THEATRE: HOUSEKEEPING – COVEN’S ode to the hidden drag, trans, queer and gay aunties giving a 5 star service

Culture, Feature, Interview

“It’s finally my turn” says Princess AKA Gabriel Halatoa, gently brushing her chest with an elegance that presents itself to be a distinction of her as a writer/ director/performer. We’ve just finished our interview and she’s going back to rehearsal with COVEN, her collective. It’s the second to last Sunday before opening night and here, mid-winter at sunset tucked away at Kete Aronui in Onehunga, I am invited into their space and privileged to witness a snippet of Princess’ self-written, debut theatre production, Housekeeping; a seductively bougie, raw and touching reflection of being brown, divine feminine and a member of the  LGBTQIA community in Auckland City in the 90s. She says: “This has been meaning to happen for so long because I’m a child of the hotels – I was raised in the hotels, so this is the development of my first solo performance called ‘Purple Trees’ which is about my life as a hotel child and my mum raising me in the hotel and bringing me in.”

Housekeeping is Halatoa’s first attempt at a theatre show and a once in a lifetime audience experience set in the five star hotel scene in which Princess grew up. It’s beautiful in its rawness and dark in it’s truth – but one which couldn’t really be told by anyone else. From primary school years Princess remembers waking up at 4am on cold South Auckland mornings and travelling into Aucland’s CBD with her mother – who is still remembered and respected as someone who stood up for her staff and made sure her workplace was a fair one.  

What Princess has done, is what COVEN founding member and ‘house father’ Cypris Afakasi describes as, ‘kind of a weird flex’ because Princess finessed her script as if holding up a mirror to her reality; she let its reflection fall on her house sisters and now here they are, back at their Basement Theatre residency, sprinkling their truly magical powers onto the stage. It’s their energy you won’t want to miss out on. Housekeeping is for anyone who already knows about the magic of COVEN and for anyone still wondering what the fuck mercury in retrogade even means, this is for you too.

CHOREOGRAPHER: CYPRIS 

Cypris

Although you have done other works together this one in particular is a celebration of your bond? 

C: Definitely..it’s kind of like in a weird way, a little bit of a flex. 

There goes the title!

C: Princess did this thing where all the characters that are real people, she noted them to sisters in C O V E N who she felt were energetically similar and so just to watch it all unfold. They’re not always following their lines but their able to bring out parts of the character that are otherwise… the lines wouldn’t allow for. It’s really beautiful to see that happen and it reflects these real people as well as them which is something I haven’t been able to sit down and see before. I really appreciate that part.

Describe that flex, the feeling of writing your reality into a fictional work.
C: It’s a bit like when you’re going down the steps and it’s a bit creaky and you’re like I don’t want to step on any toes…. I don’t want to step on grounds that are shaky, I really want to respect these characters all of these feelings but in essence we have had to push it forward anyway and ask the questions after just to make sure we’re not making any of these characters too unreal.

What’s it been like working with your director Cas? 
C: Working with Cas has been amazing I haven’t worked with her in the director’s seat before  and it’s a total change like I’m loving all this big dick energy it’s lovely to have a manawahine at the forefront punching this narrative forward like a tautoko. Because she sees the world differently – from a point where the characters wouldn’t be able to see and when you put the cast in there she’s able to be like that’s unreal…She’s really good at snapping out those things. She knows and she really sees and I feel, in that sense of nowness, everyone’s got that. 

Housekeeping is Halatoa’s first attempt at a theatre show and a once in a lifetime audience experience set in the five star hotel scene in which Princess grew up.
Princess

DIRECTOR: CAS

Hi my name is Cas and I am co-directing Housekeeping. I’m a freelance artist and I have a full time 9-5 – I  also manage a retail store so, yeah

So this is your side, side love. 

C: This basically my love, this is my passion. I love this. It’s my first time directing so usually I’m on stage but I love to write and I also love to be behind the scenes on shows as well. 

Whats your fav part of the story? 

C: My favourite part of the story is just seeing them on stage as sisters and I think that’s like a big theme behind this is sisterhood so everyone can relate to just having people like that family outside of your family being there for you and I think that’s what’s beautiful to see when they’re all on stage together is that naturally they have a way of coming together and showing that sisterhood  – that’s probably my favorite part I don’t have a favourite section or anything but besides the dance scenes the dance scenes are really bomb. 

