Kiwi incorporating Māori culture in Shakespeare hits out at decision to pull funding for school competition

A young man who got the chance to perform at the iconic Globe theatre in London is lashing out at Creative New Zealand's decision not to fund a school Shakespeare competition.

The Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand runs an annual competition where high schools across Aotearoa perform scenes from the author's plays. 

One Kiwi who got his lucky break is Mahanga Mitchell who travelled to London to perform at The Globe theatre thanks to the organisation. 

Mitchell is among those criticising Creative NZ's decision to decline the funding proposal of $31,000 which would go towards funding the centre from 2023 to 2025.

The funding was denied because “the proposal did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape". 

The proposal assessors went on to say "this genre was located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa". 

Speaking with AM on Monday Mahanga Mitchell said it was "criminal" not to fund the organisation. 

"I think it's a bit ridiculous. They've cut the funding to such a high calibre programme that sends some talented young individuals to the most famous theatre stages in the whole world and to strip them of that opportunity is criminal. 

"I don't think there's really any other opportunity for young creatives in New Zealand to shine as they do through SGCNZ."

While Mitchell said he understood Creative NZ's stance on Shakespeare, without the programme he would have never got the chances he has. 

"I don't think they're wrong in saying Shakespeare is colonial and it's not really a decolonise Aotearoa kind of buzz, but it's taken a young Māori boy from a small rural community in Northland, from a village with less than 50 people, to London and the other side of the world performing Shakespeare in the most famous theatre stage - the Globe - and I never thought I would be in a situation like that. I wouldn't have been without... SCGNZ." 

Mitchell said for him Shakespeare is the "universal key" to all performances and still has a place in New Zealand. 

"You could look at really any movie in like modern day times and you could relate some of the themes and concepts back to Shakespeare's original ideas. 

"They're so malleable in the way that you can just change the performance… everyone performs plays differently that's why there are so many versions of them out there," he said. 

Mitchell also said the group is putting young Māori and Pasifika kids on the world stage who are adding bits of their cultures to the performances already. 

"We do the most to include our culture inside of our performances… I've gone from taking Welsh dialogue and switching it to speaking te reo Maori on stage and when we went over to London, my one goal was that I wanted to incorporate some te reo Maori or some Māori culture into our performance and we did."

It's a view shared by Shakespeare Globe Centre of NZ CEO Dawn Sanders who told AM she was "gutted" by the loss of funding. 

"There are so many young people who have benefited. We've had about 120,000 students go through our festivals and other events and what they've gone on and done is phenomenal in all sorts of genres, the arts, as well as helping them with skills for general life and for other jobs.

"So it is a really misplaced decision and through a well-recognised playwright whose works live eternally in many countries."

Broadcaster and media chaplain Petra Bagust also criticised the decisions telling AM we can promote Māori culture without missing out on what other countries have to offer. 

"I absolutely love this country [but] it would be silly to think other countries in the world don't have wisdom and goodness and cultural to offer," Bagust said.