Taiaroa Royal's Okareka Dance Company has been selected to perform its popular show K'Rd Strip, a mixture of dance, kapa haka and drag, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
1. Before heading to Edinburgh, you're taking K'Rd Strip on tour to your hometown of Rotorua. Does Roto-Vegas have its own K Rd?
There is a gay community in Rotorua, but it's really quiet. Tamati Coffey has really brought a lot of the gay community out since he moved down there and opened a cocktail bar in the main part of town. It's called Ponsonby Rd and it's a place anyone can go. A little taste of Auckland in Rotorua. I choreographed Tamati's winning float in this year's Pride Festival and he's bringing lots of people along to our show. We've nearly sold out both nights down there, so that's really exciting.
2. Why has a show starring six gay Maori guys met such mainstream success?
I was a bit unsure how people in places like Palmerston North and Dunedin would relate to the show when we toured in 2013, but they totally got it. The show's loaded with Kiwi references - there's songs by Gin Wigmore, Crowded House, Split Enz and Th' Dudes - but the stories are quite universal. Every city in the world has its own K Rd strip with those colourful characters. International audiences are familiar with the haka thanks to the All Blacks and other sports teams. So it has that cultural appeal as well. Okareka Dance Company is an artistic organisation, but K'Rd Strip is our commercial venture. It has the capacity to reach beyond the arts world and make some money.
3. What was it like growing up gay in Rotorua?
I was teased at primary school, but that's just part of growing up. Children are children, they tell it like it is. By the time I got to high school I was right into disco dancing. It was huge at the box office with Saturday Night Fever, Thank God It's Friday and all those dance movies. I was the Bay of Plenty disco dance champion in 1978. That kind of helped lift the stigma, I guess. I found a few friends that were gay. I never, ever got beaten up. I had lots of cousins and a tomboy older sister. She used to fight my battles at primary school.
4. Can you remember the first time you set foot on K Rd?
I had very lovely parents who would give me their car to go up to Auckland on weekends when I was 17. It was a huge Holden Statesman. One of my sisters was living up here so I'd stay with her and go to Fort St which was the gay area at the time. The scene shifted from Fort St to K Rd when the Staircase nightclub moved up there and the hero parades started. I started performing drag in venues along K Rd then.
5. How was your drag persona created?
When I was at the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington. Being poor students you're always trying to get a bit of extra cash on the side, so a couple of friends and I would create these little drag numbers to perform at a local club. The name came when I was performing with the Limbs Dance Company in Auckland and a reviewer called me a "latter-day Cassandra". I thought, "Ooh that's a cool kind of name." So Cassandra Latterday is her full drag name.
6. Has K Rd changed much over the years?
A lot of the old buildings have been torn down and the communities have shifted around. The gay community used to be between East St and the overpass. These days it's kind of a hodge podge. You can have a gay venue next to a straight venue next to a Polynesian venue next to a really nice restaurant. That's the diversity you have in K Rd and I think it's healthy.
7. What are your best and worst K Rd memories?
The Hero Parade in 1992 was a great moment. I was performing on Mika's float. The parade started on Ponsonby Rd, then went down K Rd and Queen St. This whole crowd of people followed the floats down and ended up at the party on the waterfront. It was just an amazing experience. I don't think I've had any really bad nights on K Rd. [Except] when you get drunk, agro people coming into town to cause havoc.
8. Do you party much these days?
No. I'm nearly 54. If I go out, K Rd's the only street I go to. I'll go to Eagle Bar mid-week for a quiet one. If karaoke's on you might sing a song or two. My partner and I are moving back to the family farm at Lake Okareka. It's time. Both of my parents have passed away. My brother's looking after the farm and he's getting on so we need family back there to keep the house warm.
9. So you're going to become a farmer?
Yes, although I'm more into horticulture. I actually got a couple of years into a degree in horticulture before I changed career paths. I was going to breed orchids for the cut flower market. I still collect rare and unusual plants. They've got their own bedroom in my apartment. Once I get back to the farm, I'll be able to have my own glasshouse.
10. How is the water quality at Lake Okareka these days?
Good because we've retired a lot of our land from active farming. It was a really hard decision that we came to as a family after Dad retired. That lake was our playground growing up. We want it to stay pristine and not be polluted by runoff. Our farm is one of three in the catchment. We're still raising calves but we've planted this big forest between them and the lake.
11. Did your dad expect one of his four children to take over the farm?
No, Dad was more concerned with us getting an education. He was a really intelligent man who went to Massey University until his father told him "You're going to be a farmer". Our new show No 8 Wire pays homage to Dad. I have such happy memories of growing up on that farm. We had sheep back then. All my aunts and uncles and cousins would come and help us at shearing or docking time. We're a very close family. Mum was one of six children.
12. Are you looking forward to reconnecting with family?
Yes, we're planning a big family reunion. The last one was in the summer of '93. We had about 80 people in tents and caravans with cooking facilities on the front lawn. One night, the oldies stayed up all night playing cards. Us youngies got up the next morning and they were still partying! We were shocked. They were so excited to be together in this lovely environment and not having to worry about driving home. A lot of my nieces and nephews who were kids at that time are pushing for us to do it again because they have such wonderful memories.
K'Rd Strip is at Auckland's Q Theatre July 14-19, Rotorua July 22-23, Hamilton July 24-25, Edinburgh Festival Fringe August 5-31. For more, visit okareka.com