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Nina Nawalowalo | Choreographer, The White Guitar

Sharing Pasifika stories from the community back to the community drives the creatives of The Conch theatre. The White Guitar is no different and in conversation with Dione Joseph director Nina Nawalowalo shares the process and evolution of this personal story.

The work is on at Christchurch Arts Festival next week after its debut in Wellington.

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“It’s been amazing to see two brothers working together and their father sitting alongside them,” says Nawalowalo, “It’s been a healing but also a liberating experience – it’s not a story that’s necessarily told publicly.”

A carefully crafted performance that blends together the skills of Nawalowalo and fellow director Jim Moriarty with Oscar Kightley and John, Malo (Scribe) and Matthias Luafutu The White Guitar explores the consequences of addiction, violence and incarceration. But far more importantly, it highlights the value of choice and the power of having a voice.

“This is a story that reveals our relationship with hope,” says Nawalowalo, “It’s more than just verbatim theatre this a journey from the 50s until the present where our community and audiences will witness the beauty of this father and his two sons openly sharing their story – in doing so contributing to making change in a bold and brave way.”

It’s also a timely work that encourages reflection on points of crises and the choices that unexpectedly arise. As a story deeply embedded in the history of the city Nawalowalo and her team are deeply aware of how this story will respond to Christchurch replete with all its various complexities and multiple realities.

“The magic of coming to Christchurch and knowing the ongoing effects of the earthquake prompts us to ask ‘How do we look at the crisis of the city? The crisis of a family?’ How does one rebuild life?” These are the questions that have influenced the shaping of the work but they are woven into a much larger tapestry of sound, light, music and magic – a blend that delights both Nawalowalo and Moriarty.

“I love theatre and also the magic of theatre,” she says. “You can take an audience on a huge journey and I’m fascinated with making visual work. Questions of how you create that world working with illusion and magic but also text and storytelling require a range of skill and talent that I draw upon from the team who come together to share in the making of this story.”

The process has also been incredibly revealing. As Nawalowalo describes, “All three men wrote individually from their various locations: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and while Scribe and Matthias are writing from a children’s perspective; John is writing as a father and these multi-generational memories it’s given us a lot of choice into how we develop these narratives through imagery and music. It’s a fine balance of puppetry, illusion but also of how to put pictures around stories so that the journey is reflected back to those who have come to witness this story.”

And the space that The White Guitar will be premiered is also special. The Court Theatre has a committed Christchurch audience and to have a Pasifika work come into that space will bring in new audiences and actively contribute to placing the Pasifika narrative of Christchurch at one of the most prominent city spaces.

“This change is happening nationally,” explains Nawalowalo, “It has to do with where our work is and how our work is being seen and it will be special to come into Christchurch and share with the audiences here this story. It’s a very refined crafted piece of theatre that can stand up anywhere and through bringing extraordinarily Pasifika talent together and having a great creative team it can sit on the same scale as other large works and be part of forging that change.”