How do you fit a five-metre taniwha in a four-seater Toyota Vitz hatchback?
When Sarah Burren, a former costume designer at the BBC, decided to make a children's theatre show about Matariki that was the first of many creative challenges she had to confront. Then there was the fact she had no money but a whole heap of talented South Aucklanders urging her on.
Design the taniwha so it can concertina-fold down to sit on the front seat and fill out 30-plus funding applications to get the show on the road. Which is now what's happening with Heaven and Earth — Rangi and Papa, a glow-in-the-dark puppet show that will travel from Auckland to Northland and back to Auckland again.
Given some of those funding applications were successful, the four performers, accompanied by some 40 meticulously crafted puppets and a two-strong crew, will travel in a van. The first performances are at Takapuna's PumpHouse from tomorrow till Friday then the cast and pile into that van and hit State Highway One to the Far North.
There's no animation, no rigging, no complex sound or lighting design — but there are UVs — used to bring to life the "seven sister" stars of Matariki. The story goes that they find themselves on a rescue mission when one of their number is accidentally pushed out of te rangi (heaven).
Ah, says choreographer Teone Matthews, there's a plot twist; oldest star sister, Matariki, saw the youngest, Waipuna-ā-rangi, fall but wouldn't let another sister, Uru-ā-rangi, speak up. But Matariki soon comes to realise everything is not alright with the universe if one of the sisters is missing.
Matthews says it's the kind of show he'd have liked to have seen as a boy.
"As a Māori child, you always hear stories and our culture is about story-telling, but you never got any of the visuals," he says. "Kids connect better when they can see things."
Last year, to test the waters, the show was performed in Papakura and Porirua where young audiences lapped it up, say cast members Tavai Puni Tupaea, Mita Tupaea, Rokalani Lavea and Ani Nuku.
"They couldn't believe it was just the four of us doing it all," says Ani.
Questions about how it was made were quickly followed with those about who does the singing because it sounds like Broadway professionals but, once again, it's the cast themselves.
Burren, who founded Northland-based Little Green Man Productions, describes Rangi and Papa as a wonderful way for young New Zealanders to learn about the myths and legends of their country — and to be inspired by what can be achieved on the smell of an oily rag.
She has some 476 productions, around the world, to her credit and has gotten fairly used to making the most of a limited budget. What does a costume designer turned creative director know about making puppets? Part of Burren's work at the BBC involved working on one of the world's most beloved puppets, making the "morning attire" for none other than the foxy Basil Brush(es).
What: Heaven and Earth — Rangi and Papa
Where & when: Venues all over Auckland & Northland, now — until July 21; see eventfinda.co.nz for dates and venues