Paraoa Project

A big puppet spectacle & Maori storytelling



The People’s Paraoa Project began as a series of devised theatre workshops focusing on big puppetry, Maori myths and spectacle. The key aim was to bring together an intercultural group of artists in Whangarei, lead by Ivan Thorley and Hayley Clarke, to discuss what a Taniwha might be in a contemporary context. The project attracted a diverse and talented group of artists who participated in the facilitated process, identifying key themes, narratives, performance ideas and designs. The momentum of the collaborative ensemble was energetic and stretched across generations, with young people joining the practically lead design process. The project consulted with Te Warihi Hetaraka from Ngātiwai, who is widely respected for his profound knowledge of tikanga Māori.

The process then moved into practically lead design strategies and open storyboarding. The group then began building a 2D people’s Paraoa, which is a giant 9m puppet, as a focal point for exploring Maori myths and community. The puppet is multidimensional, acting as the centre point around which different performance-based activities and responses can be explored, across music, song, dance and theatre. During the final outcome, different local groups perform during the big puppet during the nighttime promenade through Whangarei’s Town Basin. One exciting engagement idea is creating individualized navigation charts with young people, based loosely on Polynesian navigation stick charts, made from Rata or traditional weaving materials and then embedded in the structure of the people’s Paraoa.

The ensemble also spoke about a Taniwha spirit or Manaia (potentially as kite based light sculpture) that inhabits the inside the 9m puppet, which is revealed during the final moment of transformation during the nighttime spectacle. Overall, the R&D activities explored the multidisciplinary nature of big puppetry, Maori storytelling and the potential for citywide inclusiveness.




Cast & Creative

Creative team:

Ivan Thorley- Co Director and Puppetry

Hayley Clarke- Co Director

Fiona Douglas- Sistemia Music

Leonard Murupaenga- Visual Artist

Papanui Polamalu- Consultant and Documentation

Arana Horncy- Visual Artist

Victor Te Paa- Visual Artist

Chris Schreuder- Theatre Maker

Rachel Pederson- Theatre Maker


Auckland Big Puppet Workshop:
Lynn Cardy- ATC
Participants: Michele Powles, Aaron Richardson, Aiwa Pooamorn, Alyx Duncan, Hannah Grant, Chye-Ling Huan, Albertine Jonas, Rachael Longshaw Park, Catherine Ellis

Supported By