Jonty was lucky enough to get Turene Jones (Writer), Jatinder Singh (Director), and Ngahiriwa Rauhina (Producer) to talk about their experience developing I Ain't Mad At Cha.
How did the show originate?
Turene: I was doing an Honours playwriting course at The University of Auckland in the first semester where every week we had a different theme to write a scene on. I had never tried playwriting before but the head of the Drama department, Dr. Emma Willis, convinced me to. One week, the theme was "a musical". I was completely lost. I usually listen to music when I write and the song "I Ain't Mad At Cha" by Tupac came on - and the thought of doing a rap musical came into my mind. I wrote a scene where the two main characters, Kiwa and Ashton, get stoned, and start talking and rapping about various issues they are just starting to finally comprehend, like racism. I had to read the scene to the rest of my class and it was received really well. The next semester, I was doing a paper where I had to write a short play and my supervisor was Dr. Willis who immediately asked if I would consider expanding on the scene I did for musical week. I decided to do just that, and it snowballed into a play about my disillusionment with society and disappointment with how Maori are still treated today. We are a resilient people and love our humour, so it turned into a comedy that deals with serious issues. I did really well in both playwriting papers and decided to send it into Playmarket's b4 25 playwriting competition where it was shortlisted. I also sent it into Playmarket's Brown Ink competition where I was awarded a clinic to workshop my play and where I met Cian Elyse White who directed the clinic and Jatinder Singh and Ngahiriwa Ruahina who played some of the characters.
A suggestion of a development season, a few drafts later and heaps of support later, here we are creating the show!
How much real life experience is captured in the show?
Turene: Both personal experiences and experiences of my whanau and friends have been captured in the show for almost every scene. I studied Criminology during my undergraduate degree so I also utilised case studies from within New Zealand as basis for the scenes where a policeman of Maori descent admits to targeting Maori. There are a couple of comments characters make that would seem offhand in real life, and a things that people say that they don't realise are a little bit racist which are much more obvious when acted out on stage so I hope it will cause audiences to look inward and ask themselves whether comments they have made have been potentially offensive. We are getting to the stage where everyone is calling everything "too PC" and we should just "get hard" which just invalidates everything Maori have gone through and are still going through. People forget that we have not been colonised for that long and today's society is created for the straight white male so we are still (forcibly) trying to adjust. It is scary that the adjustment to our society has meant that so many Maori feel lost within both their own culture and the Pakeha world. I went off on a bit of a tangent but I tried to capture what many Maori youth have gone through and will relate to.
What was special about 1999?
Turene: 1999 was when hip hop culture was really making it mark in Aotearoa. I would even argue that rap has never been as popular as it was back then with reggae taking prominence more so now. Maori were seeing all over their t.v. screens and in magazines these brown faces who came from nothing and turned their lives into something. Their struggle was something Maori could relate to even though hip hop culture is quite different to Maori culture. The late 90's was also a time where Maori were starting to really stand up for themselves without the all encompassing fear of being beaten or killed for doing so. Maori youth were also starting to comprehend why they were (and still are) facing hardships.
What have you learnt about developing a show.
Jatinder: It is bloody hard!Since this my first time directing debut, their has been a multitude of things I've learnt about developing a show. I've learnt about what type of director I am and also. I like to get the actors up on there feet and inviting play and precision. It also has became very clear what my strengths and weaknesses were. I knew i could rely on my acting experience to get the actors to make the necessary discoveries in telling the story. Although now I know that excel document is not my friend and that I do need a stage manager and asistant director to keep me on track. Also incorporating a more pragmatic and technical aspect into my directing is helpful.I have learnt that taking on the role of director requires some guts,diplomacy,assertiveness ,planning,patience,perseverance and focus.Such a fun learning curve. Our process of re-working and developing the script has been quite organic and I've realised I have had to wear many hats (set designer/ music designer/ dramaturg) which would usually be handled by several people. Learning about marketing a show has been massive and now I know what needs to be done next time and when to prioritize certain parts of the process. I have also learnt that I can do this- it's not as scary as I thought
What does Matariki mean to you?
Ngahiriwa: It means the beginning of a new era! It means nurturing new life and helping begin new things. For us and the crew we've taken that in the sense of our craft and art form. It's about giving the new voice a platform to express, create, expand, and ultimately find itself.
Favourite memory of Matariki?
Ngahiriwa: It's 2 things. Nans fry bread and steamed corn from the ngawha back at the village. However I now have this as a new favourite memory. Being together with amazingly talented friends and bringing a new work to life. Facing the challenge of seeing the world through a completely different lens. Seeing this work start from it's bare bones to being able to be a fully recognised being is so amazing.
I will NEVER forget the time we brought to life the first Maori story told as a Rap-Musical. This show is a flurry of firsts! First time writer. First time Director. First time Producer.