17 Mar 2015

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Pacific playwright follows her sister to Hawaii

Auckland playwright Makerita Urale has been selected as the 2010 recipient of the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency, and departs next week to spend three months working on the first draft of a new play entitled The Heathen’s Way at the University of Hawai‘i. In doing so, Makerita will follow in the footsteps of her younger sister – filmmaker Sima – who in 2004 was the inaugural writer to take up the same residency.

Makerita’s 1998 black comedy Frangipani Perfume was named one of the top ten New Zealand plays of the decade by The Listener in 2000. It is studied at New Zealand schools and universities and has been toured nationally and internationally.

Where Frangipani Perfume focussed on the struggles and dreams of three immigrant sisters working as office cleaners, Makerita says The Heathen’s Way is at the other end of the spectrum and focuses of Pacific Islanders who have ‘succeeded’ in the Palagi world.”

The play will be based entirely in a university setting – “the highest place of learning in Western society”– and performed in university lecture theatres rather than conventional Mainstream theatres. “In this setting I can explore the social dynamics of today as more and more Pacific Islanders enter and achieve in higher education and adjust to the Western world,” says Makerita.

“It is about Western knowledge, values and learning balanced against cultural knowledge and cultural ways.”

Makerita says she hopes to benefit as much as her sister Sima did from the same residency. “She really loved writing in a new place without having to worry about paying bills for three months.

We’re both in the same boat as full time artists, freelancing to make a living, so the residency in Hawai‘i is an incredible opportunity to just write and write. We both understand that a good script is the seed to all good productions in theatre or cinema.”

The Urale sisters’ love of storytelling began during their childhood in Savai‘i, Samoa. “Mum and Dad forced us to do our schoolwork and made us a small library at home,” explains Makerita.

“We had no TV, so in the evenings Mum would read aloud in Samoan, to our whole extended family, classics like The Count of Monte Cristo. This gave us all a love for books and stories.”