist too, and I like what you’re doing.’  Which is fine, but ego-driven at its root and ultimately disrespectful, insensitive and clumsy when done just as the artists on stage have finished presenting the work that everybody has come specifically to see.

It is a question of respect and composure, of where you align yourself on the spectrum from boorishness to snobbery.

James Stewart   posted 10 Aug 2007, 04:35 PM

I have to agree that there would be a sense of intrusiveness when a waiata is performed during an audience response at the end of  a performance.  I myself have not been witness to such an event but I personally would find this a not completely welcome interruption to the general audience show of appreciation.  People are able to show their appreciation in many ways, with applause, which can lead to a standing ovation if truly moved to, as well as other vocal cheers of approval – bravo etc etc, but when a group suddenly stand up & sing for several minutes in the middle of this, demanding the attention of the audience (not directly, but people are gonna stop, look and listen when this happens) then there is that sense of drawing away from, and upstaging if you like, the performers the audience response was originally intended for.  And then any applause after the waiata will be naturally in response to the Toi students as well, as many in the general public will feel obliged to acknowledge the singing which would be fine if this were a Toi performance, but does detract from those the response was initially intended for.

Yes, people can have a spontaneous compulsion to show their appreciation in a more vocal way than applause if they have been truly moved, but how can this be spontaneous if it has all been premeditated with the students knowing from the outset that they will be doing this at the end of the performance, in which case is there also a sense of obligation felt by the students that they are expected to do this when perhaps some would rather not?  I would be interested to know if the students have the right to not perform the waiata if they did not personally enjoy the performance, or is it expected of them, in which case there is no sort of spontaneity at all.

Another question I have, which perhaps is not completely correct culturally, is that if the waiata is supposed to be a spontaneous show of appreciation for the performance, then why is it only performed for international acts or acts with a cultural element?  Please correct me if  I’m wrong and there have been waiatas performed for local performers as well at Bats, Downstage or Circa etc.  I know that the waiata is perhaps intended for the international acts as a show of our cultural heritage that they may never have seen, however if it is purely to show their appreciation for the performance then it should not be just restricted to international acts and also be open to local performers.  Not that I would personally agree to having this performed at every local performance, but just wanted to raise the issue that it seems selective to only sing at the end of international acts when there are plenty of local performances that are just as worthy of this sort of spontaneous display of rapture at their work.

So I guess the question is, is this all a genuine spontaneous display of appreciation or a preconceived way of grabbing the attention (ok, perhaps that’s a bit harsh but it could feel that way to some people in the audience as well as those on stage) away from the performers, when if, as previously assumed, the performers in question are likely to be visiting the school, would this not be more appropriate to be undertaken on the school premises when it will not be intrusive at all and will save any possible feelings of awkwardness from the performers and audience alike when it is on their own turf so to speak.  When the audience have paid, and in some cases through the teeth, for these performances, should they not be permitted to be able to show their appreciation uninterrupted, and for the performers it was intended for?

Thomas LaHood                posted 10 Aug 2007, 04:58 PM

Well said.  And now, without meaning to bait, would be a great time for someone from Toi Whakaari to join this discussion.

t opiate                posted 10 Aug 2007, 05:08 PM

T LaH., I wasn’t attributing that stuff to you per se, I was more taking issue with Moya’s logic, particularly as she followed the statement with that democracy/rugby stuff, which is a call for logical consistency (Though I must stress that I can see her point clearly as well; it’s just a non-theatre-related bugbear of mine, a real tangent.) Thank you, James, you expressed pretty much the way I feel about this gesture. Some response from the Toi crew would be welcome. You can type on the left or sing on the right…

Kinloch posted 10 Aug 2007, 08:01 PM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 11:33 PM

I was at both Aurelias Oratorio and Ennio Marchetto, and personally I found the Waiata to be the most enjoyable part of either performance.

I’m not Mâori, i’m not involved with Toi Whakaari and i’m not a theatre practitioner. I am however, a supporter of any theatre performed in New Zealand.

I am disappointed at the old-school tie feeling of the comments on this subject. I am part of the generation that has in the past struggled with cultural change, but I would have thought that as members of the artistic community (which is generally thought to be fairly liberal) that you would be more open-minded and accepting. You don’t have to love it, you don’t need to participate, but there is no need to slag it off.

Having now witnessed waiata performed at the St James three times, I am fully in favour of it, especially given reports i’ve heard that Topol from Fiddler on the roof and his Australasian cast were particularly moved by the gesture (backed up by Claires comments above that Julio also appreciated it). I am disappointed that certain participants in this forum have commented at length having never experienced this for themselves.

