Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

03/04/2014 - 05/04/2014

BATS Theatre, Wellington

24/02/2015 - 01/03/2015

The Dark Room, Cnr Pitt and Church Street, Palmerston North

09/09/2015 - 10/09/2015

Hamilton Gardens, English Flower Garden, Hamilton

18/02/2015 - 19/02/2015


Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2015

Production Details


From the 3rd  – 5th April, Jess Holly Bates will hit home in more ways than one with her solo show fusing spoken word, theatre and some seriously nasal Pakeha vowels in Real Fake White Dirt at the Basement Theatre, Auckland.

Made in association with Page-2-Stage 2013, and directed by Geoff (no-small-genius) Pinfield of Theatre Beating fame, Real Fake White Dirt is the freshest produce on the poetic block. This is a one woman show made using only the finest ripe white fruit from… well, the tree of multi-culturalism. Locally bottled, marinated and served with custard, this show spits out seeds on its plate and does not apologize for the mess.

As a Pakeha creative with a self-proclaimed will to make performance poetry that is inter-disciplinary, theatrical and innovative, Jess Holly Bates is an emerging powerhouse of local performance.  In 2013, she performed for both Auckland Theatre Company and Silo Theatre, as well as winning numerous awards as part of the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival including Best Actress and two script awards for her authored and self-directed piece Lucky C*ntry

This year, Jess Holly Bates takes her brand of unsettled New Zealand-ness to the international stage. In 2014, Bates has been invited to tour Real Fake White Dirt made under the mentorship of London-based Pacific performance artist Rosanna Raymond, to London and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Poetry for Jess Holly Bates is able “to critique cultural and social norms in a way that is both accessible and entertaining.” She hopes the show will be a friendly (and anxious) tongue in the cheek of what it means to be a culturally sensitive honkie in this country.

“bold, honest political statements … saved the best for last … a stunner … very much in a class of its own” – Rip It Up on Lucky C*ntry (writer, performer)

“brought to life brilliantly, through actress Jess Holly Bates…wonderful vehicle to showcase Bates’ versatility and skill” – Kate Ward-Smythe, Theatreview on V.D. (performer)

“Bates gives a no holds barred performance” – Matt Baker, Theatre Scenes on Auckland Theatre Company’s The Heretic

“Very necessary theatre” – Kate Ward-Smythe, Theatreview on Lucky C*ntry (writer, performer)

Real Fake White Dirt speaks to the existence of liberal white crisis in your life. If you ever wondered how to feel about your morbidly racist grandparents, if you were ever too white to join the kapahaka group, if you ever lied about your heritage just to give you street cred – then Real Fake White Dirt is the show for you.

Come see how spoken word meets theatre – and help support a show set to tour London and Edinburgh Fringe in 2014.

Dates:  3 – 5 April, 7pm
Venue:  The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave
Tickets:  $15 Adult, $10 Concession
Bookings:  0508 iTICKET or 


Fresh off the back of a successful tour of London and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival comes REAL FAKE WHITE DIRT, a sharp-witted and cheeky one-woman show on whiteness, what it means to be “spray-tanned indigenous” in this lush island paradise we call home.

★★★★ “Fantastic” (Broadway Baby) 
“Engaging, relentless and humorous” (Theatreview)
“Funny, moving and downright impressive” (Theatrescenes)

If you ever wondered what to do about your nasal Pakeha vowels, if you were ever too white to join the kapahaka group, if you ever lied about your heritage just to give you street cred – then REAL FAKE WHITE DIRT is the show for you !

Come and see how spoken word meets theatre for SIX NIGHTS ONLY at
BATS Theatre
24th February-1st March
at 8.30pm.


