“What are you reading?”
My first instinct was to say the business section, but that felt too obvious. I went with, “Real Estate.”
“Are you buying a house? Hasn’t the character just bought one?”
It was late in the rehearsal process. It must have been because I remember we were on the set in the theatre. The play was Fallow by Whiti Hereaka. In it, a married couple, Faith and Christian, celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in their new home with a few other friends. As I remember it, the set was made up of three different sections: the interior of a house, a deck and a garden. My character Christian was on the deck by himself, while in the garden beyond his hearing, the focus is on a scene between Faith and her cousin. For some reason, the director had chosen this late rehearsal to dig a little deeper into the details around my character’s action. It’s one of those moments that feels a bit random. Back then I used to think directors were purposely trying to catch me out. The lawyer cross-examining the witness, trying to pick holes in their testimony. The reality was I had made the choice to read the paper weeks ago, back in the rehearsal room. Beyond not wanting to draw focus away from the scene in the garden, I’d long forgotten the reason why I’d made this particular choice. So, I was making up the details on the fly.
“Actually Hone, it was through looking for this place that I’d started to think about investment properties. There’s money to be made by buying cheap in high demand areas. You don’t have to invest much capital. Desperate people will live anywhere”. The answer was delivered without hesitation and perfectly captured the character. His focus in life, the means he had at his disposal and his attitude towards other people.
Looking back, I guess the reason that moment has stayed with me after fifteen years is because it was a win. Not a win over Hone. If you have ever been part of a Tawata Productions warm-up with Hone Kouka as your director, you know how competitive the warm-ups get. Any win over Hone is to be cherished. No, the win was not about that warm-up rivalry. Neither was it a win over the cross examining of a director, even if I was reading the sports section. Probably the real reason why Hone asked about it. No, this win has stayed with me after all these years because it felt like it was the closest I came to nailing the character. For me, Christian has always felt like the one character that got away.
You see, in the casting of Fallow Hone had decided to cast two of us against type. James Ashcroft and I were given the opportunity to extend ourselves as actors and play outside our comfort zones. James was cast as Evan, a character I could have played in my sleep back then. Evan was a university friend of both Faith and Christian. At university and since graduating, Evan had pursued a hedonistic existence of booze, drugs and parties. While my opportunity was to play the career, money and family-focused Christian. The character James would’ve have nailed without even breaking a sweat.
When I look back at my almost decade long body of work with Tawata Productions, the constant is the opportunity to extend myself. Most roles as an actor ask you to extend yourself one way or another, otherwise you’re just playing yourself, but with Tawata Productions the opportunities have always felt more conscious, more purposeful, more direct. Like being offered my first directing job with I, George Nepia. It excited and frightened me in equal measure but just as it had done in the past with acting roles, the opportunity gave me a chance to learn something about myself. I learned there was something I loved more than acting, and that was directing. I am still one of the select few who’ve directed a Tawata Productions play written by Hone. It was a real gift, one that changed my life, but I would say it is still not the greatest challenge or gift Tawata Productions has given me.
The one role that felt most comfortable ended up the one that extended me the most. Philomel in the play TŪ was a character I loved playing, so it was hard the day Hone and Miria sat me down to explain the role would have to go to someone else. I had no leave at my disposal at RNZ where I was working and try as they might, they just couldn’t schedule the rehearsal around my availability. They were both very considerate, kind and gentle in breaking the news. They gave me the chance to assistant direct and I was glad to be able to stay involved. However, after missing out on playing the role I kept asking myself, what do I want? The answer lay in the fact that I needed to push myself outside my comfort zone once again but this time the push had to come from me. It was time I took everything I learned from the opportunities I was given and put it to the test. So, I decided to move home to the largest, most expensive and most competitive theatre market in the country, Auckland, and attempt to start my own company.
Now as I look back at the two characters of Evan and Christian, it is Christian I feel like I could play in my sleep. Don’t get me wrong, family and career have always been a focus for me, and I haven’t all of a sudden become driven by money. It was playing a character who grew up with such privilege that I struggled with back then. My time back here in Auckland has allowed me to recognise my own privilege through; the opportunities I’ve been given, the growth I’ve undergone and the means to be able to keep pushing my boundaries.
Image Credit Matt Grace
Fallow by Whiti Hereaka, World Premiere Season October 2005, Gryphon Theatre, Wellington.
Jason Te Kare (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui) makes theatre through his company T.O.A. – Theatre of Auckland. He grew up in G.I., moved to Wellington for his first paid acting gig at 18 and didn’t come back for seventeen years. He’s been a freelance director and actor, drama producer for RNZ, associate artist for Silo Theatre and a member of the Arts Programming team at Auckland Council.
When Jason’s not eating in lockdown, he’s developing (among other things) his left hand basketball dribble.