James Stewart   posted 10 Aug 2007, 08:25 PM

Thanks very much Kinloch for giving your valuable perspective from someone who has seen several of the waiata performances in action.  I certainly don’t question the power of the song and have no qualms at all with the cultural elements being introduced.  I just question the appropriateness of  these performances after the audience have paid to see and respond to a performance other than the waiata, and if, as you say, you found the waiata to be the best part of the evening then are they then drawing away from the performance of the international act as the waiata is the last performance of sorts that people get to see before they leave the auditorium so are there others like yourself who have found that to be more moving than the actual performance they paid to see.  I guess then it’s two performances for the price of one, but unfortunate for the original act who drew them there.  I have no issue at all with the waiata when it is performed as an intentional part of the evening and have seen and been moved by those.  I just wonder when & where is the right time to sing, when other performances are concerned.  But it’s good to hear from someone who has seen these in action and had the sort of reaction they would hope people to have so thanks for that.  I guess there will always be two people on both sides of everything, so there are those like yourself who are very moved by the gesture and others who will not understand it’s significance and will be left bemused.

Kinloch posted 10 Aug 2007, 08:37 PM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 11:32 PM

Thanks James for being more understanding of others views than many other commenters on this forum.

To spell it out slightly further, I did not particularly enjoy either Ennio or Aurelia. I did however, really enjoy fiddler on the roof, and in that instance the Waiata only added to the evening and was entirely appropriate, in my view. It seemed to me to be an expression of the way I felt at the end of the performance and I was almost jealous of the Toi students ability to express it in such an immediate and heartfelt way.  When I was at Aurelia and Ennio, I didn’t entirely feel the same, but I still appreciate that they felt that way.

As side note to those who commented above, in both of those instances (Aurelia and Ennio), even though I was not a fan of the shows, I still did not get the sense of tokenism others have mentioned, as the Waiata certainly felt genuine and hearfelt.

John Smythe / Celia Walmsley    posted 10 Aug 2007, 10:54 PM / edited 5 Sep 2007, 05:41 PM

Celia Walmsley, CEO of the St James Theatre/Opera House, has offered the following responses to my questions (JS):

How official / unofficial, prepared / spontaneous, is the practice?

On special occasions or where international artists are being presented by the St James theatre/Opera House, such as in the current International Winter Season, the St James and Toi Whakaari join together to do a powhiri to welcome the international artists to Wellington. This has happened for RSC, Pete Postlethwaite, Cirque Eloize, Rambert Dance Company, Sydney Dance Company and others.

Where this is not possible or appropriate the students are invited by us to express their appreciation of the performers at the end of the show instead of in a powhiri.  It is not done for every show or every occasion.  The Toi Whakaari students/staff choose whether the occasion is appropriate or not. To date this has only happened approx 4 – 5 times at most in the last 10 years.

How have the international performers responded?

They all love it.

How does theatre management feel about it?

We are happy about it.

Has there been any feedback from the general public?

Not to my desk but informally on the night many have commented favourably.

Toi Whakaari Singer (Dan)            posted 10 Aug 2007, 11:25 PM / edited 10 Aug 2007, 11:34 PM

Hello all. I am currently a student at Toi Whakaari, and although I did not sing at the close of the aforementioned shows, I have done in the past – with vigour. So I hope I can shed a some light on the phenomenon of the ‘Toi Whakaari waiata.’

As John Smythe outlined earlier, the singing at the end of the show is indeed part of an agreement between the school and the theatres. The students are offered tickets to the shows and told from the outset that a song would be appreciated. From a student’s perspective, the offer of free tickets to an international act is a very generous offer, so naturally no-one reneges on the invitation to sing. So yes, the song at the end is an expectation and, as such, it is planned.

Yet, speaking for myself, it has always been a genuine expression of thanks to the artists, the company, and the theatre, for the evening’s performance. Reading this forum, I am willing to accept that the singing might shatter a contract between the performers with the audience as a whole, and seem to set up a new one with a smaller group. But please know that this could not be further from my mind, as I show my appreciation in accordance with the theatre’s wishes. And that is all I have to add.

Except to say that I’m sure, if the school or the theatre knew that the singing was offensive, disrespectful, or detrimental to the theatre experience of the paying public, then they would most certainly reconsider this as an idea. With this in mind, I will communicate the views conveyed in this forum to the school. I agree with Thomas that the language in which the song is sung is irrelevant, at least for the purposes of this discussion. That’s an argument for another day.

