Seeing Ourselves on Stage: Revealing Ideas about Pākehā Cultural Identity through Theatrical Performance

Performing arts Maori people Dancing Theatre Cultural identity Pacific Area

This is the first detailed study of New Zealand theatrical performance that has investigated the concepts of a Pākehā worldview. It thus contributes to the growing body of critical analysis of the theatre Aotearoa/New Zealand, and to an overall picture of Pākehā New Zealander cultural identity. The researcher's experience of being Pākehā has formed the lens through which these performance works are viewed. The argument underpinning the research is that theatrical performance does not represent a literal recreation of a culture, but rather is a representation of its mythical aspects. Accordingly, what is placed on the stage are images, visual, aural, and kinetic, of what a culture most aspires to be, and what it fears it might become. Therefore this work requires a discussion of the nature of theatrical performance and its reception by an audience. The research is centred on the play Home Land by Gary Henderson; the opera Bitter Calm by Christopher Blake and Stuart Hoar; the dance theatre work Fishnet by Lyne Pringle and Kilda Northcott; and the jazz songs of Andrew London of Hot Club Sandwich. The performance texts are analysed to establish the way in which they create meaning. The methods used are performance analysis and close reading of the text and the method of phenomenology. This analytical work has been expanded by interviews with writers and performers in the respective performance fields and by a small audience survey. The result of this analysis is a detailed discussion of selected theatrical representation of Pākehā cultural identity focusing on the three performance elements: irony, the performance of emotion, and the scenographic iconography of the-land-on-the-stage. The research looks particularly at ideas and attributes that can be represented in performance. The thesis covers concepts of Pākehā cultural identity and biculturalism, considers the idea that the particular environmental conditions of the land have imprinted themselves onto the nation's theatrical expression, and seeks to uncover how a Pākehā cosmology is represented in theatrical performance. The question of cultural identity in the literature, visual art and music of Aotearoa/New Zealand has been an important one for many decades. The country's distance from its nearest large neighbour, its colonial past, Pākehā relationships with the tāngāta whenua of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Māori, and the fact that Pākehā are descended from the settler culture of Aotearoa/New Zealand have contributed to an awareness of cultural identity. The expressions of local, Pākehā, cultural identity, considered in the selected performances, therefore reflect an identity which has been formed as a result of the colonisation process. As a consequence, many of the themes and iconographies discussed are not unique to Pākehā, but draw on their heritage of European culture, with the infusion of local experience.

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