What: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt
Where & when: Rangatira at Q Theatre, March 5-9
As the world prepares to mark International Women's Day on Friday, Silo Theatre unleashes one of the most powerful celebrations of what it is to be a Samoan woman today.
For the Auckland Arts Festival, it's bringing to town a new stage adaptation of Samoan New Zealander Tusiata Avia's poetry collection Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Avia launched the collection in 2002 as a spoken word piece at the Dunedin Fringe Festival and it was published two years later.
Back then, Wild Dogs was one of the first poetry collections to explore what it meant to be a young Pacific Island woman in New Zealand. Writer Sia Figiel, the first Samoan woman to have a novel published, described it as revolutionary, "In the sense that, not only does it define the face of Pacific literature in New Zealand, but it redefines the face of New Zealand literature itself."
Others say it challenges ideas about culture, life and love and is alive with humour and pure entertainment.
While Avia took the poem around the world, performing it all over New Zealand, in Brisbane, Honolulu, Hamburg, Moscow, Vienna and Africa, it was always a solo show – until her cousin, playwright Victor Rodger, got hold of it in 2016.
Rodger turned into a play for six formidable Pasifika actors directed by Anapela Polata'ivao (she was named best director at that year's Auckland Theatre Awards). After a season at the Māngere Arts Centre - Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, the production went to Wellington and the International Arts Festival.
Rodger said it made sense for it to become a play with a full cast: "There's nothing quite like it out there. I love that it features six, strong Pacific women who stand boldly and unapologetically in their sensuality and that can be confronting for some audiences which is exactly why I think it needs to keep being seen."
We asked the cast - Stacey Leilua , Saane Green, Vaimaila Urale Baker, Petmal Lam,
Joanna Mika Toloa and Polata'ivao herself – for their thoughts about what it means to be seen.
Anapela, is there any such thing as a "typical" Pacific woman?
No, there is no such thing as a "typical" Pacific woman, only "typical" responses to Pacific women. Despite our differences in age and experience, when I stand on stage with these powerful women I am connected to them through our ancestral ties. This piece allows me to explore those different layers of being a woman of Pasifika heritage. The rise and fall of breath and musicality of the piece speaks volume to us as human beings.
Stacey, who is the woman in your life who has influenced you the most - and why?
My Samoan grandmother; I really try and make the time to visit her often for a cup of tea and a chat. I love hearing her stories of Samoa, and her youth, about being a mother; she has really taught me so much about resilience, kindness and the importance of being true to yourself. I'm so grateful that my daughter gets to spend time with her great-grandmother; that fact is never lost on me. She really is the matriarch of our family.
Saane, what's the best thing about making a show with a whole group of women?
It gives me power as a female Polynesian artist to be surrounded by a full cast of beautiful Pasifika women who share similar experiences as me. There are not many Pasifika plays where the Women are dominant or even a full ensemble. So for me to be a part of this is a privilege. This piece is complex and dense and I, as a woman, am able to draw power and strength from my Pasifika sisters, to help tell these truthful stories. The rehearsal process is one of my favourite things about this whole work. Is it a place where I feel safe, inspired and just having a mean as laugh!
Vaimaila, you come from a family of performers and artists, how does the play Wild Dogs Under Their Skirts add to the Pacific work that's being made in New Zealand?
I think that the play being so raw and honest when it comes to speaking about our Pacific culture, helps to emphasise the importance of Pacific artists not having to feel pressured to white-wash anything when creating their art. The pressure to make art digestible for others, because you're afraid of the response it might evoke, is something that has troubled me; I definitely felt pressured to whitewash my truth. So, I think that this play has created a much more liberated space for Pacific artists to speak their truth and express themselves without so many constraints as before. In other words, what I am saying is that no longer should we as Pacific people be apologists about who we are. This play contributes to the conversation that empowers pacific people to assert who they are.
Petmal, what do you think audiences will learn about Pacific women by coming to see this play?
I think that audiences will see Pacific women come with many dimensions. We put different hats on to suit and please the white man's world as well as within our own communities. The play will give an insight into the different shades of Pacific women. We are not one way; we come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, textures and energies. Growing up in Samoa, I was always surrounded by strong female role models in my family. I think this play represents them well and shows the versatility of our Tama'ita'i Samoa. There is a fire inside all of us; for me, this show unlocks the fire and lets me breathe and live freely on stage. I can't wait to share this gift with all of our audiences.