A giant 2D carboard whale puppet in a large room. It's made of cardboard, and its head and tail are decorated with red swirls. Below it are five puppeteers, holding it up with sticks.

People’s Paraoa Project

An international community project inspired by Maori storytelling

Te rerenga Parāoa (Whale) 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.

Taniwha can embody many different forms and animals, as both protectors and takers of human life. The Taniwha who can take the form of a Parāoa (Whale) representing the idea of navigation and the team spoke about the difficulties young people face in navigating contemporary teenagehood.

The project attracted a diverse and talented group of artists who identified key themes, narratives, performance ideas and designs. The momentum of the collaborative ensemble was energetic and stretched across generations, with diverse community members 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 and the group began building a 2D Parāoa, which is a giant 9m puppet, as a focal point for exploring Māori storytelling and community. The giant Parāoa puppet is multidimensional, acting as the focal point around which different performance-based activities and responses can be explored, across music, song, dance and theatre.

What's next for People's Paraoa?

As an idea for a final outcome, we discussed different local groups performing alongside the puppet during a night-time promenade through Whangarei’s Town Basin. One exciting engagement idea we had was to create individualised 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 Parāoa.

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 night time spectacle. Overall, the rehearsal and activities explored the multidisciplinary nature of big puppetry, Māori storytelling and the potential for citywide inclusiveness.

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Cast and Creatives

Co-Director and Puppetry: Ivan Thorley
Co-Director: Hayley Clarke
Sistemia Music: Fiona Douglas
Visual Artist: Leonard Murupaenga
Consultant and Documentation: Papanui Polamalu
Visual Artists: Arana Horncy and Victor Te Paa
Theatre Makers: Chris Schreuder and Rachel Pederson

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