Where:  English Flower Garden
When:  Wed 18 & Thurs 19 Feb 2015
Time:  7:30pm
Tickets:  $35 

Palmerston North
Produced by Nathan Mudge
SOLO 15 Festival at The Dark Room, Cnr Pitt & Church Street
Wednesday 9 – Thursday 10 Sep, 6pm

Theatre , Solo ,

Delightfully disconcerting

Review by Joy Green 11th Sep 2015

Real Fake White Dirt opens with a karanga which, rather than calling us, the audience, into the space, summons the performer, onto stage.  At first it seems familiar, haunting, sounds authentic – until a couple of English phrases intrude, raising a laugh. Our performer, Jess Holly Bates, makes her entrance with great solemnity: a slow procession toward a plinth in the middle of a disk of artificial grass, bearing a preserving jar. 

This entrance is thrown off kilter, like the karanga was, by the fact that Bates is dressed extremely informally, in a pair of denim cut-offs and a T-shirt.  We laugh again at this, and again when, after setting her burden down, ritually, she explains that this piece is Pākehā identity poetry (“I say ‘Pākehā’, you say ‘identity poetry’,” she explains – and we do), because after all, what is Pākehā identity poetry?

Bates answers this question with a touch that’s simultaneously light and deft, uncovering a complex ‘Pākehā’ consciousness that’s determinedly staunch (“We don’t throw up till we’re much older, and when we do, it’d better be the beer talking – or the bulimia”), inappropriately appropriative, but aware of that fact, guilty about it, and resentful of the guilt, and struggling to find a way to exist in and of this place, despite the fact that – as she chants, towards the end – Pākehā know that “we were not invited”.

To create a good piece of performance poetry, it’s important that the elements of both performance and poetry are done well: first it’s essential that the theatricality of the piece is effective – and it certainly is here.  Bates has an engaging physicality and verbal dexterity that allow her to flit around the stage, step seamlessly in and out of personas and then become herself again, in direct conversation with the audience to commentate on what she’s just shown us. 

There are a number of theatrical devices employed that work extremely well. Firstly there’s the creation of a group of characters who represent a cross-section of middle class stereotypes, and who are revisited, expanded and exposed as the piece goes on. Next, there’s the use of the preserving jar she returns to, containing what I take to be the “fake white dirt” of the title – soil representing the whenua mixed with (invaded/colonised by?) the ashes of Bates’ poppa, representing her own history – the ‘culture’ that seeds the piece (and that’s such a clever visual pun in itself, that becomes an auditory one, when a waiata taken from the jar that she tries to recreate morphs into ‘Karma Chameleon’).

There are snippets from childhood woven into the piece and finally there’s a brilliant conceit of repeated interrupting phone calls apparently from director Geoff Pinfield at key points, in which it seems he tries to ‘edit’ the performance, allowing Bates to pause and focus attention on key ideas she particularly wants us to absorb, making sure, with subtlety and humour, rather than rants or pedantry, that we do absorb them. 

Equally important in this type of piece is the poetry itself, and that can often disappoint, particularly when performance is strong: but it doesn’t here. Throughout, the language is, clever, lyrical and musical and there’s a particularly effective sequence when a musical metaphor is expanded so that it becomes layered into its own, extremely moving, set of variations on a theme. This is highly accomplished poetic work even apart from its delivery.

Overall, the only thing I could criticise here is that I’d personally have liked a couple more snippets of the speaker’s history incorporated – we stop at age nine and I’d have liked to see a step or two more between her childhood perceptions and the adult awareness presented in the show. 

Real Fake White Dirt is delightfully disconcerting – clever, challenging, fun and a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining experience.  HIGHLY recommended.


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Wonderfully inspired

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2015

The powerful and energised opening moments of Jess Holly Bates’ solo piece Real Fake White Dirt, currently playing late nights at Bats Theatre, set the scene for the whole of her 45 minute show. 

Described by Bates as Pakeha identity poetry, it is not too dissimilar to Shakespeare, and just as lyrical, in the way it moves seamlessly from prose to poetry and back again and from character to character, situation to situation, confronting our notions of what it is to be Pakeha. At one point Bates intones that “we, the Pakeha, weren’t invited” and at another explains that colonialism is ongoing.

