The Role and Politics of Race
I don’t think about my race on a daily basis. Like, I’m reminded of it by casual racism I experience day-to-day but it’s not something that stays on my mind, is what I’m trying to say. But lately it’s been a subject of discussion around my training.
I (along with other pacific islander students) was emailed the other day about how the “political nature” of my attendance and “what it means to the school cannot be ignored”. Which, if I’m being honest, feels like a bit of a bummer. It’s hard not to be annoyed at the fact that everything I do has to be political. And whilst I’m not personally in touch with my culture at all (never have been, it’s associated with a side of my family I’ve never met), I know that I’m holding a lot of people as both a pasifika female and the only pacific islander in my acting class.
The school has begun watching me more closely since my classmate, the only other pacific islander in first year acting, dropped out. So I’m like, the face of pacific islander potential which is kind of weirdly gross and way too political for my liking.
I know that my race will always be a part of who I am and is important for my work, which I am not ashamed of or trying to hide, but sometimes it feels like I was only accepted into the school for the sake of diversity rather than talent (even though I worked my ass off to be here). I hope that isn’t the case but, as was stated in the email, my race and the role it plays in my attendance here “cannot be ignored”.
All this being said, I am honoured to represent my race by coming here and working hard everyday. And I hope my being here opens the doors for other pacific islanders to come to Toi Whakaari in future, because I know that the school is watching me closely and I don’t want to mess this up for anybody else, let alone myself.
Beginning Semester 2 at Toi Whakaari
In about 9 hours I will be back to continue my training at Toi Whakaari.
This half of the year, to my knowledge, is more about applying skills from the first semester in creating two solo shows (one within context and another a product of our own creations). This is something my class has been super nervous about since the beginning of the year but the fact that we begin to develop these shows within the next few weeks is both terrifying and exciting, particularly because I remember watching the first year solo shows last year and now being there is crazy.
Speaking of which, we have like 40 prospective students coming in this week to observe our classes. The idea of playing role model is so crazy to me because we still feel very much new even though we’ve spent the better half of the year here as students. Which is weird because I remember being in their position, being very nervous and intimidated but curious.
Curiosity is something that I need to remember to keep playing with this semester! Creating working questions and exploring different answers and not being scared when I don’t get an immediate or clear answer.
Will keep you updated. Nervous and anxious but excited and feeling grateful! Xo
Thanks so much for answering my questions :) If i see you at the open week can i come say hi or would that be weird?
No problem! Totally come say hi :)
Dooes anyone have any advice for a small town girl travelling to a big city by herself with no one to meet her? i’d really appreciate some advice! [im going for 4 days to wellington, new zealand and staying at a hostel all by myself :)]
Yes! No doubt we will meet at some point during the week so hello in advance! Just responding to this text post because when I was in your position I had nobody to offer me advice.
- Pre-plan your transportation to and from the school. Last year I took a taxi to the school (expensive) and tried to walk back to my hostel and got super lost!
- Find things to do outside of visiting the school. Since you will be there for four days, there is a lot to see ands do in Wellington and is totally worth checking out
- Make sure you know your budget like for buses and food and tickets to shows and stuff! Plan how much you have to spend, on food especially (the days at Toi are pretty long and food is a must)
- Make friends with the people you meet during your tour and stuff so you have people to hang with outside of the school! If you get through to audition callbacks these friends will be invaluable
“A lot of crying and a lot of kissing”: A Reflection on Term 2 at Toi Whakaari
The last seven weeks has been the longest, most stressful and difficult weeks of my life. But in saying so, there has been so much learning during this time.
We had our first year collaboration project take place this term (performance whakapapa) which in itself was a huge challenge. We were put in groups corresponding to a specific theatre form of an historical period and to make a 20 minute show derivative of the principles and conventions of that theatre form. We had 5 actors, 2 costume students, 3 management / technology students and 1 design student. Our biggest challenge was out of class scheduling as the management students were required to work on the third year production and were barely available. Aside from this, there was a general disinterest among the actors, aside from myself and another female actor, who seemed to be organising the whole showing. These differences in priority were so frustrating because I honestly just wanted to everybody to care about the work we were making but you can’t just make your company care. You have to do the work yourself and hope the others fall into place eventually. I found myself organizing people, rehearsals and work way more than I wanted to and sometimes fell into that bitchy leader mode. Worst thing about that was that it was the only way to get through to people being lazy and I’m sure they hated me for it – but we got the work done in the end.
