Jacob Dombroski, aka Big J. Jacob, and Rose Kirkup have some big dreams.
Dombroski wants a role on Shortland Street as a bartender at the IV Bar; Kirkup wants to make theatre that takes the "marginalised to the middle" and allows those often pushed to the fringes of society to have their point of view heard.
Next month, they'll come to Auckland hoping to make both those things more of a reality. Kirkup directs Dombroski in Big J Stylez, a one-man dance, music and theatre show which tells his story of growing up in New Zealand as a young Samoan/Maori who also happened to be born with Down syndrome.
It is the latest production from the theatre company Everybody Cool Lives Here, started by Kirkup and her theatre producer husband Nic Lane. The duo has spent four years working with a range of New Zealand theatre-makers and performers to make shows that challenge perceptions but ultimately entertain.
Big J Stylez highlights the struggles Dombroski faced for being "different", using his childhood friend/soft toy Tiger to describe his younger years with his brother and single mum and to create some lighter moments.
But these are mirrored by moments of violence towards him and his frustration about not being understood. To hear Dombroski talk of being bullied at school, labelled as "handicapped" and dismissed because of it is to get a brief glimpse into feelings he's not willing to keep private anymore.
"People say I'm different and want to describe me as handicapped or whatever but something inside me feels like I don't want to be that person," he explains.
"I want people to treat me with respect."
And those who have seen Big J Stylez are doing just that.
Performed at the Wellington Fringe Festival, it won several awards including The NZ Fringe Grand Design Award, Most Promising Emerging Artist (Highly Commended) and Best Directed Chaos (Highly Commended).
"I feel brave and strong when I am on stage; it feels like I am at home," says Dombroski, who's also part of the JDK hip hop dance crew.
Praise came from the likes of writer Apirana Taylor who said he loved the show, which kept him riveted throughout: "It was a work that reminded me what a celebration and powerful force theatre can be."
It's also a work several years in the creating, starting in 2014 when Kirkup, a theatre designer and stage manager, was doing a part-time job as a support worker for young people with higher learning needs.
"The young people I was working with were cracking me up and wanted to tell their stories so we did a community show called Wake Up Tomorrow. I'd seen Jacob dancing down the street, with his headphones on, and I thought, 'I need the number of the guy with the headphones so I can get him in a show'."
Getting his number, Kirkup cast Dombroski in Wake Up Tomorrow – he chose to play a farmer called Troy Kingi after the local musician and Hunt for the Wilderpeople star. As Kirkup got to know Dombroski, she was soon convinced his own story needed to be told and he was the best person to do so.
The duo joined forces with emerging contemporary dancer/choreographer Braedyn Togi and designer Rowan Pierce, an audio-visual designer for World of Wearable Art. The design got a major boost when it was discovered one of Dombroski's aunts had digitised home movies, meaning footage from him as a child could be used.
Pierce has created a design that can be scaled up for bigger venues or brought down for smaller ones, meaning Big J Stylez could be seen all over New Zealand. That's something the team would relish because it gives them greater opportunities to "smash perceptions".
What: Big J Stylez
Where & when: Herald Theatre, July 4 – 7
Matariki theatre shows to catch: Big J Stylez comes to Auckland as part of Auckland Live's Matariki season. Other theatre running during the Māori New Year includes:
Herald Theatre: Our national Māori theatre company Taki Rua tours the North Island with its first te reo production for adults, He Kura E Huna Ana. Written by Hōhepa Waitoa and directed by Nancy Brunning, it blends an origin story from the hapu Ngāti Waewae – that of pounamu in Arahura Valley – with a contemporary tale of young Hine who, dealing with grief, seeks consolation in the myths of Arahura. He Kura E Huna Ana, until Saturday, June 30.
Basement Theatre: Three very different shows are central to the Basement's Matariki season. Maumahara Girlie explores contemporary wāhine grappling with decolonisation and features its creator Mya Morrison-Middleton with Whetu Silver, Freddy Carr, Amanda Tito and Onehou Strickland. It plays in the Basement Studio, July 3 – July 6. Te Waka Huia, inspired by the 1963 Brynderwyn bus crash, returns to Auckland and plays in the Basement Theatre, July 3 – 7. The massive growth of spoken word poetry is the basis for Upu Mai Whetū, where performers Mia Blake, Nicola Kawana, Rawiri Paratene, Heto Ahi Hi, Ana Corbett, Gaby Solomona and Shimpal Lelisi perform literature by Pacific and Māori writers but left unspoken and unshared in performance spaces. Fasitua Amosa directs a selection of work chosen by young poet Grace Taylor. Upu Mai Whetū is at Basement Theatre, July 10 – 14.