Next week is the opening hey, what do you hope audiences will take away from this work? 

C: The biggest thing I want audiences to take away is that I think just being there, being kind and being there for everyone, I think that’s a big message more now than ever, especially what’s going on in the world we are not just living our lives for ourselves but we all have a bigger purpose on this earth and that’s definitely to be a community and be together and be there for each other but yeah that’s a message I would love for everyone to walk away with. 

WRITER/DIRECTOR PRINCESS

From watching the rehearsal there’s a lot of raw, brown humor in the work obviously the contrast is that you’re in a bougie hotel which I love! Can we talk about being a brown person coming up in a bougie world like that?

P: Girl, all the secrets! Like if there’s any place for a brown person to move and not be seen and revel in all the secrets and all the brokenness of society and the white-hetero norms like the shiftiness of it – it’s definitely in Housekeeping like there’s no better place to have a proper eye into actual issues and shit

So you were around that from age five or six until adulthood?

P: Yeah, half my life and then I went off on my own, broke away from Housekeeping.

What did you do after when it was your time to leave your mum?

P: Mum kind of stopped working there because she had two younger kids and kind of like became a stay at home mum but before she did that she was hiring my friends which is Sandy in there, into Housekeeping, and so hearing more about sisters and their stories in housekeeping is still ongoing for me because mum’s still blessing my life and my sisters in housekeeping so yeah.

Queen.

P: Yeah

When your mahi offsets other people, that’s quite a victory story.

P: Yeah.

Has she seen this work, what does she say?

P: She’s very proud, because the stories actually gone through some changes one of my friends dropped out so she was playing mum – she was a very important character but she pulled out and so I had to change the whole story around so now it’s just a LGBTQI-strong story and I’ve pulled me and mum’s story out which is like a very heartbreaking for me because that was one of the narratives that the whole show was based on and so this is new territory for me, finding a way to be able to authentically showcase these stories  and not pull back on the authenticity.

I mean it’s such a unique upbringing, what’s your favourite part about having that perspective?

P: I guess maybe understanding where I stand. [The hotel world] …It’s so structured and so hierarchy and just understanding that these people [there’s a way in which] they think I should be, [mean time I’m thinking] ‘But you’re all shady and you’re all fake ass and so I feel like I’m above you’…So there’s nothing they can tell me to make me feel any less than I am and that’s from mum – I got that from mum, being able to see that.

Hold your head up?

P: Yeah like I’m better than that shit it’s all fake.

So you grew up going to the school from the hotel and you had breakfast and dinner …so what room service?

P: Yeah

Girl, tell me about room service!

P: Girll…. 

Haha that’s what I want to know …

P: Well ok, so mum because she’s the queen of the hotel I’d be able to get that, I’d have to come in at four in the morning, stay in a room have my cartoons turned on have like Weetbix sent to the room and toast and stuff because all her friends were the community which is like the LGBT community, they’re all porters and valets and pool cleaners and housekeepers and they’re all just coming up to the room like ‘Gabby do you need anything else’ and ‘here, I found some chocolates in the rooms’ and here, ‘this is for the bed in 302 but you can have it, here’.

And you said that was at the Pullman?

P: Yeah, pretty much just, all around…The different food and beverage staff, the housekeeping staff, they’d all just gel with each other. Especially the sisters and housekeeping would all be drawn to mum and that because she’s quite for the people kind of person.

This work will be a huge thing for community, seeing your lives retold on the Basement Theatre stage?

P: Yeah, it’s generational like I’m inviting all of mum’s housekeeping friends and they’re going to be seeing a younger generation and their take on them so I just wanna do it well, I wanna do it good.

How long have you been in  COVEN?

P: I am one of the founders, Mistress and Fang and myself founded it in 2015

Cause you guys as well, I just wanna get it right, was it FAF SWAG first and then COVEN?

P: FAF Swag were an established collective for awhile and then COVEN  formed later, same sisterhood but different collectives yip.

COVEN has that magic element too hey?

P: We are all practicing witches and a lot of our practice comes from cultural activation and fusing with our vogue and witchcraft so we do a lot of ritualistic things. Certain things I can’t talk about, but before we get into shows we have our ritualistic things we all gather with the full moon and we really charge and channel from our ancestral paths, we channel our islands and our bloodlines…Mistress is probably the best person to talk to because she leads us all in our spiritual journeys and stuff like that. 

