Leilaini / Elephant Publicity
There’s something about masks that fascinates many people. The idea of being able to become someone else – to hide who you truly are the instant you put the mask on – can be incredibly alluring at times.
While it’s an art form that has existed for centuries in almost every culture around the world, it’s one of the more classical forms, the Italian commedia dell’arte, that forms part of the inspiration for a new show with an all-female cast coming to Auckland.
The other inspiration: 21st-century Aotearoa.
The Mahuika Theatre Company will debut its first show, Leilani, at Auckland’s Q Theatre on August 4. Using eight half-masks representing eight Kiwi stereotypes – just as commedia dell’arte depicts 16th century Italian stereotypes – the play takes a look at modern society by following the story of Leilani, a young Kiwi-born Samoan woman for whom life is going well until she is left heartbroken and finds herself homeless, friendless and expecting.
Actress Irasa Siave, who plays Leilani, spent time in Italy studying commedia dell’arte in preparation for the role.
Playing Leilani is a challenge for several reasons, she explains.
“As soon as you have that mask on your face, there’s no hiding your body language,” she says.
“It’s incredibly honest.”
Siave says Leilani is someone who is naïve, “incredibly trusting,” a romantic, and very high-energy.
But bringing her to life, she says, has been a rewarding experience.
“I’ve really had to find that character within myself.”
Working with the all-female cast of Leilani has been an empowering experience, Siave says. She says it’s even more empowering when one considers the cast were not selected by director Pedro Ilgenfritz because they were women.
“It’s not even [that] he chose these actors because they’re all female. He chose them because they could do the work.”
And “the work” is something producer Gracie-Rose Kay says there’s been a lot of.
Leilani has been in development for about the last two years, she explains.
But she says bringing to life the story of a young woman that many people could relate to has been well worth the toil.
“We are strong, independent young women having a good crack at theatre,” she explains.
“We feel like now is the time to take it to the world.”
But first, she says, the world will get to witness what Leilani is all about.
Siave, Natasha Daniel and Amy Karaitiana – who all met while training at Unitec – play a total of eight characters, with a script which was developed by revered playwright Gary Henderson. Leilani asks audiences to take a real look at 21st-century Aotearoa, sometimes in uncomfortable ways.
And is it feminist? For the answer to that, Siave says one needs to look at the definition of feminism.
“Equality for all. It’s pretty simple. And I think it’s highly misrepresented in society.”
No matter how one defines it, it’s safe to say Leilani sounds pretty kick-ass.
Leilani runs from Thursday, August 4 to Saturday, August 13 at 7:30pm at the Q Theatre Loft in Auckland. Tickets are between $15 and $28 (booking fees may apply) and can be booked at qtheatre,co.nz. There are no shows Sunday and Monday.