Once a year the Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ runs a Sheila Winn Festival whereby secondary school kids in a school get together and select a scene from a Shakespeare play, and direct, design, costume and perform the piece at a festival. They have a lot of fun and it can push some of them in a career direction. Shakespeare is generally considered the genius English playwright, bridging the movement from an oral to a written culture in an Elizabethan age which saw the beginning of capitalism proper and a burgeoning individualism. Shakespeare articulated with a unique skill this Renaissance, one of the key moments in European history. It would seem a good thing that kids of any ethnicity, citizens if you like, can independently grapple with this cultural moment. Nor is it surprising that kids from Māori or PI cultures, with their lingering oral traditions, participate with enthusiasm (I once directed Hamlet with Jim Moriarty and Don Selwyn playing Hamlet and Claudius – they could improvise Shakespeare – but that’s another story).
This kids’ Shakespeare festival should be something that Creative NZ gently support? Nope. Assessors decided this year that the whole thing is an imperialist exercise, part of a continuing cultural colonisation. Rather than Romeo and Juliet kids should learn the story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai. But where’s the great play about Hinemoa and Tūtānekai? I’m sure there’s a Macbeth in tribal lore- perhaps Te Rauparaha, but where is the play? What about King Lear? Generally, Māori playwrights have been writing in the 3 act realist tradition. Let’s take this impulse into the other arts. Kids should not learn Mozart or Beethoven when there is Hirini Melbourne?
Are we suddenly living in Mao’s cultural revolution, with students encouraged to place a placard around Dawn Sander’s neck (who’s kept the festival alive for nigh on thirty years) and have her kneel and apologise? Has CNZ been taken over by a gang of four? Watch out Leonardo and Van Gogh, you running dog colonisers. Let’s rip up Gaugin especially. Let’s have CNZ’s little pale-pink book with the separation myth dotted throughout together with the karakia and whakatauākī to be read from the screen before each webinar. And let’s invent history. The apologists are quoted as saying that colonisers came with the bible and Shakespeare. I am aware of missionaries but had not realised from my own knowledge of NZ theatre history that there were theatre troupes wandering around the new colony performing Shakespeare in order to befuddle the locals. But if it is said often enough, I am sure the rewrite will become accepted.
There was this other good idea called Arts on Tour whereby one or two person shows could travel the small places, keeping some rural venues alive and country folk with a hankering to leave off the screen for a night, stimulated. Keep funding it? Nope, that’s presumably colonial as well. The venues are usually Pākeha run and you just turn up and pay at the door. They should all have a sign placed around their necks and made to apologise as well.
Meanwhile US cultural imperialism rages on 24/7 in every cultural area, including academic publishing. Have the gang of four noticed that? I’m thinking it’s time to pull the plug on this particular cultural revolution with its kiwi flavour. It promises all the dullness of 1950s insularity with knowledge reduced to ‘as you make your bed so do you lie on it’ (one of my adopted mother’s favourite sayings) and the sermon on the mount.
Anyway, our good leader has sorted this embarrassment, inveigling the money required out of the Ministry of Education. Try and get a teacher aide sometime, Jacinda.