We, The Outsiders

BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

31/01/2024 - 03/02/2024

New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin

16/03/2024 - 17/03/2024

Six Degrees Festival 2024

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Writer/Director/Performer: Romina Meneses

South Arts Collective & Believable Arts Management.

We, The Outsiders is an original documentary theatre piece created and inspired by real-life stories of migrant workers living in New Zealand. A captivating and thought-provoking theatrical experience that sheds light on the diverse challenges migrants face in New Zealand. From unspoken issues of trying to fit in, learning new languages, to adapting to a whole new culture entirely.

This production explores themes of identity, belonging, and integration, through a collection of interviews, testimonies, and dramatised retellings. A powerful blend of storytelling, original music, and multimedia elements. We, The Outsiders aims to spark in-depth conversations about who migrates to Aotearoa and why. Raw, frustrating, and hilarious – much like life itself – this show is not one to miss.

We, The Outsiders is the latest piece from director Romina Meneses, presented by South Arts Collective in association with Believable Arts Management.

Venue: The Dome – BATS Theatre – 1 Kent Terrace
Dates: 6pm 31 Jan – 3 Feb

FULL – $22
GROUP 6+ – $20


4:00PM, 16th – 17th March 2024.
New Athenaeum Theatre, Dunedin.

Book tickets at dunedinfringe.nz

Full Price: $22
Concession: $18

Producer: Tom Smith
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Micah Nicholson
Set Designer/Costumier: Henry Brosnahan
Set Builder: Pablo Alvarez
Lighting Designer: Josiah Matagi
Lighting Operator: Emma Maguire
Co-Composer/Sound Engineer: Roco Moroi Thorn
Co-Composer: Auria Paz
Publicist: Kelly Mui
Graphic Designer: Mikayla Strahorn
Film Editor: Louise Toledo
Film Crew: Dini Aristya

Performer: Akash Saravanan
Performer: Sowmya Hiremath

Verbatim , Rock Opera , Theatre ,

60 minutes

Contends with the Responsibility of Staging Real Stories

Review by Ellen Murray 17th Mar 2024

As the audience streams into the house, they pass three actors seated on small shipping crates. The actors lean towards each other, laughing, smiling, and, at times, shooting pointed glances at the audience. In her Director’s Note, Romina Meneses asks “how we [can] create a multicultural society with diverse groups that actually interact with each other[?]” Then, from the very start, We, The Outsiders reminds its audience that they’re an integral part of both the performance and the society through which the issues on stage arise.

The show officially begins with the three actors standing in a line and introducing themselves and this project. Performers Romina Meneses, Akash Saravanan, and Sowmya Hiremath describe how they interviewed approximately 30 immigrants with English as a second language to create this documentary theatre piece. They also detail their own experiences immigrating to New Zealand from their home countries.

A massive undertaking, those interviews and the actors’ own experiences provide the material for the performance’s thirteen scenes, which explore themes like identity and belonging. The production combines interviews, testimonials, and dramatized retellings. In that way, the performers transition seamlessly between different characters and themselves, at times even playing each other.

The result is a blending of the individuals, allowing the overarching themes to surface. Documentary and verbatim theatre are popular genres because they can elevate social issues and promote change. Yet, they also face criticism and caution as actors and audiences contend with what it means to take on the role of someone else.

In navigating these ethical issues, it is beneficial that the three performers are immigrants themselves. The care they bring to the subject matter undoubtedly reflects their own personal experiences. Still, it was sometimes difficult to determine when the actors were playing themselves vs. one of the interviewees, removing some of the individuality of each immigrant.

The show ends with a montage of video clips of some of the real interviewees. An audience-favorite moment: one of the interviewees tells the same story that Saravanan performed earlier in the show. Since the creative team already has these videos and the interviewees’ consent, interspersing them throughout the show could be an effective way to maintain the individuality of the immigrants interviewed. Moreover, it would develop the dialogue between the real person and the actor performing their story, a linkage that is essential to explore within this genre.

Although the performance is generally naturalistic, at moments, the performers express heightened archetypal gestures. A hand massaging an injured knee. A furious pointing finger. These images were evocative but underutilized.

The production features original music by Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz. The soundtrack provides a beautiful texture to the production. It functions almost cinematically, emphasizing or predicting emotional moments. However, that effect is sometimes dissonant, not quite fitting the conventions of the theatre and the actors’ more naturalistic performances.

One moment in which the movement, acting, and sound all shine is a highly stylized and poetic monologue by writer, director, and actor Romina Meneses. Lit by furious red lighting, her elevated physicality and delivery justify the use of gesture and accompanying music.

The ethical considerations of telling real stories and honoring real people can make documentary theatre daunting. Yet the results are surely worth the challenge when these stories find an audience willing to listen. We, The Outsiders’ talented creative team approach the genre with empathy and room for the production and concept to grow.


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Some stories are happy, some are sad, all are important

Review by Shemaia Dixon 01st Feb 2024

Disclaimer: as a student of Victoria university, I inevitably studied theatre with members of the crew of We The Outsiders.

We The Outsiders is a part of the Six Degrees Festival, which celebrates the learning and achievements of the MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) students at Victoria University. We The Outsiders involves the work of MFA students: Co composer and sound engineer Roco Moroi Thorn, lighting designer Josiah Matagi, producer Tom Smith and writer, performer and director Romina Meneses.