We ended up putting the show together in two hours on the Sunday before the Monday performance. Ironically, most people agreed that it was the most powerful performance of all the groups.
Over the seven weeks of this term, we had 5 different tutors. That’s a lot of adjustment and a lot of change, not only in what you’re learning but how you’re learning. All of our tutors (Brita Mcveigh, Miranda Harcourt, Jon Hunter, Vaughan Slinn and Christian Penny) require different things from us and so that adjustment (in terms of what to focus on and the offers we bring) alone has been both difficult and beneficial for us as training professionals who will (hopefully!) be working with a range of directors and coaches with different styles.
We also worked this term with our movement teacher Chris Jannidies in regular morning classes to create movement solos and with directing tutor Brett Adams in scene study, a class where we break down, analyse and work on specific texts. That’s a lot of adjustment and definitely requires a shift in energy and tone and context.
I’ve struggled particularly with my classes with Christian Penny, who is the school’s director and is wonderfully energetic, passionate and honest. He has been teaching us about PLAY through games and improvisation exercises. I have struggled with this because I often can’t figure out how to find validity in my offer or sometimes to even find an offer to make in the first place. Also, Christian sees a particular “thing” when he’s watching us work that I can’t yet understand or SEE and I don’t know how to make myself see these things. He says it is about time and exposure to work and listening to him but I get frustrated because I want to be able to see what he does. This block of work has been a huge amount of learning through its difficulty and I am grateful as always. Being inside of the work with Christian excites me and it is thrilling to watch my classmates work with bravery and risk.
We had to have a class discussion about our class culture and not being overly polite with each other – calling each other out on things and offering better critique. In order to better our learning as a group and being honest and real with each other, otherwise you’re not only hindering your own learning but theirs too and that is unfair. There was a lot about that discussion that I didn’t understand but I know it was valuable and our class is constantly improving.
Everyday when I wake up and I walk to morning warmups with Kanye blasting through my headphones I am grateful. I am grateful and blessed to be working with passionate people and I am both anxious and excited for the next semester to begin – even though I am thoroughly enjoying this break and its lack of early morning alarms.
For some unknown reason, success usually occurs in private, while failure occurs in full view.
Jill Shalvis, The Sweetest Thing (via observando)
I've been reading your blog and i have to say that i relate so much to you. Is that weird? oh well. but the thing is, i'm always comparing myself to others in my drama class. i feel like im not good enough. what scares me is that if i go on to do performing arts/acting, those feelings will be 48990x worse! And im a naturally shy person but i love drama! I really want to go to toi whakaari or NASDA, but im totally feaked out that if i get in, i wont do well 'cos i constantly need reassurance
hi! no that’s not weird.
honestly, i am in the midst of this course and i (and many others in my class) are still experiencing those feelings of not being good enough! i think that they’re natural unfortunately since new zealand has this tall poppy culture where we cut ourselves down so much.
it’s not that you won’t do well if you get in, i think (for me anyway —) that it’s about reminding myself that i got into the school, that i’ve earned my place, and to be content in knowing that. those feelings will come and go but it’s all part of growing that confidence as an emerging and growing artist.
it’s 100% worth auditioning, i didn’t think that i’d get in to any of the three schools i applied to but they all accepted me so you never know!
12th May 2014
today we finally received some feedback from an acting block we had months ago (!) and the part i’m sharing with you is somewhat testament to what i’ve discovered lately -
"…you began to focus more and were quieter and more attentive to the detail in exercises. this was exciting."
two words: small victories! his comment that i was focused and quiet are really exciting for me to read because i’ve been working on that recently. working on not having to make a big deal out of what i’m doing and just to focus and do what i’m asked. the victories, however small, are victories all the same. i’ve said it before but it’s so important and nice to receive feedback wherein i know that it’s working. happy.
Hi there! I'm in my last year of high school and I love acting and was considering attending Toi Whakaari, and I noticed you study there! I was wondering...what's it like? Do you recommend I go there or take a course at Vic Uni? It's just, some people say it's hard to get in and the audition is really tough. How did the audition work for you? Which modern and classic piece did you use? And for the singing can you use music? I'm sorry I have so many questions! Thank you for your time! ♡
Hi! Sorry for the late reply — I’ve been mulling over this message for a little while and even bought it forwards to my class mates to see what they thought. Please keep in mind that I am in no way an authority on this and can only speak from personal experience!
