Metro sat down with award-winning playwright and the inaugural recipient of Victoria University's Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence, Leki Jackson-Bourke, to talk about his upcoming residency, the play he’s putting on with the Auckland Theatre Company, why he writes - and who he’s writing for.
Now in its tenth year, the Auckland Theatre Company’s (ATC) annual HERE & NOW youth theatre festival provides invaluable experience for young people keen on working in theatre. More than 200 aspiring actors, writers, directors, designers and crew aged 15 - 25 will work alongside seasoned professionals and established artists to put on three new works at the end of this month.
Award-winning Auckland playwright Leki Jackson-Bourke has written a new piece,The Gangster’s Paradise, one of three plays to be performed at the ASB Waterfront Theatre during this year’s festival. It’s a tale of gangs, drama and redemption, set in a fictitious South Auckland high school with echoes of West Side Story. The main character, Jayden, will be expelled unless he gets enough NCEA credits, and he can only get those credits if he joins the drama club. “It’s a clash of different worlds,” Jackson-Bourke says.
The clash of worlds (his own young, mostly brown world and the ancient, mostly white world of theatre) is a common thread which runs through Jackson-Bourke’s work and part of what drives him to write. The 27-year-old recalls chatting to “two young brown kids” on the bus once, and asked them about their drama classes. They told him they were studying Shakespeare, but they didn’t get it and they felt dumb. “A lot of these kids don’t have access to theatre, or they don’t think it’s for them.” With his plays, Jackson-Bourke is trying to get a Pasifika audience used to being the target audience: “knowing ‘oh, this was written for me’.”
Pacific cultures have always had storytelling as a platform - it was just never called theatre. If Pasifika youth could embrace theatre as an art form, it would open up a new and powerful way to tell stories about topics which might otherwise be hard to broach, Jackson-Bourke says. “Culturally, in our Pacific culture we don’t talk about stuff and everything’s swept under the rug, and not speaking to our elders [is normal] because it could be considered rude to talk back or ask questions. So it’s giving young people a safe space to vent and to know it's ok to have problems and to talk about stuff. That’s why I do theatre.”
He insists he’s not out to save the world, but Jackson-Bourke is definitely trying to change it in his own small way. Of Tongan, Niuean and Samoan descent, he was in September awarded Victoria University's Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence, which he’ll head down to Wellington for in July. “Now that it’s approaching I’m quite nervous. I know it's going to to be a great experience and I’m going to be well supported, but I want to make sure I do the best I can because of all the people… and the communities I’m representing.” He hopes his time there is successful so the residency continues and thereby carves out an ongoing space for emerging Pasifika voices to develop.
Before heading down for an intense three months of writing there’s still the play to put on up here in Auckland. He’s a big fan of the opportunities the ATC HERE & NOW youth theatre festival provides, saying the experience young people gain from working alongside theatre professionals and being so heavily involved in the plays’ production is invaluable. “It’s an awesome platform.”
HERE & NOW Festival 2019
ASB Waterfront Theatre
26 - 30 April
For more information, including tickets to The Gangster’s Paradise, click here.