Analyse the performance of ‘How Maui Tamed the Sun’ in its use of dramatic languages, conventions, drama practitioners and cultural perspectives. Evaluate in terms of Theatre in the Making, your performance.
The play ‘How Maui Tamed the Sun’ is an adaptation of the traditional Maori legend known as ‘Maui and the Sun’. Legends in the Maori culture are significant as it explains how the ancient Maori people identified themselves so close to nature. This is seen by the legend of the creation of the world where everything descended from the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. Thus, all elements of nature evolving from this primal pair, the ancient Maori associated themselves so closely with nature. This adaptation of the Maori legend follows the journey of a demi-God named Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, the son of Taranga. He was cast away into the ocean by his mother, who thought he was a stillborn child. The seas took him to an ancient ancestor, Tama-nui-ki-te-rangi (in the play he is referred to as Tamanui). Tamanui trains him until adolescence. Maui yearns to find his family afterwards and sets out on a journey to find his mother. He comes across his family who are sceptical at first, but soon welcome him as they realise he is one of them too. This adaptation then takes the direction of Maui wanting to take his grandmother, Murirangawhenua’s magic and powerful jawbone. It is an example of Maui’s trickery as well as his handling of power. After he cunningly tricks the jawbone from his grandmother, the story moves on to how the Maui and his brothers are complaining about the sun (Tama-te-Ra) and how it moves too fast across the sky and tasks cannot be completed. Maui plots to slow down Tama-te-Ra by using flax ropes. The brothers accompany Maui in his endeavours. The capture the sun and Maui beats it with the magic jawbone until the sun is weakened and promises to slow down. Here ends the legend of how the sun was slowed down to give more time in the day. The prominent theme from this play is how even the most powerful elements of nature can be opposed by the actions of man. This theme is reinforced in the play. Maui thinking that he is a brave warrior who is very sure of himself, defies the warnings that other people throw at him (although, eventually, this is what kills him). Through his determination, man/Maui himself/itself accomplished many things: Maui persists in convincing his family that he really is the last son of Taranga; he continued to taunt his grandmother in order for power; he, with the aid of his brothers, manages to slow down the sun. These are examples of the determination that Maui shows. It is with this determination that Maui goes on to undertake the tasks that he does.
In the carrying out of this play, several different conventions… etc. First, physical theatre was prevalent throughout this play. The Viewpoints developed by Anne Bogart were one of the prominent styles of acting used. The Viewpoints consist of manipulating the body in terms of physical theatre by using: Kinaesthetic Response – spontaneous physical reactions to something/impulsive movement; Tempo – rate or speed at which a movement occurs; Duration – how long movement occurs for; Repetition – repeating a movement; Spatial Relationship – distance between objects on stage; Architecture – the physical environment in which one is working/how the awareness of environment affects movement; Floor Pattern – pattern created as actor moves throughout the given space; Gesture – movement involving parts of the body; Shape – the contour or outline made by bodies in the space. These were present during the performance of the play. The actors were required to use their bodies to represent abstract ideas. Initially, to deduce what sorts of movements would be used, the idea was presented and spontaneously reacted to. For example, in scene one, when Tamanui is teaching Maui about the world, actors had to play the roles of “the world”. Forms taken were of trees, birds, fish and the sky. This also required ensemble work. Also, scene four was entirely physical theatre. Scene four was the weaving of the flax ropes required to capture the sun. Actors would take on the character of a piece of flax and would symbolically come together to form a flax rope. This was achieved by contorting the body through the core to appear plant-like whilst moving around the stage space. To make up for lack of apparent noise, sound effects were created by the actors, “sss, sss” and eventually in the coming together, this sound was repeated in unison. Once again, ensemble work was required to execute this successfully. Another convention used for this performance was Epic Theatre by Bertolt Brecht. “Epic Theatre is the term used generally to describe Brecht’s theory and technique.” Epic Theatre is characterised by having dramatic episodes as a “disconnected montage of scenes, non-representational staging, and the ‘alienation effect’.” It also involves the implementation of song and dance, puppets, screens and having a functional set, most of which were used in the production of this play. With Epic Theatre, Brecht wanted to constantly remind the audience that they were watching a play. In this play, the scenes were disconnected episodes of drama in that the play starts from Maui’s birth and upbringing, to his taking of the Jawbone, and then the beginning of the complication of the sun until the final battle. The preceding scenes, although each are separate in their meaning and events, set the scene for what is about to