Interview with Rachel House

What was it like growing up in Kamo?

Like all home towns it had it’s good qualities and it’s bad. Hometowns are where you learn some difficult stuff so it’s always tied up with those memories and feelings. My parents were adventurous and liked cruising around in the weekends so in the 70’s and early 80’s we’d travel up north on those old metal roads in our big old holden car occasionally stopping to pick dusty blackberries gone wild or peaches from an overgrown garden of an abandoned house - classic 70’s stuff. We’d go to beautiful beaches that the north is so famous for like Matapouri or we’d go to Auckland to see the theatre or ballet. They had lot’s of friends all over the island and they loved to drive so we got out of Kamo a fair bit. When we didn’t my friends and I would go trapsing around what seemed like mountains but were just big hills. Walking- lot’s of walking and trying to get out of piano practice. Rollerskating round Kamo primary school and pretending to be Olivia Newton John in Xanadu is still one of my favourite memories. Oh to be a child again. I don’t think any home town is big enough when you’re a teenager. But ultimately- it was a pretty good place to grow up.

What is Nga Bro e Wha about?

The boys wanted to try something new so they’ve been doing lot’s of work on characters that interested them which we then put into a clear structure together. Tama comes in and goes ‘bang’ with the waiata shaping and contouring those and just generally being fabulous. There’s been a lot of cracking up and hoping you’ll all crack up too then cracking up because maybe nobody will and then reflecting on how bad that would be before cracking up again. But the story is a suprise. We want it to be entertaining and poignant as well. It’s new though so we’re looking forward to seeing how it works. My feeling is that the boys will keep growing it during the season and afterwards too. That’s the best philosophy you can have with a new piece. I love seeing that in action.

Why did you choose to direct the play?

Lot’s of reasons. I wanted to work with Teresa Brown the producer, Tama Waipara the musical director, Nancy Wijohn the choreographer, all the boys and being around all that music. Music which makes your spirits soar. I like mixing up the genres I’m involved in, it’s a great way to challenge yourself.

What is the main message in the play?

Love isn’t easy. Well, to me that’s the main message. A nice wide umbrella for all that may encompass.

What should we expect from the play Nga Bro e Wha?

4 handsome and charming lads singing their hearts out and it’s all for you.  We really hope you’ll laugh a lot or at least smile a lot and have a great night out. The boys really are gorgeous and cheeky but they are soulful too. We cover a few serious topics but with a lightheartedness that we hope gives you enough food for thought to reflect a little but mostly just enjoy yourselves and get lost in the music. My favourite songs are the ones full of yearning but there are plenty which are toe tapping pure enjoyment. And as I said before there is an element of surprise.

You’ve performed and directed many plays and films, what is the biggest challenge you face as Rachel House the person versus your character?

Oh my- that’s a huge question which I don’t quite know how to answer. For some reason the consistant battle of getting my 8 year old step daughter to go to bed popped into my head. All sorts of negotiation, strategy and fun and games is required- sometimes you do it really well sometimes you fail miserably. Finding balance is always complex.

African-American poet Maya Angelou once said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What would you like to be remembered as

That. Someone who made people feel! Isn’t she wonderful that Maya

You studied at New Zealand National drama school Toi Whakaari. Students with the same passion and drive as you are all in one building, what was the atmosphere like?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities, I know it’s a bit of a cliché but that was pretty much it.

Who is your favourite character you have played so far?

A woman named Tiriti after the Treaty of Waitangi from a Witi Ihimaera play called ‘Woman Far Walking’. She was the same age as the treaty so when I played her back in 2001 she was 161 years old. It was the closest I felt to my grandmother even though I didn’t know who she was until a few years later- I just knew that somehow she would come through for me and she did. Not long ago I went to her old house which is still standing in Temuka, there were earth floors, 2 rooms in total and just the basics. She raised a big family in that house and all that comes with. From what I know she was a strong, resiliant woman with a mischevious sense of humour- a lot like Tiriti. 

You have contributed over 20 years of your time and energy to the development of the Arts industry. What are some of the struggles New Zealand actors/actresses encounter to further their success? What are the issues we, the audience, don’t see in the background?

Honestly-  self belief, remaining steadfast and being very clear as to why you do it. We get rejected constantly in auditions, in reviews- we are constantly being judged, publically. All the while we just want to embody this character as fully as we can which requires staying open, living in the moment and doing justice to who these people are and not thinking about being judged or judging ourselves. Describing acting can often sound a bit pretentious but well…that’s another struggle I guess. That’s my experience of it, I would say it’s others. Like many people in all professions, work isn’t always consistant and when you have a family that’s even more of a pressure. Glamourous not. I’m not complaining because the arts is where I’m happiest and that’s what it comes with. Stories are essential to us as human beings for so many reasons and it’s nice to feel a little part of that.

You are of Scottish and Maori descent. You played the character Maraea. I remember watching the film for the first time and couldn’t help but feel pity towards Maraea. Not being accepted in both worlds because you’re not white enough or brown enough. She didn’t fit in anywhere. Have you experienced Maraea’s struggle as a half-cast yourself? If so, what was the most difficult aspect of playing such a relatable character? 

Sure I have. I will say that the most relatable aspect was her will to survive and most importantly for her daughter to survive and be accepted but the way in which Maraea executed that was the most difficult to swallow

As a Maori woman, what are some of the major issues you face in the Arts industry?

I’d like to think there will be more stories with central maori women characters. I can’t wait to direct some of those stories and see others stories. I get a bit fed up with people dictating what their belief is of what maori women are. We are not all the same even if we have much in common and that is something that should be acknowledged and enjoyed. We are protective of how we are portrayed and sometimes that gets in the way of the truth and sometimes the humour.

As a New Zealand actress you have portrayed various characters many Kiwis can relate to, what do you wish to portray to your audience?

Exactly that, do a good job of playing people we recognise. There is nothing more satifying than when people laugh or sigh in recognition and say “I know a person like that” or “I’m like that” or something of that ilk. Aristotle knew recognition to be key to that cathartic moment in storytelling and it’s absolutely true although he directly relates that to the journey of the characters it is true of the audience also.

As an actress you have encompassed traditional Maori art and infused it in to contemporary modern art which gives people an insight in to traditional Maori. How has your culture helped you in your journey as a Maori, a Scottish, a woman and an actress?

Yes, of course. A great question and one I could go on about but I don’t want to send you to sleep. Knowledge is a wonderful journey and a lifetime just isn’t enough. As I’ve got older I can definitely say that the journey is the best part- not the outcome. So I’ve relaxed a bit and started to really enjoy the ‘how’ we get there and the knowledge, old or new, that we need to do it. I’ve drawn on all those parts to start the journey and continue. 

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be and why?

Tenacious. It’s important to say that the word gives me strength even though I don’t think I always am it and in fact can sometimes be too reflective and full of doubts and a big scaredy cat. I strive toward that word to break through those others.

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