James Stewart   posted 11 Aug 2007, 11:49 AM

Great, thanks for going to the heart of the matter and helping to clear up the issue John.  It’s good to know this is a rare occurrence and whilst not spontaneous, it is prearranged so that at least the performers and theatre are aware of it’s inclusion in the evening and in the case of the theatre, it’s expectation.  And thanks Dan for finally bringing in the student & participant perpective.  It’s good to hear the feelings of someone who has been a part of the waiata in this situation and who felt wholeheartedly it’s power of thanks for the performers it is intended.  Whilst I still have some issue about it from an audience perspective and the very public nature of the song rather than a more private, intimate & personal thanks, I can completely appreciate that this is not the norm and that where a powhiri is not possible, this is certainly a wonderful way of displaying greetings and thanks and an introduction to our cultural beauty the international acts may not otherwise get the time to experience.  Thanks for bringing in perspectives from all the different angles & areas of involvement.  Cheers.

Dandy   posted 13 Aug 2007, 08:42 PM

Why can’t they perform the waiata to the cast when they come out into the foyer?

Or alternatively arrange a time when they can sing there waiata to the cast only?

It seems strange for this to become a regular thing.

I know sometimes, for me personally, the best feeling coming out of a theatre is that chill that a particular performance or play keeps in your bones.

I doubt that a waiata would really be appropriate to every production that Toi Whakaari attends.

While I think the gesture is honourable I really do think it should be more personal.

(long gone are the days of sending an email or a letter backstage)

Aaron Alexander              posted 14 Aug 2007, 06:27 PM

As a past student, I can attest that singing of waiata and other songs is used for thanking guest tutors, welcoming guests to the school and a number of other social functions, (or at least it was when I was there – 99-01). Within the walls and context of the school it’s all well and good, and tends to delight the givers and receivers. However (and feel free to label me a embittered graduate), I no longer think this type of public display is appropriate.

My impression is that the school was so enamoured of it’s conspicuous bi-culturalism that it felt anything it did in Te Reo was unquestionably good, positive, moving and powerful. I think it shows a lack of respect for the audience members who actually PAID for their seats to interrupt their equally genuine, if differently expressed, gratitude to the performers, in order to have the entire room focus on the students.  Having been there myself, I don’t in any way blame the students. The school’s attitude to its ‘Taha Māori’ is the problem.

And for the venues who supposedly pre-arranged/approved this; if your intention is to provide some kind of ‘cultural’ component to the proceedings, why not provide tickets to an actual kapa haka group? Or would the tokenism then be too obvious? Also, to answer the genuine question ‘How did the international performers feel about it?’ with ‘They all loved it.’ is the height of glibness and only goes to show that you didn’t wish to truly address the question.

The obvious compromise has been suggested above: have the students perform in the foyer for the actors, if perform they must.

Anon#2                posted 14 Aug 2007, 06:42 PM

Bravo Aaron. I know how much flak you risk by criticising.

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 5 Sep 2007, 12:18 PM

Tena ra koutou. Ko te tuatahi ka mihi au ki a te Runga Rawa, nana nieei nga mea katoa. Tuarua ki a ratou i peka atu kei tua o te rauwharangi, oki atu ra. E Papa Syd haere, haere, haere atu ra. Ko koutou nga Kaihautu o te ipurangi nei, kia ora ra mo ou mahi rangatira. Atu ano, ki a koutou e ngakau nui ana ki nga mahi whakaari, nga mihi o te wa ki a koutou.

Thanx to Nick for getting me into this site. Thanx also to the site builders. What a great forum for discussion and sharing. Kia Ora.

I understand that by and large our ‘theatre’ arenas have been a somewhat ‘cut’n’pasted’ culture from our English predecessors…So the unease that most are feeling here is a natural part of an inevitable change.

I also understand that some of us wish for certain behaviours to remain the way they were. I for one support the notion that maintaining and asserting particular behaviours is to be respected and considered with dignity, wisdom and pride.

Waiata tautoko/supportive songs are an ancient practise. This is a process that is there to be shared and celebrated with all who exchange and participate in this Aotearoa based performing arts world. Whether it be on the marae, at the St James or at a rugby club if someone feels the call/spirit to stand and honour others with quiet lamentations or resounding chants of triumph, so be it. This is who and where “we” are.

Though I know Drama School has a way to go in terms of its Bi-Cultural identity, I still say good on you all for honouring our visitors in this way.

I have myself perform this ‘waiata’ response often. I have also been the receiver of such responses. With respect, I don’t need to justify my practice with what Al Pacino does or what Olivier says is “polite”…My people have done it for centuries and generally it is successful in doing what it is designed to do which is to honour the performer/speaker with respect, spirit and aroha.

A clap and ovation does this sometimes, but far less than the beauty of waiata.

