Loose Canons: Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Raised in Rotorua, Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho (Te Arawa/Tuhoe/Tuwharetoa) recently became the Auckland Fringe Festival Director. He is Kaiwhakahaere of Taurima Vibes and core whānau member of both Te Pou Theatre and Hobson Street Theatre Company. He directed Dominion Road The Musical (2017) and The Race (Auckland Fringe, 2018), and has held a variety of other theatre roles as a producer and actor. As well as his work in theatre, Borni is an advocate for positive social change and the role of arts in supporting wellbeing, and runs Atawhai, an annual mental health awareness festival.
Whānau has more than informed my mahi, it’s influenced almost every facet. We’re incredibly close, and every aspect of myself that I bring to the mahi is informed by my whakapapa, how I was raised, the relationships I have with my mum and my dumb siblings, their children and the wider whānau that I get to walk alongside. I left for Europe for the first time when I was 19. The last thing my mum said to me, as I was running away, was, “Remember who you are, remember where you come from.” I still hold on to the essence of those words in my mahi to this day. They are my rock and I wouldn’t be in this very position if it weren’t for them.
TRAVEL AND MIMS
When I took my first flight, I flew to Europe on an airline that still had a smoking section and played Airport as its inflight movie. Yep! Air travel has changed A LOT since then thank god, but what hasn’t changed for me is the excitement I get from landing in a new place and experiencing something for the first time. Whether it is an ice hotel in Quebec or walking through a lavender field in the south of France. Seeing the world afforded me so many amazing experiences to draw from. The human condition becomes so multifaceted when you get to view it in multiple contexts. I embrace change and new experiences, and find myself constantly in awe when I’m somewhere new. When I arrived home, the first major theatre experience I had was helping on the first inception of Raising the Titanics, by Albert Belz. I had just decided I was going to pursue a career in the performing arts, and I was surrounded by powerhouse professionals. One of the defining moments for me in deciding to continue acting was standing in the wings (as a dresser/general dogsbody) watching Miriama McDowell embody her multiple characters like they were sunscreen that she could just wipe away as she walked off the stage and reapply as she entered again. It was mesmerising. I saw the work she put in beforehand and how effortless it was when she was able to surrender to the moment… So, I guess this is less about travel and more about adoration for my friend!
I lived overseas for 22 years and before I arrived home in Aotearoa I had a good life: beautiful whare, lovely location and amazing friends. But something always felt a little bit hollow. Once I started getting used to being back, I knew part of the hollow feeling had been no real connection to home. It wasn’t until I started working alongside my friends at Auckland City Mission and the Hobson Street Theatre Company that I understood what the final component was. I had rediscovered joy in performance but mahi didn’t have a deeper meaning to it. I found it with the Hobson Street Theatre Company whānau and it helped me to build a deeper understanding of where I wanted to place myself in the arts industry of Aotearoa. I quickly understood that not only did I want to, but that I was also equipped to forge relationships and walk alongside communities. Ultimately working with groups who wished to uplift their own authentic voices using the arts as a vessel for communication. I believe in taking action towards positive social change if possible, aiming to change negative perceptions of ‘othered’ communities and creating opportunities to shift problematic conversations. I’ve had a lot of awesome learning in the past ten years. I re-entered university, took employment in the mental-health sector, did some theatre work, had to be on the unemployment benefit and even slept now and then! And luckily for me, it all led to doing some of my favourite things to date, with some of the coolest peeps I’ve ever met.
Music is a part of my DNA. Māori, we’re born into it! Long before I even thought of being entrenched in the performing arts industry, singing and music were what fed my soul. I’ve had some bloody cool musical experiences in my travels. I lived in France for two and a half years. One of my best friends played five instruments and we jammed on his balcony in Aix-en-Provence constantly, he taught me a lot about blending styles. I got to sing acid jazz vocals for a French house DJ in Melbourne, was with an awesome gospel choir in Sydney and sang some mean karaoke almost everywhere that had a pub karaoke night! But incredibly one of the best things music allowed me was an external view of acting and performance. I’ve discovered acting is about embracing failure, learning from it and moving forward. I had a really hard time understanding that (and so many other concepts, when I first started out) but one of the pivotal bridging kōrero for me was with my brother. He was driving me to one of my first dramatic auditions. I had no idea of subtext whatsoever and he said to me, “Subtext is like music, it’s what you’re trying to convey through the music, not what you’re actually singing.” BOOM! My mind was blown!! Mainly because I FINALLY understood something and realised it wasn’t going to be a total loss. Phew.
Language is a funny, powerful thing! Certain words command very specific feelings, thoughts and reactions. For me failure is one of those words. To fail is to lose. To lose is… bad. BUT! What if we took a step back and decided to view that word through a slightly different lens? How about we not only talk about failure, but talk about the benefits that not trying to attain perfection might bring? We're rarely taught the flipside of failure! The word is full of bad connotations. We can learn to understand that everyone has the power to measure their own success, and from this perceived idea of ‘failure’ fall so many things we get to learn from. From not achieving what we believed was perfection or not meeting (sometimes ridiculous and self-imposed) high standards can flourish learning and celebration of self-discovery. It can be a tough learning journey; it was for me. When I first began acting and producing, I was afraid to offer any ideas in case I was wrong, was judged and failed. The first time I let myself go it was bloody horrendous but I eventually learnt to embrace the chaos! Am I saying don’t try for your best? Don’t be stupid! Try your hardest, work your arse off and do your best, but don’t punish yourself if you don’t meet expectations on the way.
Auckland Fringe Festival runs 25 February – 7 March 2020. Check out the programme here.