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Manawa Ora: Stories from the Street | Nga Rangatahi Toa

Last night Nga Rangatahi Toa’s Manawa Ora: Stories from the Streets opened at the Herald Theatre at Aotea Centre.

It was the culmination of an intensive week between a group of youth, some fanatic mentors and all the support that an organization like Manawa Ora could provide. And you didn’t have to wait till the end of the showcase to know the entire audience would jump to their feet to give the rangatahi a standing ovation.

Stories are important. Told in their own words, on their own terms. Stories enable us to make transitions, acknowledge the past and look ahead to the future. This is what Stories from the Streets brings to the stage – both to its audiences as well as its performers and whanau. They say, unequivocally: we are here.

The hour and half showcase begins with each rangatahi opening with an admission, a desire, a fear; a process of identification that locates them in some context and their listeners. But really they don’t need that because their stories give everything and more.

And when it starts it does so in a big way. POW. The stories pour out. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, each unique and beautiful, supported physically through their mentors standing beside them – and displaying a wealth of talent across storytelling, rap, photography, curation, song-writing and dance. It is powerful, uninhibited and true.

As I watch these young people share their journeys I feel (as every other audience member surely does) that intrinsic pact that we make with the person on stage. That unwavering support, the desire to see them succeed, for themselves and their whanau; for us because we believe in them. And the unrestrained applause after each piece is proof that in that space for those 90 minutes we are a community. We are present. We are listening. We are responding.

During the Q&A that followed the performance one of the young rangatahi asked “Have you ever seen anything like this?” and the majority of the audience chorused “No”.

Why is this? Why are we surprised that our young people have talent; have the ability to make a difference, to walk in the streets with their head held high?

Nga Rangatahi Toa needs no further championing for the work it does, the evidence is in the fact that they have a 100% success rate in enabling youth to make positive transitions. But who is listening?

Last night Len Brown and numerous other MPs and councillors were present as well as whanau and friends. The decision makers are listening (let’s hope) but equally everyone on every step of the ladder needs to have access to these stories too. The cops, the wardens, the judges, the parole officers, the social workers – are they listening? The teachers, the principals, the education review officers – are they listening? The counsellors, psychiatrists, alternative education model makers – are they listening?

To review Manawa Ora: Stories from Our Streets requires more than a quick tick at the lights and sound (which are coincidentally excellent to the point we don’t even notice) and comment on set (great waka) and costume. It demands a conscious engagement that goes beyond a cerebral relationship with the work – these are stories from OUR streets.

These young people are performing themselves in creative and nuanced ways and they ask that we too, as audiences, step up and perform. Because when we get better at having the conversation, investing in these relationships and supporting young people, then will it be possible to see this work receive a standing ovation – not just on the stage but in the lives of these young people as they make their way in the world.

This is a work that demands those on both sides of the stage take responsibility. If you haven’t already, go along and make sure you take someone with you. More people need to say YES, to supporting young people telling their stories; to taking the theatre of our lives from the streets to the stage; to holding hands and widening the circle. More people need to see work like this. More people need to say YES.

#theatre #aucklandlive #showcase #manawaora