Aaron Alexander              posted 5 Sep 2007, 05:05 PM / edited 5 Sep 2007, 05:40 PM

Hi Tamati. I appreciate your thoughts on this topic. However, given your feelings, does it bother you at all that what we are talking about here is not someone sponaneously ‘feeling the call’ but a pre-arranged performance? Pre-arranged between the St James and New Zealand Drama School (two organisations run by and employing almost exclusively Europeans) in order to appear nice and liberally bi-cultural?

To me, this is the opposite of the genuine, heartfelt response you are talking about.

(Again, can I emphasise that I have no doubt the students are heartfelt in their performance, but it IS a performance. The school regularly trots it’s student’s out to display it’s cultural credentials, a practice we used to call, when I was there ‘performing pukekos’ or ‘dial-a-powhiri’ )

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 5 Sep 2007, 07:59 PM / edited 5 Sep 2007, 08:29 PM

Aside from the more obvious arenas, I have been privy to many experiences of this kind in most of the major theatre venues around Aotearoa. Thousands of young people rose to haka and sing as the cast and crew of Maui gave them a theatre experience of a life time. As Jim Moriarty and cast stood to bow for Othello at the Downstage last year I stood, by myself, and “performed” Ka Mate. It is unfortunate that the majority of the theatre going audience is not yet equipped to respond in this dignified and meaningful way.

DramaSchool is most certainly not a Mâori institution but they should be applauded for teaching their students indigenous practices in responding to a performance. Like it or not it is a cherished and important tradition that will grow and continue to be exercised.

In response to your comments on the audiences’ unobstructed experience, I believe that when an audience member buys a ticket to a show they should not expect to exclusively own the entire occasion. This expectation, in my opinion, is an unfortunate and limiting approach to what could bring about significantly exciting and new artistic/cultural experiences.   But come on people, it is not only Mâori who never practiced a “fourth wall” concept. The performance is the first stage to the entire theatre event. As most (common sensical) theatre practitioners espouse; the audience brings with it that final contribution to the whole.

Stop. Breathe. Think about it.

To break away from the obvious racial thing, methinks there’s a stupor of Hallists and not enough Artaudites. Vive la revolution!

P:S – I trust that this forum is about informed critique and not off the cuff rants. There is a difference between criticism and cynicism.  Please don’t let your remarks become a lobby to tarnish a cherished and important part of New Zealand Theatre/Whakaari.

t opiate                posted 5 Sep 2007, 08:53 PM

Hmm. I’m going to stop, breathe, and think about it.

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 5 Sep 2007, 08:59 PM

Wise move t opiate. I look 4ward to the next effort.

Anon#2                posted 6 Sep 2007, 12:10 AM

Hallists? Artaudists? Are you drunk?

nik smythe          posted 6 Sep 2007, 01:09 AM / edited 6 Sep 2007, 07:27 AM

kia ora Tamati, and welcome. it’s very cool to have you with us; the input of one of your knowledge and mana on these pages is invaluable.

i’m repeatedly reminded that this whole culture debate is still very much in it’s infancy in this country. while we yearn to enrich our souls through cultural diversity, we are also very self-conscious and concerned about appearing pretentious or tryhard or both. so the temptation is to avoid getting into potentially embarrassing situations, or worse offending the culture we are expressing without having a wholistic grasp of it. the obvious problem with that is that we stagnate in a fearful cage of ‘acceptable’ conduct. opportunities to truly expand ourselves in a cultural sense are lost.

the solution is to get over our contrary selves, to sing our songs and dance our hearts out, to give the gift that is our performance in whatever form it takes, established or otherwise. it might come over as superficial and inauthentic: then the lesson is that we need to really mean it for it to have any profound effect.

the only sure guarantee is that if we never strive beyond the known parameters of our cultural identity, then nothing will change.

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 6 Sep 2007, 08:07 AM

“”Hiccup”” come on Anon#2 – don’t be mean.

Kia Ora Nick. Of course…In addition I am not saying that the Drama students have been sincere in their efforts. Only the practitioners themselves can clarify that. But I will say that it is a school for artists to learn about being actors in New Zealand and abroad. Just like Universities who teach language or cultural studies etc they are giving their students a perspective on the lay of the land and its people. We shouldn’t expect these students to be fully equipped to be everything we want them to be RIGHT NOW! Many of them will one day emerge to be some of the finest, no doubt. Just like wananga (maori world view) learning, or learning full stop, time is the greatest teacher.

There is most certainly an etiquette within our world of theatre. Aspects of this etiquette have not been so prominent because of colonisation. Plain and simple. Good on Drama School (warts and all) and whoever else wants to practice a wonderful custom that is enjoying a colourful and worthy renaissance. It is a noble and dynamic offering to a great experience to be had at the theatre.

“”buurrp”” ; )

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