come. Also, song and dance, puppets and a functional screen were all used, as well as a narrator. Although generally with myths, narrators are very useful. Narrators are also a part of Brechtian technique in Epic Theatre, especially a narrator that gets involved. Narration is also done with song and dance in theatre, however in this performance it was used to highlight the cultural aspects of the play. Another aspect of Epic Theatre present was the usage of puppets. An effigy was used to portray the character of Murirangawhenua, Maui’s ancient grandmother. Using this puppet gave a distinction in the changes of characters. This was particularly helpful in that there was a limited amount of characters and several roles had to be played by the same people. The set that was used in this performance was a simple constructivist functional set. It was set up using boxes and a screen. This was functional in that the screen was used for costume changes and the boxes were used as a support and storage for props. Initially, before the screen was put in, the boxes were used for costume change. However, this wasn’t practical and screen was added and was more apt for costume change. These were the prominent Brechtian techniques used in this performance. As well as using Epic Theatre, elements of Kathakali. Kathakali is “the classical dance-drama of Kerala, South India”. It is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world, originating in the 17th Century. Traditionally, Kathakali uses extravagant make up and costume, however, the main element of Kathakali used for this play was their symbolic movement. In Kathakali, specific hand gestures have certain meanings. These hand gestures were adapted to work in the play. In the scene with Maui’s transition to becoming a warrior, the other actors in the background used Kathakali hand gestures to put across a meaning. The hand gesture was to have only the index and middle finger up together and have the hand turned inward, while the other fingers were closed in. This, in Kathakali, symbolises “the fruit of a tree” and is called the Kapidhakam. This was chosen as a symbolic representation of Maui’s growing up. Also, the basic Kathakali stance was used throughout the performance. In the beginning song, the actors adopted this stance: feet parallel, distanced comfortable with knees bent so they are aligned with feet and arms relaxed. This stance was also used in the transition scene of Maui becoming a warrior. The conventions and styles of Viewpoints, Epic Theatre and Kathakali were used in this performance of How Maui Tamed the Sun and were effectively executed.
Techniques used in this play were derived from dramatic practitioners. The first practitioner from which techniques were used was Anne Bogart. Anne Bogart moved to New York City.
The main perspective in the performance of How Maui Tamed the Sun was a cultural perspective. The ancient Maori culture was featured prominently throughout this play. The play depended heavily on these cultural influences as they were the basis of the legend and aided in the writing of the play itself. Using the traditional Maori names for the elements like the sun (Tama-te-ra) and the sky (Rangi) helped to reinforce the cultural perspective on the play and even gave background to the audience as to the origin of the myth. Initially, a Maori fighting technique was decided upon in the duel scene between Tamanui and Maui. This technique was called mau rakau and involved the use of a taiaha. Mau rakau is a martial art of stick fighting. The sticks are called taiaha. The taiaha are used to produce short and sharp strikes at the opponent or a stabbing thrust. However, this was adapted to the play and replaced with the Japanese technique of Kendo. Kendo is similar in its usage of weaponry and has similar striking patterns. However, as part of Kendo, sound effects were added to build to the tension (of conflict) in the scene. Actors on the side would take on the role of onlooking villagers to the duel. They would produce a low hum and a yell each time the sticks broke contact. This was repeated three times and each time the hums and yells would get louder and higher in pitch so as to increase tension. Although Kendo technique was used, the weapon, taiaha, was kept to reinforce the Maori aspect of conflict. Also, the usage of the flax ropes to create the net relates back to New Zealand and the Maori. Traditionally, New Zealand flax was used for weaving things such as nets, mats, baskets and also for artistic weaving as well as having medicinal properties. Also, in the actual performance, the actors had traditional Maori make up applied. Facial tattoos for all of the actors and Maui had arm tattoos. This is also a cultural aspect in that the Maori facial tattoos were like life stories. Each tattoo had a specific meaning in terms of that person’s life. However, the make-up for this play was more stylized for culture than the meaning. Also, in terms of costuming, handmade skirts were made. These skirts were made to represent the ‘skirts’ that Maoris traditionally wear. As well as implementing direct cultural references, aspects of Maori theatre were used. This was in the form of song and dance. In the opening of the play, the song ‘Tutira Mai Nga Iwi’ was sung by the actors. This gave an immediate cultural link to New Zealand and more specifically, the Maori culture and was essentially providing the cultural backdrop for the audience. By effectively implementing these techniques, the Maori culture was prominent throughout the execution of this play.
