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Keeping it local

If Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival is a celebration of homegrown talents, then Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana deserves a huge round of applause.

She writes, acts, produces, and now Luiten-Apirana is stepping into the role of director for the play she wrote, Lip Sync, Kanikani, Twerk Off.

After losing their mum in a fatal car crash, three sisters — Kahu, Te Rina and Ariana — create a year-long lip sync list to hold their whanau together.

The nightly lip syncs are compulsory — no matter what.

“I started writing in lockdown, and from then until now it has been developed, had a few workshops and some readings,” Luiten-Apirana says.

Last year the play was part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival’s works-in-development programme, where a live audience got a sneak peek of the show and provided feedback.

Seemingly obsessively busy, Luiten-Apirana is a self-described hustler and to fund her art, she follows the money.

“I like to make my own work, but there’s not a lot of money in it, so you also have to do lots of different things.

“I just go where the money is, so I might get an acting gig here, a writing gig there and a producing gig here. My schedule is all over the place.”

Luiten-Apirana grew up trotting the globe, studying at Ngata Memorial College and Gisborne Girls’ High School and as far away as Alaska.

Doing as many youth do, she rebelled against her wandering childhood and decided she would settle in Auckland “for at least ten years”.

Last week she was visiting schools around Gisborne casting for Lip Sync, Kanikani, Twerk Off. This week she started work on a new web series she wrote, and impossibly, on top of all that, released a single called My Baby & Me.

Although she’s busier than busy, Luiten-Apirana said Lip Sync, Kanikani, Twerk Off is her priority.

Audiences can expect her characters to dive in between lip syncs, dancing, twerk offs and karaokes. Her play is about a whanau struggling with a loss, girls becoming women and learning to get through hard times.

Although it is a play that deals with death, Luiten-Apirana is keen to keep it light where she can.

“I’m really conscious of being too heavy, so I try, where possible, to make it funny.”

Luiten-Apirana was going to star in her play until her mentor and artist Ngapaki Moetara asked why she wasn’t directing.

“She pointed out that this festival is supportive and it’s a safe place to try stuff.

“Where else am I going to have the opportunity to work on my work however I want to do it? They’re giving me creative licence while also organising all the marketing and licensing . . . It’s the perfect opportunity.”

The play came about, in part, as a response to the minimal Maori roles available.

“As a young Maori actor, I often get put in the same category as all my other young Maori actor friends, and so sometimes it feels like there is some box-ticking going on.

“I’ve got heaps of friends who are a similar type to me and we never get cast together because we tick the same box.”

To fix the problem, Luiten-Apirana decided to write a play and cast as many female Maori as she wanted.

Working in almost every other job in showbusiness means she has experienced both excellent and bad directors and knows what’s what.

“Less competent directors tell you how to do stuff, but the job of a director is to lead you with crumbs so that the actor can discover it themselves, in their own way.

“I want the whole cast to be from the Tairawhiti region. I’d love to source locally rather than bring a whole bunch of Auckland actors down. I thought it would be better to use the talent we have.

“So many of the cast are young rangatahi, so you may as well give locals the opportunity to taste what acting professionally would be like.

“If they enjoy it and want to pursue it, they can kind of know what to expect, have some experience and have something for the CV if they want to get an agent.”

Luiten-Apirana has already cast three actors but is looking for two Maori actors to play the father and a sister.

“I’m looking for people who want to have fun. I mean, there’s lip synching. I’m after people who want to play and have fun and are not too shy to explore that world.”

Actors can get in touch by emailing tehuamanuka6@hotmail.com

TICKET TO EXPLORE: Making her directorial debut, Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana is looking for Maori actors to perform in her play, Lip Sync, Kanikani, Twerk Off, at this year’s Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival. Picture supplied