We heard that there is a new mask theatre performance coming to town and yes, like you we are so excited about it. Turns out the people behind the team, Mahuika Theatre Company, are mostly from Unitec and lucky for us, we got to talk and ask them a couple of questions about themselves and their upcoming performance, Leilani.

Who is Mahuika Theatre Company? How did it started?

Mahuika Theatre Company is a company made up of young female creatives of mixed Kiwi identity. Our main point of similarity is that we specialise in masked physical theatre. The company is formed at the end of 2014, where most of us graduated from Unitec.

We all have a passion for mask and we all desire to continue this craft that we had been working on with Pedro Ilgenfritz through our bachelor degree. We started off workshopping with 6 masks, some of which are used in our upcoming show Leilani. The workshops focused on character development. After a year of working with the masks, we found multiple characters for each of them. This is when we decided some of these characters needed a face of their own. We researched and created 5 more masks. We call the masks Aotearoa Dell’arte. Our family of masks is now 11. We use 9 masks in Leilani.

What are your goals?

Our goals after Leilani’s season is to tour the performance to schools and towns around New Zealand and then go international.

Photo from Stuff.

Can you talk to us about Leilani and the inspiration behind it?

Leilani is a story that came out from its characters, but the themes have a lot to do with us being a female company. We wanted to create something that has strong female characters who drive the narrative. Exploring the idea of family and where you find family were also part of this. We found ourselves inspired by the streets of Auckland.

Leilani is our story of your stories.

How long did it take to develop Leilani? Can you tell us a little bit more about the process?

The show has been through many title changes – 7 to be exact. The theme, concept, and storyline have been in development for 2 years but the actual time frame of development for our final concept for Leilani has been 3 months. We rehearse 5 times a week. The show is devised and some rehearsals consist of us sitting and writing. Other times, we will spend the whole rehearsal on the floor: improvising and finding the game. That’s the big part of our style in creating theatre and this means that we require a lot more from our actors than a “normal” theatre show would. We require a lot of time from them. The other is that we expect our actors to be the creators as well. They’ll have full ownership over the character they create. They don’t learn lines. They discover them and then together we write them down. Due to this process, the performances of our actors are incredibly authentic. It makes the process empowering but, at times, exhausting in the best way possible.

How does doing Leilani help you with your career?

Well, it’s a great first step to the theatre door to have our debut at Q Theatre and supported by MATCHBOX, Q Theatre’s development programme. It gives Leilani and our company the credibility and attention needed to give us a great start.

Photo from Stuff.

Mask is a big part of your company and we will see that with Leilani. Can you tell us how does using mask affects/influences your storytelling?

The masks allows us to go places that normal melodrama can’t. Through discipline, focus, and game, the masks open up an avenue of storytelling where the grotesque and “touchy” subjects are not taboo and where the wonders and love in the world touch your heart profoundly. The masks have a lot to do with our character development. All our actors have played with every mask and each created their own unique characters with the same masks. The characters that evolve are so strong that they become easy to write for. In short, the characters that have been created from the masks have essentially created the story themselves! I like to describe the characters we have created as free thinking characters. That means the actors could put on a mask and freely interact with the public instantly.

What can we expect from Leilani?

Leilani is our debut show and we are so proud to share it with you guys! There are 8 characters in it and they are played by 3 very talented actresses. You’ll be amazed by how many of these characters you do know. So come laugh, experience and see for yourself a new style of New Zealand theatre! The content is indeed brave, talking about family hardship, homelessness and some of the darker parts our New Zealand culture. Leilani is our story of your stories.

Leilani starts today up to the 13th of August at Q Theatre. Visit qtheatre.co.nz for more info and tickets.
Follow Mahuika Theatre Company on Facebook for more of Leilani and the girls’ upcoming projects.

Featured image from Mahuika Theatre Company. Interview by Miguel Efondo.