Dione Joseph - Writer. Director. Dramaturge. Founder of Black Creatives Aotearoa.
Kia ora Nathan, and thank you for inviting me to share my perspective on your project: ‘A guideline for cultural preparations and protocols in the performing arts, focusing on our Māori, Pacific and Asian practitioners’. As someone who is at home in Aotearoa but whose cultural identifications sit outside these broadly defined paradigms, I have to confess to being somewhat perplexed by the questions being asked.
In my own directing and dramaturgical practices, I often engage with a wide range of protocols, in particular with respect for tikanga Māori as appropriate for the places and people with whom I am working. The power and resilience of tikanga Māori is, in fact, that its enactment engages and embraces everyone who enters into the space of encounter, regardless of the distance travelled and their cultural differences.
For example, my current production of America Rex involves people of very different ethnic, social and cultural identities: Māori, Samoan, Zimbabwean, Jamaican, Greek, Colombian, Lebanese, African American, Singaporean, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian, and white English and American. I met with each individual over a cup of tea to invite them into the project, welcomed them to our rehearsal space with a karakia, and set the stage for our shared explorations of the play with a sharing of histories, ancestors, cosmologies and so on. The team have also been welcomed into the various spaces we rehearse and also into my own home for dinner and conversation.
None of this is necessarily exceptional – the preliminary conversation, the sharing of personal stories, the communal meal – these can be found anywhere in the world when it comes to creating a sense of commonality and community at the start of a rehearsal process.
What then, really, is this project asking? Am I being asked to qualify and explain in detail how my cultural, ethnic and social identities are brought to bear on the way I engage with actors, designers, artists and technicians of diverse backgrounds? Or how I structure my practice so as to enact respect for the tangata whenua – both in establishing an environment of cultural safety and in creating a safe space for creative work more generally?
We are in Aotearoa New Zealand. As such, our default approach to setting the stage for creative collaborations – as in pōwhiri – should be governed by tikanga Māori in ways that are thoughtful and specific to our given circumstances: place, people, kaupapa. What I do each time I begin again is to think carefully about the relationship of my project and collaborators to the place in which we are working, to the requirements of the particular project, and to the audience who we will welcome into the world of the work when the time comes.
Perhaps this project could, quite simply, begin with an explanation of tikanga Māori, focused on the basics of pōwhiri and mihi whakatau. It would need to be cautionary, by definition, both in terms of who is authorised to lead such rituals and in terms of their applicability to the particular place, people and kaupapa. It could then present examples of other culturally specific rituals, again cautioning practitioners against (mis)appropriation.
It seems to me that the project wants to encourage practitioners here in Aotearoa New Zealand to be respectful of tangata whenua and to find ways to enact their respect that are culturally meaningful. It is important also to find the meeting place between tikanga Māori and the protocols that others bring into the room. Further the guidelines could present a way of working that, by enhancing our sense of commonality and community in the first instance, has the potential to enrich the work we create and present to audiences – an ethos that begins by enveloping us as artists, all of us who perform difference differently, and can be expanded to include all those others who enter.
I hope my thoughts have been of some use to you and your project.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section