The energy between you guys – there’s a realness I recognise. 

P: Because we’ve all trained and been a part of the Vogue scene me and Fang’s bodies are quite in-sync and so we’re the Legendary scene here, that’s the first generation Vogue scene.

You guys have carved something out for people that didn’t exist before? 

P: Yeah, absolutely. 

How does that feel? 

P: I feel like our people is where it’s born. We’re not the only ones doing it, I feel like there’s this rise in art and creativity and expression and voicing happening. I feel so grateful to be a part of that wave right now – it’s happening all at once, we’re just a small part but we’re doing our part. 

I mean there was a time not that long ago where brown content was actually hard to find, like not even that long ago…

P: Like less than 10 years . 

And it’s not just a brown story it’s uniquely like you’re not going to be able to find it anywhere else, kind of story.

P: This will be Coven’s first attempt at an authentic theatre show – our last one was quite experimental and borderline edgy whereas this is quite traditional theater, experimental, performance.

Who are your writing influences?

P: Victor Rodgers definitely if it was New Zealand writers – I really admire his storytelling,  (Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Club Paradiso, Girl Around The Corner), Rebecca Sugar – Steven Universe, I love me some anime shit.

How has humor played a role in your life because Housekeeping is hilarious too! 

P: I feel …humour comes from trauma… and so I feel like humour is what has made my life long friendships with each of the cast members individually. Everyone that’s involved in there I’ve asked like ‘Hey sissy, would you live to be apart of this’? And they’ve all been like: ‘Bitch. Yes’, so humour is definitely one of the things that has been a staple in each of my friendships with these girls. 

COVEN are a collective from South Auckland specialising in Vogue culture and performance art. Their roots as performers are in the NZ underground Vogue Ball scene, expanding out into performance art through activating rituals and ceremonies in galleries, book launches and academic symposiums. Some of COVEN’s most recent achievements include performing on the stage of TED Talks, appearing in Vice’s Underground Vogue Scene documentary, and being part of the award-winning Fafswag Interactive Documentary. COVEN’s members are Moe “Mistress” Laga, Jacob “Duchess” Tamata, Cypris “Fang” Afakasi, Gabriel “Princess” Halatoa, Logan “Honey” Collis, Sandy “Empress” Vukalokalo. And introducing Spencer Papali’i and Tekeepa Aria friends of COVEN


Get your tickets and RSVP to the show HERE

Interview: US PLACES’ Chloe Manickum on knowing her worth

Culture, Events, Interview

I love the whole different beauty and natural beauty – I’m not really keen to shoot people with Instagram eyebrows. I have nothing against it but that’s what I want to promote, what I find appealing and want to see more of.” Chloe Manickum is the owner and creator of Us Places a monthly club night held at Cassette Nine in Auckland Central. She’s also a photographer and creative director by day. We talk about how knowing your own self worth in the creative industry is a liberating feat, and once it is attained, a person becomes unstoppable.

CHLOE: I look at what they’re up to in the community and what they’re  bringing to the table, bringing to the world. I’m trying to get through this life thing while making as much positive impact now. Not just doing things to be cool or for money anymore – it’s so much bigger than that.

Photography is  – I didn’t even know I was good at it, I was just taking photos and then I was editing it and people were like ‘Oh that’s really cool‘ then one day I thought, I’m just going to try this thing out and my friends got on board and it just started snowballing.

It was super cool and now even my friends that have known me for a while know me as Chloe the photographer and I find that so cool like, ‘ Okay, that’s part of my identifier.'”

So that’s what I’m up to and just trying to build on it trying to create beautiful images of people just in the moment, in their element showcasing them and also trying to see myself through them. When people are like ‘Oh my god, I love the photos’ or ‘I didn’t know that was me’ I’m like, ‘Okay, my mission is complete’ you know, ‘I did it’. People acknowledging that now is so, so cool.

SERUM: Sort of like a signature?

CHLOE: Yeah, like my little impact on the world. It’s pretty cool to show life through my eyes especially because I’m not  a typical girl or haven’t been through like normality, so to show that disorder and craziness and uniqueness and sometimes what everyone is not doing that’s cool too. It’s so hard to be that person today to just stand in yourself and be like I’m cool, I’m loving I’m kind, I’m caring, I’m smart, I’m intelligent, I’m creative, I’m artsy I’m…whatever you know but to truly believe it, it’s pretty hard for people these days.

