National Māori Theatre Hui 2020, nā Isaac Martyn

Isaac Martyn (Tūwharetoa), Ōtepoti Theatre Lab 2019 Playwright, shares his experience from the National Māori Theatre Hui 2020. Kā mihi nui e hoa!

“Don’t try to be a composer, just compose. Don’t try to be a Māori, just be.”

Charles Royal gave the National Māori Theatre Hui of 2020 this kōrero while reflecting on his life in theatre, art and being Māori. It came to me at a pivotal time in my life, where I was unsure of my identity and my path as Māori and as an artist. In an age obsessed with image and perception, it’s invigorating to be told by someone who has had such success in their life that you do not need to pursue a perfect image; that the path to success is to not expect anything out of your path.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the National Māori Theatre Hui by my Ōtepoti whānau. This hui brought so much knowledge and experience to my kete, and I’m sure to everyone present. I left the Marae Puketeraki overflowing. From countless energized kōrero, to creating and performing all manners of toi, I know that I will look back at this experience as a major turning point of my life. The people who make up this whānau of the National Māori Theatre Hui 2020 have so much mana, aroha and wisdom between them that I’m sure any person could have walked into that marae and been motivated to create, sing or dance on the spot! Ngā mihi nui, whānau.

I was brought up predominately in te ao Pākehā, and it is only recently that I have begun diving into te ao Māori and gaining an understanding for it. This hui has accelerated that process for me. I have often believed that not only is art separate from other aspects of life such as health and science (much like how disciplines are separated in University courses), but that even the disciplines within art are separate, and that a person can only truly partake in a few art practices at a time. This hui shifted my perspective on that drastically. The whānau of the hui demonstrated how art is woven into all aspects of our cultures, and that this interwoven state is particularly evident in te ao Māori. Waiata are used not just as performance and entertainment, but to strengthen bonds and tautoko those who speak for us. The rigid manner of public speaking throughout the western world, often confined behind a podium, is absent here. Art is not given a time and a place that is divided from “everyday life” to be presented; it is everyday life. We can do any kind of art at any time, and it does not need to be profitable to have value; the process is the value. I have returned from this hui believing we are always artists, in all that we do.

When it does come to the specific practice of theatre, Charles Royal also discussed how tikanga Māori can play into our inspiration for performance. He explained how in the mahi whakaari he developed throughout the 2010’s, “Whare Tapere”, he conceptualised the art from the whenua itself. The land the art took place in inspired the way the art was manifested. This approach to creation is distinctly Māori in its essence, and right now, with the state of the world, I feel it is also unique. In Aotearoa we are lucky enough to be able to travel to any part of the motu to create art, and I am personally excited to see what I can gain from the specific sights, sounds and feelings of the whenua I inhabit. Go and see what your whenua can inspire in you! I move into my life hopeful; hopeful that I will take the kaupapa of this hui and do well by the people who have gifted it to me; that I will do well by my tuākana, and by my tūpuna.

Kaumātua Olly Ohlson left us at the hui with much enlightening kōrero, and one that has stuck with me since in regard to my approach to art and life is this: “There is no such thing as a failure, only a pause.” We can spend so much time worrying about screwing something up, worrying that we might not be good composers, or good actors, or good Māori, that we forget to live. The next time I “fail”, I know what follows will be worth it. Noho ora ma.

Isaac Martyn, Dec 2020

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