Taranaki rangatahi tackles difficult subjects on stage

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Jewel Te Wiki, 18, will perform in Te Rākau Theater’s presentation of The Swing in Wellington later this month. Photo / Provided

A graduate of Hāwera Secondary School takes the stage to tackle difficult topics such as domestic violence and suicide in a Maori theater production in July.

Jewel Te Wiki, 18, will perform in Te Rākau Theater’s presentation of The Swing in Wellington later this month.

The Swing weaves the ancestral pūrakau of Hinetītama and Tānemahuta into the contemporary portrayal of a whānau struggling to recover from the shadows of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide).

While the piece deals with heavier subject matter, Jewel says the themes are relevant to rangatahi in New Zealand.

“It’s important for rangatahi and their whānau to be aware of the issues we talk about in the play, as they are more common than we realize,” says Jewel.

“It’s natural to want to escape these feelings, but burying it all is super unhealthy. Having support to talk about uncomfortable topics is important.”

Jewel is an experienced young performer and started working with Te Rākau Theater this year as part of the Tungia Tahia youth section of the Aotearoa NZ Arts Festival.

Te Rākau is directed by director Jim Moriarty MNZM and writer Helen Pearse-Otene PhD, who have combined artistic training and youth development to deliver Theater Marae productions for more than two decades.

“I grew up on stage and have been in drama, kapa haka and dance groups all my life. I love performing because it allows me to express how I feel while telling a story through movement,” says Jewel.

“I have been involved in a previous play directed by Matua Jim, but working on The Swing with Te Rākau was a completely different experience. Whaea Helen offered knowledge about our traditional stories and created a safe place for topics to as these may be brought out.”

Jewel says she feels proud and privileged to be part of this kaupapa.

“I can’t wait to see what The Swing weaves the ancestral pūrākau of Tānemahuta – atua of light and Hinetītama – daughter of dawn, into a contemporary depiction of whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (abuse sex) and whakamomori (suicide).”

This work is the creative result of a community-based Kaupapa Māori research project organized by Kōkiri Marae and Massey University.

Audiences said The Swing is “engaging on every level”, “life changing”, and “filled with wairua, power, grace, healing and truth”.

The cast of medical professionals, theater practitioners and community members includes Hariata Moriarty (Cousins, Beyond The Veil), Angie Meiklejohn (The Three Sisters, Angie), Jeremy Davis (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Ngāti Whakaue, Hinepau ) and Kimberley Skipper (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Hinepau).

Writer Helen Pearse-Otene is a licensed psychologist and practitioner, and director Jim Moriarty MNZM is a licensed psychiatric nurse.

This season is presented at Te Whaea, the home of performance excellence in Aotearoa, New Zealand, July 24-24. Tickets available online.

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