SERUM: Do you think, that’s potentially improving though in Auckland?

CHLOE: Absolutely, well I know for me and who I’m around everyone’s owning their stuff and there’s definitely a shift and I can see the fake aren’t lit anymore – genuine, authenticity that’s all a seller. You don’t really need to sell that you know it sells itself and it’s so easy to spot. The energy is just so infectious for someone who loves themselves and is doing it for the right reasons. You can just feel people with agendas so easily now and I feel like they’re just getting left behind and it’s everywhere it’s like in all the cliques or groups or whatever and I think that’s really awesome because it’s like yeah, we’re not tolerating it anymore.

SERUM: You would have had to wade a bit of that starting out right?

CHLOE: Little things when you starting out you now like not even giving me photo cred type thing like come on I didn’t charge you or anything for it like you need the content – it’s that common decency thing.

SERUM: How would you say those experiences shaped you as a creative and how would you describe where you at now?

CHLOE: It definitely taught me business is business  even when you’re with your friends business is business and people who respect that are people that I wanna work with. Even little things like cancelling on you, it’s like some of us are really out here putting our time and effort into it and the shoot is not just the time that we shoot it’s also preparing everything for it, getting everyone together  – all those sort of things and when you realise how much goes into it just for that one shot – I think it’s a whole new appreciation of it.

To have people that are like-minded and appreciate punctuality, also being open-minded and able to collaborate with other people, being a team – those are all so important to make beautiful images or content or share  stuff.

I learned how to filter through the clout chasers, it took a lot to be like actually I’m not going to charge you for my time I’m going to charge you for my worth because I know what it is and I know what I’m bringing to the table.

I feel like once I was like that in myself, I attracted a lot of people who appreciated that. I definitely believe if I’m not up to a shoot or something I just know the pictures aren’t going to be good and if I’m not into the person or something I think why even do it? I’d rather just focus on people who share a common goal or mindset.  

SERUM: With everything that’s happening now within Auckland’s creative community Us Places is definitely a strong presence for people to see positive change being implemented. What’s the Us Places’ mission?

CHLOE: I was given an opportunity with Cassette Nine to host DJ nights once a month so I was like let’s find the cool bedroom DJ’s and the kids who have the drive and ambition and the talent and let’s give them the platform lets show that’s it’s not just a select few that can represent New Zealand, they’re everywhere – on the streets so fashion forward and smart and creative and crazy and its mind-blowing. It’s like I wanna be associated with you, you know, you got that drive it’s fresh it’s new and when they come and perform they’re like ‘Oh my god this is my first show’ and there’s a packed-out crowd for them and people are bopping even though they don’t know their music; it’s just so fulfilling to see them in their element.

 I’m feel like this is why I did this and also to collab with them and get to know them. I want to be a part of the community and I love that I can give this opportunity to people. Whoever does want to [perform] please let me know, I have this and it’s not just for my group or my friends it’s for everybody – it’s not just a hip hop thing if you love what you do and you’re actually doing it , yeah hit me up let’s make it happen.

Check out the next US PLACES gig:

Photographer: Kate Jenkins for International Women’s Day

Culture, Feature, Threads

S E R U M  blog is about women everyday but what better way to celebrate the official day than to feature a bad one. International Women’s Day is a public holiday in some countries – Cuba, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Zambia and Kazakhstan to name a few. In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood. Kate Jenkins, content creator at Red Rat in South Auckland is our woman this year. I asked her about being young, female and in charge in 2019, here’s what she had to say:

What do you do?

Photographer. Stylist. Hair & Makeup.

Where do you work?

Red Rat Clothing but I still do freelance jobs on the side.

What do you love about your job?

EVERYTHING. Everyday is different, working with people and being able to inspire are the biggest perks though.

How do you feel about equality, would you say you’re a feminist?

I 100% believe in equality and I’d like to say I identify as one but I actually hate the word as I believe it leads uneducated people to believe it means females first – I prefer the term equalist.

What makes you feel empowered?

Being able to dress how I want, act how I want and work where I want.

What is your view on the word ‘bitch’?

I believe it depends entirely on context and how sensitive a person is, I like to think I’m quite open minded and that it isn’t always used in a negative manner so it hasn’t been intended to offend. But everybody is different and reacts differently so in my opinion people need to keep that in mind when communicating.