It depends on what you mean specifically by asking what it’s “like”. It would really help me help you if you get more specific on it :) In a general sense, Toi Whakaari is a demanding school and requires a lot from you emotionally, physically and spiritually but in the same way is very fulfilling.
As for whether or not you should go to Toi or Vic, it’s totally up to you and is dependent on what you want to do in future. I never actually considered Vic because my understanding is that you have to have a non-theatre minor? That’s not something I’m interested in because my focus and my time is invaluable to my professional practice.
I’m not sure if hearing what my pieces were will help you inform your decision because ultimately what audition pieces you choose say a lot about you as an artist, but for classical I did Helen of Troy from The Trojan Women and for modern I did a mixed extract from Krishnan’s Dairy which for me were totally bold choices. The auditions were crazy for me but I had done a lot of emotional and performative preparation and was as open as possible, which is an incredibly important part of any audition process. The first round of auditions were really intense because of the weight I put on it and the predation I put in. The second round were three days rather than two hours so that required a lot of focus from me personally but I guess I can go into more detail with you if you have any more questions about it.
No, you can’t use any music or backing track for your singing. That being said, we didn’t even get to the singing part in my audition as we ran out of time.
Anyway I hope that answered your (multiple) questions and if you have anymore let me know! Good luck xx
What I Want to Work On: Term 2 of Acting at Toi Whakaari
I’ve been staring at this computer screen for hours and am constantly switching tabs to avoid writing about the upcoming term. Not in a bad way, because I know that I’m lucky to be going to this school but I’ve been a bit shaken up lately in terms of my place in the school and I’m unsure about how I feel about term 2, so there are many things I want to work on which I’m sure will continue to change and evolve and grow, as I do.
comparing myself to others
I’ve mentioned on this blog before that something I struggle with in my craft is comparing myself to others and the work that they’re doing, the accomplishments that they’re achieving. This term I want to hinder that part of my brain as much as possible and focus on my own progress and goals because other people’s work is not relevant to my practice and drowning myself in self-pity over how they’re much better than me is not helping anybody, especially me and my work. Their goals and their focus will be COMPLETELY different to mine and we all achieve things differently and are working towards so many different things.
retraining my focus
Whilst I am quite a hard-working and focused person when I need to be, I think that it can be easy for me to lose my focus when other factors come into the equation. An example of this is in screen classes – at times I find myself avoiding getting to the heart of the work or doing my best because I am self-conscious about how I look on the screen. This term I want to re-train my focus and make sure that I always have my overall intentions and goals (either of the current class or my practice as a whole) in mind so I don’t go off track. I still struggle with self-consciousness but I have to keep reminding myself to put the work first.
I think part of retraining my focus is keeping to myself more in class. Not being like, anti-social or anything but properly absorbing the classwork and just doing the work without being too distracted easy by conversations or being overly social. I guess this means keeping out of the way too. As I said in my last blog post – small victories are still victories and I can still achieve these things without being overt or pulling focus from others.
not bringing my personal life/qualms into the room
A contract tutor, Brita Mcveigh, spoke to our class about how you don’t have to leave everything at the door and the importance of sitting in and through your emotions. This is true, but there are some parts of my life that I know I need to leave at the door. I don’t want to bring any negativity or grudges into the room. This wasn’t a prominent problem last term but is something I want to continue being aware of because at the end of the day I’m at Toi Whakaari to work.
keeping positive always
One thing that I am constantly striving for in both my work and my personal life is positivity! Positivity is a major part of who I am as a person and this can be lost a bit in the working space when you’re under pressure and the heat is on. This term I want to always have that positivity in my mind and to not let my anxieties or worries get ahead of me. What helps to accomplish this is putting things into perspective – i.e, that fuck up won’t matter in a year when I’ve grown more and it was just a mistake and everybody else makes them too. Positivity always.
being clearer on what I want
Last term I struggled with clarity and articulating my thoughts and ideas. I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of certain classes like CAP so I went in there feeling lost and confused. This term I want to keep thinking about what I want, what I am attempting to communicate and what relevance does this work have to my practice? These are all working questions for the term.
Wish me luck my friends as I embark on the second half of my first semester at Toi Whakaari. Xx