This is the second of two articles in which Alan Armstrong discusses the teaching and presentation of action songs and haka.
Maoritanga In The Mire?
PREPARATION AND PRESENTATION
In my article in the last issue of ‘Te Ao Hou’, I mentioned that there are two aspects of Maori culture in which a great improvement is necessary. One aspect is the way in which it is taught. The second is the way in which the finished article is presented. I intend to deal with this latter in this article.
It cannot be stressed too much that where the intention is to represent Maori culture to the Pakeha world, there is a two-fold responsibility. Firstly we must treat it with the respect it deserves and not debase it in any way. Secondly we must make it intelligible to the uninitiated. Even in the free and easy atmosphere of the marae, many of the points made below are worthy of note.
This is a most important person. He (or she) is the link between performers and audience, having the duty of explaining and interpreting the items to non-Maori speaking members of the audience, even though they may be in a minority. He must be a person with a good, clearly audible voice, fluent expression and a good stage presence. Often it is an advantage if the compere is not a performing member of the group, but this is not essential. The compere is there to do a job and he should get on with it. The compere who tells “funny” jokes (usually about “Hories”) and who tries to be a star in his own right can ruin a whole performance.
Each item should be introduced with a concise description of the type of item, its significance and some idea of what the words mean. It is best if the compere can do without a public address system, but if there is any danger that ONE person in the audience will be unable to hear then it is essential that some means of amplification be used. One warning: do not touch the microphone or the stand while speaking.
Getting on and off the Stage
If there is a curtain the problem is simplified for everyone can be arranged on the stage beforehand. When the curtain is open the performers must stand still. When it is fully opened there should be a slight pause to allow the audience to “drink in” what is on the stage. Avoid over-use of the curtain, however, for constant opening and reopening makes the whole thing very scrappy. If there is no curtain some sort of musical entrance must be used. All concert parties should know some of these. Nothing gives a worse first impression than a group which shambles on to the stage and then proceeds to talk and wave to friends in the audience.
The exit from the stage must be just as carefully rehearsed and performers must not be permitted to disintegrate into a mob, all making for the side line. As a general rule the curtain should not close or the players turn to leave, until the applause has almost subsided. If a curtain is used, the performers should stand still as it closes and not move until they are completely hidden from view.
Starting the Item
Even the elementary point as to which member of the group should start the item is occasionally neglected. While the compere is introducing the item everyone must stand quite still. The moment the compere has finished the leader begins the item without hesitation. On ‘hope’ or ‘kia rite’ all hands flash to the hip together. Everyone must start the
item together and not chime in as the item progresses.
When soloists are performing, the audience will concentrate on them. If other performers are to remain, they should withdraw to the rear of the stage or marae and sit down and not talk amongst themselves. Soloists must stand where they can be clearly seen by all sections of the audience and to this end they should stand as near the front of the stage as possible and to the centre.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive discourse on stage technique. I will finish with a list of dos and don'ts which highlight some of the most common faults seen in recent performances of Maori items.
DON'T peek at your audience around the curtain before the show begins. This looks very amateurish.
DON'T talk to one another and make private jokes whilst the compere or a soloist is the centre of attraction.
DON'T keep looking off-stage and talking or gesticulating to people out of sight of the audience. It is irritating and distracting.
DON'T look at the ceiling or the floor. Follow the actions with the eyes during action songs, otherwise look at the audience. You are singing for them.
DON'T be afraid to smile at the audience. Look as if you enjoy entertaining them, BUT
DON'T grin during hakas—look fierce and proud.
DON'T put greasepaint tattoo on the performers’ faces. It is rarely done properly, it always looks artificial, and as the Maoris are a handsome race, it spoils the attractiveness of the individual features.
DON'T (men only) wear multi-coloured shorts or bathing trunks underneath your piupiu. Shorts should be as brief as possible and all the one colour. Good costuming is often spoiled by neglect of this point.
DON'T wear European ornaments with traditional costume.
DON'T have children wandering around the stage with parents (seen far too often).
DON'T intermix Maori and European items.
DO start your concert on time. There is NO such thing as ‘Maori time’ when the audience is waiting. Maori concert groups are ambassadors to their race. The audience are their guests. It is bad manners to keep guests waiting.
DO ensure that everyone knows the item properly before performing it, otherwise delete it from the programme.
DO remember that the success of any concert is in direct proportion to the amount of preparation and care put into its rehearsal.
An intelligently explained well-executed concert promotes interest in, and appreciation of, things Maori and therefore is yet another way of engendering better relations and understanding between Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand.
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Happy birthdays are mounting up for one of the oldest citizens of Auckland, Mrs Rawhina Tai Timu, of 31 Watene Cresent, Orakei, who is believed to be 113.
Her family and friends sent her birthday greetings last month, but Mrs Timu, who lives with a foster-daughter, will not have a birthday party because she refuses to eat European food. Kumaras and Maori bread are the mainstay of her diet, and she does not take sugar or salt, though recently she has begun to put a little butter on her home-made bread.
Mrs Timu was born in the Waiuku district and lived in Helensville for many years before coming to Auckland.
For many months a team of carvers at Temple View, near Hamilton, have been making the carvings for a Maori village which is to be erected as part of the Polynesian cultural centre which the Mormon Church is building at Hawaii.
They have been working under the supervision of the well-known carver John Taiapa, M.B.E. (above), who over the last 30-odd years has carved, and supervised the carving, in an incredibly large number of new meeting-houses.
A Maori Mormon choir of 120 people will visit Hawaii this October for the opening of the cultural centre, later going on to the United States.