Yet this is no protesting rant but a wonderfully inspired piece of theatre exquisitely performed by a consummate actor who has great physical agility and vocal dynamics.  Director Geoff Pinfield, who also has a cameo role unseen, has creatively choreographed the piece in a way that allows Bates the freedom to engage with the audience but never at the expense of the dialogue, making this one of the highlights of the Fringe Festival thus far.


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Special, unique, stimulating, entertaining … Shout yourself

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2015

Anyone in Wellington: book now and read the review at your leisure. Jess Holly Bates’ Real Fake White Dirt is a ‘must see’ in this year’s Fringe. Was theatre ever so poetic; was poetry ever so theatrical? Yes I know: Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas … But this has a dynamic vitality all of its own.  

If you have ever felt guilty or shallow or alienated because you are Pākehā, or aggrieved because your strenuous efforts to learn te reo and tikanga Māori are never enough to assuage those feelings, you will feel an affinity with this show. If you are Māori you may gain new insights into the dilemmas experienced by the culture-conscious Pākehā and appreciate this richly witty articulation of the issues.

Not that I wish to suggest Real Fake White Dirt boasts cut-and-dried polemics. Far from it. It is as elusive as it is allusive; as effervescent as it is ephemeral; as poignant as it is potent. The minute you try to pin it down it spits back, back-flips or flies off in a whole new direction. Can it be discussed or must it be consigned to a pit of disgust. And if so at what? At whom?

Some specifics:

A tall square column stands on a disc of fake grass. A preserving jar comes into focus too – preserving what? Dirt (the whenua), ashes (her ANZAC Poppa’s), the grasped relics of Pākehā who people this hood?

A powerful “Karanga mai rā” calls us into the space by drawing the performer into it … but there’s something odd about it. English words intrude on the reo and those who laugh may wonder if they should. We participate in a simple call and response then the whole concept of Pākehā Identity poetry is called into question …

Yet this is poetry and identity is the elusive goal. This is a new generation’s “Whaddarya?” challenge and cry from the heart. And sometimes it whispers. Obvious and readily recognisable observations and impersonations vie with secret feelings being exhumed by unnervingly clear articulation.

In a wonderfully well-grounded performance, Jess Holly Bates and her words flit about, flare up, duck and dive, tickle our ribs and skewer our consciences and consciousness, drawing laughs both shocked and relieved to counter the thumps to the gut. Every word seems a true word spoken yet nothing is absolute.

Even her director – Geoff Pinfield – questions, by phone, the efficacy of her work: a superbly disruptive device, disturbing her disruptions to make us wrestle with it all the more, from our own perspectives. And Pinfield, in truth, must be commended for ensuring every intonation, every movement, every moment counts. This is minimalism writ large and at its most eloquent.

So where do we stand let alone sit? Should we kneel, perhaps, as in a confessional? Is this what we’re doing: seeking forgiveness and absolution? If so from whom? And then what?

Each one of us can only have a personal and largely private response yet experiencing it together adds immeasurably to the value we gain. What else can I say? It is a very special, unique, stimulating and entertaining theatrical experience. Shout yourself.

(And take an extra $15 to buy the book. There is even a commemorative tea spoon. Treat yourself.)


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Brave and intelligent

Review by Brenda Rae Kidd 19th Feb 2015

A one woman tour-de-force, Jesse Holly Bates, actor, writer, poet and singer begins Real Fake White Dirt with a karanga, that plaintive beautiful cry of acknowledgement to ancestors (tīpuna) and visitors, (manuhiri).

Bates is a modern day woman, extremely talented, bilingual, educated, independent – I imagine – and strong. She uses the term, “model of modern post-colonial”, but I am not sure if she is referring to self.

Bates cleverly melds many characters into her 45 minutes of ‘Pākehā Identity’ poetry about how squeamishly embarrassing it can be to identify as Pākehā in Aotearoa today.  As she admits, “We were not invited.”

This is true, we weren’t.  

Bates explore issues around arrival, ownership and identity with such cadence and humour that it comes as a surprise when she’s done.  Gosh that was quick, I think.  Always a good sign.