Upon entering the Dome space at BATS theatre, the stage is set in a way that is seemingly simple but effective. Performers Romina Meneses, Akash Saravanan and Sowmya Hiremath are sitting on what appears to be wooden shipping boxes. We The Outsiders is the product of research conducted by Meneses including surveys and interviews of approximately 30 migrants living in New Zealand whose second language is English. The research is used in the show as Meneses, Saravanan and Hiremath tell the audience the stories of the interviewees as well as their own individual stories as immigrants to New Zealand.

As each story is told, the staging makes more and more sense. Set designer Henry Brosnahan’s shipping boxes help create simple platforms that the performers use to elevate themselves and their stories. The shipping boxes are masterfully built by Pablo Alvarez. At the end of the show video clips of the interviews are played. This detail helps the audience put a face to the otherwise disembodied voices whose stories we have already heard.  

Co-composers Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz beautifully help set the mood of each story and combine perfectly with Matagi’s lighting design to transport the audience into the worlds of the interviewees. The combination of the simple set and the lighting and sound forms an immersive quality that draws the audience in.

The boxes are used to set the scene of each story and to elevate the performers. Director Romina Meneses and assistant director Micah Nicholson have done a fantastic job. Many times it doesn’t feel like a show at all, but a conversation with close friends. The intimate feeling is a credit to Meneses and Nicholsons direction.

Meneses, Saravanan and Hiremath have fantastic chemistry and enticing personalities that draw the audience in, adding to the immersive feeling of the show. Their personal stories interwoven within the interviews make the audience think about the sacrifices immigrants make and the families they leave behind.

At times it can be difficult to tell whether the performers are telling their own stories or those of the interviewees, though this does not take away the impact of the performances.

We The Outsiders isan eye-opening show. Meneses has clearly taken a lot of care to show real stories of immigrants to New Zealand. Some of these stories are happy, some are sad and all of them are important. Immigrants to New Zealand can find in this show a sense that someone else has been through the same things as them. Additionally, New Zealanders who aren’t immigrants need to see this show. We The Outsiders raises details that those who are not immigrants to New Zealand will not have considered. For example, I had no idea how confusing visas to New Zealand are and just how many kinds of visas to New Zealand exist.

For everyone, this documentary show raises an important discussion about creating a multicultural society with groups that interact with each other rather than staying segregated within their groups. The show has clearly been a labour of love for Meneses.

The simplicity of the set and the nature of We the Outsiders suggest it would be an excellent and effective show to tour around the country. Perhaps this is something to consider for the future.

My congratulations to the entire cast and crew for creating an effective way to spread very important stories.


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Wonderful interplay between personal and second-hand narratives

Review by Cordy Black 01st Feb 2024

It’s a tall order to make one swift, incisive hour of theatre encompass the complexity of migrants’ lives in Aotearoa. Director Romina Meneses has made the wise choice to adapt stories from real-life interviewees into shorter, emotionally grounded vignettes that go deep rather than wide. Her introduction to We, The Outsiders explains some of the drives behind the work: this documentary play is the opening to what she hopes could become a deeper conversation, an offstage unpacking of the themes that she and performers Sowmya Hiremath and Akash Saravanan begin to introduce in the tight, dense format of this lovely little show.

There’s a wonderful interplay between personal and second-hand narratives. Sometimes we get a direct quotation or even short video footage of one of the 30-odd interviewees whose experiences form the inspiration for the theatre format. At other times, we get autobiographical stories from our performers themselves. But there is a delightful ambiguity in the more theatrical delivery of other vignettes.

Meneses repeatedly embodies the role of an academic to deliver facts and advice about improving migrants’ experiences in New Zealand, but this academic is also a a migrant character in her own right. The play is most interesting where it isn’t wholly clear who is speaking with whose voice.

The set design conveys just the right amount of liminal space for a show that is about ‘walking in two worlds’. Actors converse sotto voce and separately from the audience as they transition between scenes, illustrating how migrant communities can form and move in isolation from dominant cultural populations. The performers continually rearrange their own bodies and the set itself, never settling on a configuration that seems comfortable or homelike. Even vignettes in a domestic setting remain uncomfortably suspended over packing crates and taped-out sections of bare stage.

Most of the play’s early content feels like a very middle-New-Zealand approach to an awkward conversation: it starts with a bit of diverting humour and even mild self-deprecation to ease the tension before heavier topics can be brought up. A slightly longer show format would allow more buildup and give the creators more room to really get into the emotional and even political meat of migrants’ rights issues, something that this play could absolutely tackle with more force if that is something South Arts Collective wants to do.

A particularly stirring poetic interlude delivered from the perspective of a frustrated hospitality worker strikes a chord with its sudden, raw and understandable resentment. That emotional beat calls out for more powerful moments to support it and to let privileged audience members sit with that discomfort for longer.

However, ultimately, this is not a Eurocentric show and it is also a highly collectivist one. It makes sense to treat its goals in the context of its deeply shared, interconnected nature. Saravanan, Hinemath and Meneses are charismatic and wonderful on stage together, but they represent only a fraction of the whole community that is behind the play. So perhaps a warm, sharing and welcoming approach makes more sense. It’s certainly a refreshing feeling, to see a graduate work buoyed and sustained by so many supporting testimonies and rising triumphantly out of that collectivity.


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