What’s your fav album right now?

I basically only listen to seshollowaterboyz, Lil Peep, wicca phase springs eternal and Blink182 nowadays. (I’m an emo kid that never truely grew up) Hahahaha. But this week I’ve been listening to the Bones x Ross Dylan album a lot again, its called SongsThatRemindYouOfHome (Bones really doesn’t seem to like space bars).

Follow Kate on INSTAGRAM.

AFRO/KIWI IDENTITY – BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE STORYTELLERS

Culture, Feature

The Storytellers is a research project executed by author, event manager, researcher and creative director of the website Africa On My Sleeve, Makanaka Tuwe. Now living in Morocco, Maka has been running projects for years. This one in particular began as a university requirement for her masters qualification, but grew to become an intrinsic bond between the nine young Afro/Kiwi women involved; exploring ways to shift the mainstream narrative of African people and perceptions of them, the answer was to become the storytellers themselves.

Maka says “Over a period of two months The Storytellers and I met on Sunday afternoons and what was a creative research project soon became a space of healing, seeing ourselves reflected in our worlds and a safe space were we could unravel. Through the creation of content we produced visual outputs that explore and share the experiences of third culture identity, African representation, being a woman of colour, black love, cultural heritage, colourism, tokenism and intersectionality within African identity.”

PROJECTS:

Dancer Chanwyn Southgate produced a piece in tribute to Brenda Fassie, a South African musical legend; photographer Synthia Bahati asked what does an African look like? In her project Huemans of Africa; a song by singer/songwriter Laila Ben-Brahim called Our Heritage addresses feeling pride in one’s genetic make up; #BLACKGIRLDIARIES explores what happens when being different affects you negatively by Tadiwa Tomu;
mixed race Rita Wakefield writes an essay asking ‘What Is Blackness’; ‘A Weak in My Life’ is a body of poems by Mwangileni Kampanga; there’s a series of memes by Adorate Mizero called ‘A Reflection of the Diasporic African Millennial’ and Rumbi Tomu a focuses on Black Love .


“On the food chain of life it goes white men, white women, black men, black women.” – Makanaka Tuwe.

MAKANAKA TUWE – PHOTO BY SYNTHIA BAHATI.

RESEARCH INFO:

“This research is aiming to provide an impetus for researchers, policy makers and those interested in African development to start exploring different participatory and alternative methodologies to countering the issues that come with migration, identity and representation for people of African descent in the New Zealand context. I begin the exegesis with a personal narrative I wrote as a reflexive diary entry during the research process. The decision to begin Chapter One with Home but never Home was to highlight the reality of navigating life as a woman of African descent in New Zealand and the conversations I engage in about identity and belongingness.” Download Maka’s research HERE.

Go behind the scenes with S E R U M and T H E S T O R Y T E L L E R S photo shoot/interview processes below:

PROJECT EXCERPT:

LAILA BEN-BRAHIM – PHOTO BY SYNTHIA BAHATI.

“For a long time I felt ‘stuck’ between living in western societies norm and following the path of my cultures. Unfortunately, society made me feel discouraged to be who I intrinsically and biologically am. I was trying to mould myself into someone I wasn’t just to fit in and feel ‘white’ – for lack of a better word. Eventually, the more I grew, I started to learn more about my culture, heritage and customs and realised that in order of representing who my family and I am, I would have to stand out at times. I wouldn’t need to wear my hair straight to school or eat promptly with a fork and knife. Some people took my dad’s broken English and heavy accent to mean ‘welfare’ or ‘refuge’, when I saw it as intelligence and wisdom. My brother would even simplify or change his name so people wouldn’t overlook his CV or just to make it easier for people. My dark-skinned friends and I would be labelled at school as the troubled kids and be disciplined without having done anything wrong. Women in my family who wear cultural clothing in public would be labelled, ridiculed, mocked or stared at when they were innocently walking through the city. I am now at a place where I am 100% proud to be a Moroccan-Samoan Kiwi. The values I learn from each enable me to grow, I feel like I have roots when before I felt discouraged, ashamed and a little lost. I love celebrating everyones differences from the inside to the outside because with difference there is no learning, growing or understanding.This song is about finding my love and appreciation for my heritage and culture in my early adulthood.” – Laila. Listen to her song HERE.