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Reflection of diversity

Assumptions between two sets of neighbours — one Māori, one Pākehā — is the focus of the award-winning play Our Side of the Fence, which is being developed for the stage through an experimental exhibition at HOEA Gallery.

Our Side of the Fence, written by Ruatoria local Rawinia Parata (Ngāti Porou), won the 2021 Playmarket Brown Ink Award.

Parata has crafted a story that reflects cultural diversity and builds empathy and understanding.

The play demonstrates, through strong and engaging storytelling, that we can all be complicit in the pervasive harms of unconscious bias and stigmatisation.

Parata says this is a chance for herself and producer Jordan Walker (Tūhoe) to explore what the play might be and might mean to the Tairāwhiti community.

“This is an opportunity for HOEA, myself as a writer and Jordan to grow our skills. This is a new space and none of us are new to the various disciplines and managing events, but we are all new to theatre.

“Theatre is its own baby, and this is us growing into that space,” Parata says.

Having an experimental exhibition to develop the play into its next stages isn't the traditional trajectory of theatre.

“Who knows where it will go next, it is in this really close workshop space here but that's not to say its future will be more a traditional theatre-type production,” she says.

Walker says learning about the play sparked their interest in helping to develop it.

“As well as being immediately engaged by Rawinia's creative mahi, my hopes are that we can explore with the community through facilitating important korero around themes of the play.”

Rawinia and Jordan have met before through mahi but Jordan did not realise that Rawinia had won an award for a play she had written.

“It was incredible to learn about this. I had no idea she was a writer and that got me interested.”

Jordan has their own interest in theatre and writing.

“I read the script and I thought it was really cool. I grew up here in a cul-de-sac (where the play is set) and can relate to the story and assumptions around households.”

Parata says the exhibition is about starting a conversation about compassion, tolerance and empathy.

“This story is about being human, not necessarily being Māori or Pākehā, but there are some human experiences we can all have.

“So if we see each other as human, maybe we can be more compassionate and understanding of each other.

“We want to start a conversation that brings people together as opposed to being divisive,” Parata says.

“Even though from the top layer it looks like it's about divisiveness, if you give time to consider the themes, depth and complexity of characters, if you look a little bit deeper, it's more than that.

“That's where we are at now. We are hoping by some miracle it will be in excellent shape and someone will come along with some putea and produce it, and it can be seen by a broader audience and put this conversation about humanness, connectedness and tolerance on the map. I think that's a new conversation for Tairāwhiti.”

The experimental exhibition is on until May 21 at HOEA Gallery, 67 Gladstone Road.

To take part or for more information contact Jordan on jordanmihiwalker@gmail.com

STARTING A CONVERSATION: Our Side of the Fence producer Jordan Walker, left, and writer Rawinia Parata sitting on one side of the fence set up at HOEA Gallery. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell