Featured in Capital #83. Subscribe to get the real thing here.
Hone, the theatre maker who puts himself through the hoops.
After working with performers for the first time in two years, playwright Hone Kouka is exuberant, high on the energy of sharing space with other theatre makers, in the city he called home for 30 years.
Hone moved here from Dunedin in 1988 and lived in the central city. “At that time far fewer people were living there,” he says. The warehouse at 62 Ghuznee Street became an artery in the city’s creative scene, housing actors, artists, writers, and musicians. “Some arrived for a week and stayed for six months!” The collective Roots Foundation, the precursor to Fat Freddy’s Drop, was among many notable residents. Hone punctuated his theatre-making and study with late-night swims at Oriental Parade, enjoying plays at Taki Rua Theatre, and football matches “and the accompanying southerly” at Athletic Park.
The project that’s consumed him of late is Ngā Rorirori, which translates as “The Idiots”, at Circa Theatre from 18 to 25 June. The first work he has written and directed since 2015, it is a farce with dancing, music, audio-visual projection, and spoken word. The story follows a two-person iwi that discovers it has claim to a huge tract of land worth millions.
The last piece he wrote for theatre, Bless the Child (2018), painted a harrowing portrait of the child abuse epidemic. “There were things I wanted to say and get out of my system at the time.” For Ngā Rorirori, he’s drawing on an earlier work for inspiration: 2015’s The Beautiful Ones, which had dancers, thumping electronic music, and an audience dance floor.
This lighter approach came from Hone’s survey of the theatre landscape during the pandemic. “My colleagues all felt so battered. It was difficult to come to terms with, so I asked myself, ‘How can I bring joy to you?’” Farce and satire seemed a good vehicle for this, allowing humour into the thematic elements: Māoridom, capitalism, class, and what he calls “marae bureaucrats”.
Aside from the upheaval to the theatre world, much has changed in Hone’s personal life. In 2018, he and partner Mīria George moved from their place in Khandallah to Ngongotahā, where her family live. They live close to the lake. “I’m really happy. There’s space for my basketball court, and a beautiful back lawn that gets turned into a cricket pitch by the kids.”
They return to the capital often, for the two organisations they run here: Tawata Productions, which is producing Ngā Rorirori; and the Kia Mau arts festival. “We find it creatively enriching to come back. We put on our Wellington clothes, get into our Wellington mode. I think you can miss that good stuff when you’re grinding there all the time.”
As for his creative process, Hone admits he’s a night owl. “I can write late on the couch watching a basketball game, or I make a playlist and play it continuously and just write to it.” The first draft for Ngā Rorirori took 10 days. He sits on his ideas and ruminates, sometimes for years, before putting pen to paper. “Mīria will see me dancing around the kitchen and say, ‘You’re working on your play, aren’t you?’” Only when the idea is fleshed out, and partially acted and danced out, will he begin writing.
He says a recent Zoom reading through the script with 20 other playwrights reinforced the aspirations he had for the show, and his optimism. “Getting the joy into the work, and into the making of it, is really important. It’s good for our health and our wellbeing as artists.”