With Matariki in full swing, Auckland theatres are busy with a wealth of new plays. We asked the writers, directors and performers why their works are well-timed for Maori New Year and what they tell us about Aotearoa in the here and now.

WHEN SUN AND MOON COLLIDE, Writer Briar Grace-Smith
Like the Maori New Year, When Sun and Moon Collide talks to the planets (in this case the moon) and how all living things and their actions are defined by the power of its force. On some days fishing and harvesting are good; on others, food is scarce. One of the characters goes as far as to blame a phase of the moon, mutuwhenua, for his bad behaviour.

What does it tell us about New Zealand? Well, from a distance, New Zealand seems to be a wholesome, clean-living country where everyone is happy but, as the character Isaac says, "this isn't a tropical island paradise". There is an underbelly. The play talks to those who have gone "missing" and unsolved cases. It also talks to us being a small and isolated country that is sometimes at the mercy of the elements, it pushes that idea further.

There's something in this performance for everyone (except children). I went along to rehearsals and I was surprised and happy to know that, 15 years on, it still felt relevant. The set and lighting will be stunning and there are parts of the play where, with a wonderful trick of light, what once looked like a pleasant tearoom might start to look more like Bates Motel. Although it's dark, it was also funny and I laughed a lot during the rehearsals.

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Kura Forrester joins the cast of when Sun and Moon Collide.
Kura Forrester joins the cast of when Sun and Moon Collide.

Actor Kura Forrester

When

Sun and Moon Collide

reminds us of how small and isolated we are; it captures rural New Zealand and celebrates our humour. The play explores what happens to us when heavy stuff goes down and how it can rattle a community, but it's also a beautiful love story. Being part of this has been special because I get to be directed by the legendary Rawiri Paratene and gain some knowledge from his years of experience in our industry.

When Sun and Moon Collide

; ASB Waterfront Theatre, June 20-July 6.

POROPITI (THE PROPHET), Songwriter/performer Mara TK
We have a lot of references to nature in this show: the sea, the forest, the sky. Our show is quite meditative and will hopefully give the audience time to reflect. We use video projections of natural scenes to try and take the viewer into that state of reflection. Also, one of the traditional practices during Matariki is to gather various types of food for preservation, so it is a time to respond to our environment. I know that sounds quite New Agey ... I hope the work will contribute to reopening amazing chapters of our history and help us to further understand ourselves as Maori, as Pakeha and as one people. It's abstract, it's not emotionally too heavy, but it is meditative and reflective.

Written by Mara TK and Tola Newberry, Poropiti is a meditation on pre-European Aotearoa.
Written by Mara TK and Tola Newberry, Poropiti is a meditation on pre-European Aotearoa.

Producer Gareth Farry

Matariki is a good time for the show as it also deals with some of the events (imprisonment/passive resistance) at Parihaka, among other historical events. Parihaka has just been in the news for the Crown apology. The show is anchored by events during the lives of some of the Maori prophets, including miracles and healing practices, so it's also opening up dialogues about amazing figures we weren't taught about in our text books.

Written by Mara TK and Tola Newbery, Poropiti is described as a "beautiful surrealist duet, a meditation on pre-European Aotearoa", which looks at the emergence of Maori prophetic movements, including those of T.W. Ratana and Te Whiti. It uses movement, song, sound and theatrical lyricism to evoke surreal, avant-garde and deep aspects of Maori history. Poropiti; Basement Theatre, June 20-24.

The Mooncake and the Kumara returns to Auckland for Matariki.
The Mooncake and the Kumara returns to Auckland for Matariki.

THE MOONCAKE AND THE KUMARA, Actor Waimihi Hotere

The Mooncake and the Kumara

is a modern take on a poignant moment in our history. It is post-land wars, post-flu epidemic, post-gold rush, post-World War I; a time when we had to set our sights on a way through all the loss and grief. It tells us about how easy we've got it now. You can buy everything and anything; you can go into business with whomever you wish. In 1929, New Zealand was a harsh environment where Maori and Chinese relationships were under close scrutiny (having said that, not much has changed in the romance department!) but you can't stop your heart from falling in love. Love, suffering through hardships and survival are universal themes we all experience. Being in this play lets me feel what my great-great grandmother Nanny Maru's life was like when she would travel to help her whanau in the gardens of Pukekohe. Getting a taste of that resilience feeds into my modern-day privileged life and reminds me that when things get tough, just buckle up and get ready for the ride!

The Mooncake and the Kumara

, Q Theatre, June 28-July 8.

Ngahiriwa Rauhina stars in I Ain't Mad At Cha.
Ngahiriwa Rauhina stars in I Ain't Mad At Cha.

I AIN'T MAD AT CHA, Director Jatinder Singh

This show highlights how a teenage experience is intensified, and often defined by, music. When I got involved with the project, I had no preconceived ideas [about] what to expect but it became abundantly clear to me I Ain't Mad At Cha is a story that had to be told. I believe Maori and Pacific people are still stuck in the same boxes, begging to get the chance to tell their stories. Hip-hop remains a bastion of hope, a vehicle in which that story can travel. Good hip-hop arms us with nothing but the truth. It engages the senses and teaches us to be free but also to fight with a conscious mind and a feeling heart. Set in Gisborne in 1999, 17-year-old Kiwa Bolton is the black sheep of his family and wonders why he feels closer to Tupac - a bald African-American on the other side of the world - than he does to those around him.

I Ain't Mad at Cha

, Basement Theatre, June 20-24.

In larger than Life, three brothers land the chance of a lifetime by opening for the legendary John Rowles.
In larger than Life, three brothers land the chance of a lifetime by opening for the legendary John Rowles.

LARGER THAN LIFE, Co-producer Amber Curreen (Te Rehia Theatre)

Matariki is a time when there's a high demand for Maori theatre so we make the most of it. Rather than do one big piece, we decided to use the time to help support and develop three shows:

Ruia Te Kakano

, a Maori language show for youth;

Mo & Jess Kill Susie - E Kore A Muri E Hokia

and

Larger Than Life

, which is going on a national tour. We want to showcase Maori stories and storytellers and we're excited by stories that can be told innovatively in theatre. The main kaupapa (principle) for two of these shows is the reo; for

Larger Than Life

, it's about looking back, with respect, to a time in the not-so-distant-past. In

Larger than Life

, three brothers land the chance of a lifetime by opening for John Rowles - all they have to do is get there so they embark on an epic journey. It features music from and inspired by Prince Tui Teka, the Topp Twins, Tim Finn, and of course, Rowles. It touches on some serious issues, particularly around LGBT rights, but is theatre that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Larger Than Life

; Te Pou Theatre (New Lynn), June 24-27; Herald Theatre, June 30 & July 1;

Mo & Jess Kill Susie - E Kore A Muri E Hokia

; Basement Theatre, June 27-July 1.