Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Kanohi ki te kanohi - Face to face: frameworks from tikanga Māori meet viewpoints improvisations, shocking the theatrical encounter into alive-li-ness

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posted on 2021-11-13, 20:53 authored by Ruth, Ann Mary

How can we make theatre that sizzles with life that is kinaesthetically and viscerally experienced? As artists in the theatre our work is to combat the falling back into the habitual. We need to wake ourselves up, to see anew, to respond out of the moment: not out of memory (reaching into the past) nor out of desire (reaching into the future), both of which produce what Peter Brook has famously described as ‘deadly’ theatre. How can we consistently produce work that combats these ‘deadly’ tendencies?   Further, can we create work that is simultaneously artistically structured or fixed, created within the moment so that artistry and improvisation combine? This thesis investigates structures derived from the rituals of the New Zealand Māori, combined with choreography arising out of Viewpoints improvisations, testing them out in the context of actor training, predominantly at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. Together they provide a framework for theatrical work that anchors actors to the present moment. They refocus performers’ attention towards purpose rather than performance. They allow the artistically structured to coexist with the improvisationally free, engendering a sense of pulsing life, a quality I am calling 'alive-li-ness'. They re-frame the audience-performer relationship, drawing the audience from observation towards a more participatory stance, where the performance becomes a journey undertaken together. This is a creative research thesis in which my own performative research underlies the critical and theoretical examination through a series of productions. Through them I am able to test out this thesis both in performance and on the rehearsal floor, forming the spine of the thesis.  I begin with examining theatrical improvisation, the form in which the future is genuinely unknown, the qualities that characterise it and the structures that support it. I explore a variety of forms and uses of improvisation, seeking the underlying attributes of improvisers at their most effective. I then explore the possibility of those qualities co-existing in work where structures such as an extant text and a fixed choreography are used, focusing firstly on the structures and qualities derived from Māori frameworks, then from those arising from Viewpoints. Finally I bring these frameworks together in a series of productions, testing their efficacy in relationship.  In combining these two approaches I have developed a powerful tool for creating performance that is immediate and visceral, the attention of the performer firmly anchored to purpose and the present moment, playfully, without self-consciousness or undue tension. In this approach the life engendered lies with the ensemble rather than the individual artist. These frameworks advance our understanding of ways in which this immediacy can be achieved within artistic structures and are shown to be transferable to other contexts. By following a clear sense of purpose and focus on the audience, giving precise attention to choreography and timing, the actor is freed from the siren call of memory and the equally seductive temptation to plan the future, and is thereby held in a precise and vital engagement with the present.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950310 Tikanga Māori (Māori Customary Practices)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


O'Donnell, David; Evans, Megan