Cultural appropriation is – well – appropriated, but that is what New Ziiland does so well.  We adopt the haka as some form of reference to strength and togetherness, say kia ora to all in earnest, but how many of us have stepped on to a marae, or truly been immersed into Māori culture. 

New Zealand is proudly bicultural, but are we really? Isn’t it all just a superficial veneer?  Statistics still show that Māori are overrepresented in prisons and poverty, more Māori children than any other race are underachieving. Bates touches on these subjects lightly and for obvious reasons.  As I look around the audience it is middle class Pākehā faces I see. Bates masterfully intersperses humour.  In lesser hands, Real Fake White Dirt, could be more than cringe worthy for most.

Director Geoff Pinfield gets a cameo, he telephones during the performance to check up that, we, the audience are getting it.  I think we are, thanks Geoff.

There are some absolute pearler lines within the prose, to write them all here would deny the chance for you to get along tonight to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival and hear for yourself.  Not only is Real Fake White Dirt a brave and intelligent piece of New Zealand theatre but the English Garden is a perfect – if not ironic – setting


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Transparent self-awareness in multi-character, multi-faceted piece

Review by Cherie Moore 05th Apr 2014

Admittedly, I don’t know much about spoken word.  I’ve been to a poetry slam or two, but I don’t profess to know the culture surrounding this art form – so I can only speak to the experience of watching Real Fake White Dirt from a lay-person’s perspective. And in a way, that is the perfect place to start on the journey with Jess Holly Bates and her work.

Real Fake White Dirt is a challenge, a gauntlet of words thrown at your feet, a reflection of NZ (Pakeha) society and its cultural identity, questioning where it is that you fit in to it, and whether you have questioned that enough. Watching makes me simultaneously proud and ashamed to be a Pakeha female, and feeling like I should both try harder to be a better human and to not take myself too seriously.

Jess takes a journey through childhood, through neighbourhoods, and through history to shine a light on opinions and experiences of characters I’m sure you’ll recognise. It is funny, moving, and downright impressive.

Colonial guilt can be particularly paralysing or self-indulgent, but Jess has managed to convert that in to an energetic statement of Pakeha identity that is painfully honest and deeply sensitive. It challenges every progressive Pakeha identity that is recognisable in a socially minded, middle class environment. The use of gentle irony throughout the piece bumps up against my comfortable complacency, challenging me to be more critical of my social environment and honest about where I stand, what I feel and why.  

Transitions between characters, time and place are seamless, and the simple set is utilised to perfection. Credit must be given to Ruby Reihana-Wilson whose lighting design creates a beautifully ambient setting that allows us to be transported any place Jess wants to take us.

Jess’s own self-awareness and transparency of process with the work is refreshing. There are nice reminders that, while at times I feel overwhelmed by her intelligence and skill, she too is just trying to get things right, as she shares moments on the phone to her director Geoff who constantly edits her.  

Real Fake White Dirt is forty-five minutes long, and from the moment Jess’s huge voice welcomes us in te reo Māori to when she takes a bow, I’m sure I have not breathed for fear of missing a word.

My only disappointment is that she didn’t have the money to print a program, because her verbal delivery of one when the show is over means the state I have been thrown in to during the show is broken. However, I begin to think that this too may be a deliberate choice as the self-awareness of the piece and the openness with which she thanks people honestly at the end shift me out of that state of bourgeois navel-gazing.

If you are hesitant to see Real Fake White Dirt because you’re more of a theatre-goer than poetry person – fear not.  One of the most impressive things about this show is the theatricality with which Jess has crafted it. It sits in a beautiful medium between poetry and a play, rightly advertised as spoken word theatre. It is a multi-character, multi-faceted piece that calls on Jess’s talents as a writer, poet, actor, singer and wordsmith.

If you’re not doing anything tonight, do yourself a favour and go to The Basement Theatre and see it. It’s your last chance.

Jess will be taking Real Fake White Dirt to London later this year, and after seeing it, I couldn’t feel prouder that she will be representing NZ on a global scale. 


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