In terms of Theatre in the Making, the execution of this play can be evaluated. Theatre in the Making deals with the processes undertaken before the performance. These processes involve taking on different roles to make the performance come together. First, is to become the role of the dramaturge. The dramaturge researches aspects of the play beforehand. The research could involve cultural aspects, theoretical influences, and the “world surrounding the play.” With Maui and the Sun, most of the background research was cultural. Aspects such as Maori and New Zealand theatre were examined. This was so that in preparation for the play, the actors all had knowledge of the culture and typical theatre type they would be dealing with. In terms of theatre, the aspects of ceremony and ritual were found to be prominent as well as the usage of song and dance to convey a story to the audience. Also, aspects of make up and traditional costumes were investigated. After thoroughly researching these points, they were able to be put into practice. It was decided to incorporate the singing and dancing at the beginning and the New Zealand Haka at the end. For make-up, the actors would have traditional facial tattoos drawn on. Although in Maori culture each tattoo has a meaning, these were drawn on purely for stylization purposes and as a cultural reference. The costuming was decided upon later on in the process. After the first few readings of the script and deciding of who would take on which role, the acting started. This performance was mostly self-directed, with minimal input from the teacher. The rehearsals started with the blocking of the most difficult scene: scene five, the capturing of the sun. Initially, the movements were improvised in the sense that the actors spontaneously reacted to the words in the script. Although, the positioning of the Narrator in these beginning stages was not very effective. However, after frequent rehearsals the actors were able to sort out the positioning for all the characters in various scenes and the Narrator was moved to the back. When directing the actors, often it was difficult to regain focus after pausing to take a break or anything similar. However, when focus was regained, the work following was productive. Even when directing, all the actors contributed ideas to improve the play. This ranged from set ideas to acting to props and costuming. In terms of set, after it was decided to move the Narrator to the back, a simple functional constructivist set was created. Using multiple boxes, a set of bongos and a screen, the set had been created. This also kept up with the Epic Theatre convention in the use of a functional constructivist set. As well as practical, it served another meaning in terms of status by having the Narrator at a higher elevation than the actors. The screen was functional for costume changes and character exits. It also provided a solid background for the Narrator to stand in front of, thus having focus directed at that point when needed. When the attention was pointed towards the actors, the screen simply became a part of the set. During the process of taking on the role of characters, the actors were able to implement another Brechtian technique: presenting characters in such a way that they are narrating the actions of characters. However, this was not executed in full. For this performance, the actors did take on the role of their character, but also narrated their intentions and actions in the play. At first, the actors were not able to be act in an uninhibited manner. However, over time, with the aid of physical theatre warm-ups (based on the Viewpoints), the actors were more uninhibited in their acting. Also, another Brechtian technique used was to perform as several characters. Actors had to distinguish to the audience clearly a change in character. By having to accomplish this, the actors’ dexterity was challenged in terms of being able to play different characters. However, this was achieved by using facial masks, change in posture, change in voice, change in props and usage of puppets. Furthermore, the sound effects were all acted by either voice or props. For example, wind was created by using voice and whistling and a heartbeat sound effect was achieved by the use of bongos and rhythmically beating hands upon the stage. This heartbeat sound was further emphasised by the tapping of two sticks (later used as taihaha) together. This was done by the character of Tamanui. The audience gets accustomed to Tamanui as being a character with certain props: the two taiaha sticks. Props used were also used to identify characters. The effigy used was a significant example of this. The effigy was used to create the character of Murirangawhenua. It also provided for a smooth character change. Other props used were items like buckets and plastic food. These were used in the same scene as the effigy and were used for the sole purpose of being used as props. In Epic Theatre, props should either be symbolic or the real object that needs to be used. A more symbolic prop used was a ribbon for the sun, Tama-te-ra. This ribbon was symbolic of flames being flicked out. Also, this prop gave the character of the sun a larger stage presence as was needed. This was achieved by using large elaborate swishing movements. By doing so, power was symbolised. After the Sun’s defeat, these movements became minimal, thus showing a decrease in power. At first, using the ribbon was difficult as the actors would accidentally stand on the ribbon or get caught up in the movements. But with constant practice at rehearsals, the ribbon was accustomed to and worked to successfully achieve the effect intended in the final performance. However, something that wasn’t intended in the final performance was a costume malfunction. Previously, it was decided to create replicas of traditional Maori skirts by cutting up newspaper into thin strips and attaching them at the waist to a plain black costume. This idea was not trialled beforehand and was used only in the final performance. During the first scene, the skirt on the character of Maui had been torn off due to having to act along the ground. This wasn’t a major issue and was subtly cleared to the side. From this it could be learned that a full dress rehearsal with the newspaper skirts was required. However, only two other characters did not wear the newspaper skirts with blacks: Tama-te-ra and the Narrator. Each character had different costumes from the rest of the actors. The Narrator had blacks and blue-green skirt to resemble the natural elements of New Zealand.