Source: Ara Institute of Canterbury
Learning Te Reo has enabled Tania Gilchrist (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tuhoe) to create a richer, more satisfying career – and life. With the confidence she gained from completing the Bachelor of Māori Language and Indigenous Studies and the networks she developed while at Ara, she has been able to immerse herself in the world of Maori Theatre.
Gilchrist is clear that theatre is where she belongs. “I am a theatre practitioner, which is to say in many ways I create my own work,” she says. “I have worked as an actor and a director in Māori theatre and I hope to be writing for Māori theatre as well as continuing to create theatre works in collaboration with other Māori practitioners.”
Tania Gilchrist in the Māori language play He Kura e Huna ana at the Court Theatre. Photo credit: He Kura E Huna Ana at The Court Theatre.
This was not the case however when she first began studying towards a Certificate of Māori Language Course at Ara. She was driven then simply by the desire to “get serious” about learning her native language. She’d met Te Puna Wānaka tutors at an Introduction to Te Reo Māori course delivered at Burnside High School. But she wasn’t ready to commit to tertiary studies and worked as a PA to a neuroscience educator for a couple of years. Then at an open day for CPIT (as Ara was formerly known), she met TPW tutors again and took the plunge.
That’s when doors started to open.
“It was while I was at Te Puna Wānaka doing that course that I received the opportunity to appear at the Court Theatre in a Māori Language Play. I loved that work and through that I realised then that theatre is an amazing platform for the transmission of Māori language and culture.”
The play, He Kura e Huna ana, was written by Ara tutor and Kapa Haka expert Hōhepa Waitoha, who encouraged his students to audition. Gilchrist got the part of the mother and enjoyed a successful Court Theatre season, then the play toured to the North Island this year.
Gilchrist, now determined to work in Maori theatre, decided to take her Te Reo skills even further. “I realised that while my certificate course had given me some basic conversational Te Reo, if I wanted to continue working in Māori theatre I would need to improve my proficiency and develop some further skills, so I signed up for the degree programme.”
During the next three years of study, Gilchrist not only polished her Te Reo, but also developed a deeply personal and professional knowledge and appreciation of cultural practice, which the TPW family of tutors and students lived and breathed on a daily basis.
“The thing I love most is the cultural immersion. Being able to learn and study in a Māori cultural context has been life changing. Being able to speak Te Reo and to navigate the intricacies of Māori culture has prepared me to contribute to the revitalisation of the Māori language and to participate in an industry that I love.”
By the time Gilchrist graduated from the degree, she had worked for The Court Theatre, for Taki Rua Theatre Company and as a member of Te Whare Tapere o Rākaihautu, a Māori theatre co-operative based here in Ōtautahi. She was also connected to the wider community, which she says was a highlight of the programme.
Now she is looking to work as an actor, director or writer, but there are so many opportunities, she says.
“Reo speakers are sought after in many fields, Māori theatre especially and not just for actors. All aspects of Māori theatre require strong Te Reo from costume and set design to lighting rigging and stage managing, marketing, administration, graphic design…the list is endless.”
A simple urge to learn her language has led to personal development, new skills, a rewarding career and valuable connections. Certainly the future looks bright.
“The skills I learned at Te Puna Wānaka, the networks I am part of because I am able to bring those skills to bear doing work that I love, and my confidence now in participating in Te Ao Māori, mean that I am able to create a life for myself that is rich and rewarding and truly my own.