[Cherish Your Loved Ones]
Kasiano Mita, the creator and performer of Talofa Papa has cleverly crafted a unique piece which raises awareness of the vā that separates our multi-generations. We are greeted at the doors by Papa who is formally suited, dressed with a hat and hunched over, heavily leaning on his walking stick. Papa is warm and inviting and I am immediately drawn to his familiar energy. As we take our seats, Papa makes his way through the crowd and interacts with the audience, thanking each person for being here today while asking a few questions about singing and dancing (which I figure out is Mita’s way of deciding who to cast as his grandchildren, Mikaele and Sina – the show is very interactive and relies on audience participation).
Papa makes his way down from the bleachers and toward the table/chairs on stage. I’m in the fourth row and instinctively I want to assist Papa – but I don’t, and I still feel somewhat guilty. When he finally reaches centre stage, Papa welcomes us officially and it emerges that we as the audience are his grandchildren, to celebrate a special day. Having cast his favourite grandchildren Mikaele and Sina from the audience, we learn that we are there to celebrate Grandma’s birthday. So in preparation, Papa gets Sina to teach the audience to do basic siva Sāmoa, while Mikaele teaches us all to sing Happy Birthday in gagana Sāmoa.
As the show unfolds, Papa shares the story of when he first met Grandma at a social at a nightclub in Apia. Papa also tells us about a mu’umu’u which Grandma used to wear, asking Sina to wear it in honour of her birthday. The woman from the audience cast as Sina is hesitant, and reacting to the laughter from the audience as he pulls it out, she immediately goes red. Papa asks the audience to close their eyes while she puts on the dress. “No peeking,” he says, “that’s your cousin.”
Sina is asked to go and bring Grandma to the celebration. Sina, is now confused – and she approaches a woman in the 2nd row. Papa is almost furious at this point, telling Sina off for not recognising Grandma who is actually out the back, so Sina is whisked away, exiting backstage. Papa asks Mikaele to hand out a few party blowers to a few audience members and then invites them down on stage to join him. Papa then invites the audience to stand up and instructs Mikaele to lead the song as we await the arrival of Grandma and the final section of the show.
Fellow Pasifika reviewer, Cassandra De La Croix shared her thoughts on the show with me:
“His weaving of story telling and audience interaction typically represents the narrating and lectures we grow up with from our own papas. His beautiful lessons of cherishing the moments you have with your loved ones really resonates in a day and age of technology where visits to your grandpas and grandmother’s turn into messenger messages or face times. Everything is so instant and accessible as there is really no true effort to go out and make real connections anymore. Connection is a human need. He truly mimics that with the instant connection he makes pre-show with audience members as well as enforcing the importance of it when he mentions how we must prioritise even when we are leading busy lives.”
The show’s ending involves a dance and the performance of a monologue in gagana Sāmoa. It’s so beautiful, and well-earned despite some language barriers (for the other non-Sāmoan’s in the room). Having had discussions with non-Sāmoan audiences (who I’ve now adopted as my extended family), even not understanding what is said by Papa, they all describe the feeling of love and the vā we share as people.
Prior to opening night, I would have assumed that Talofa Papa would speak to a Sāmoan audience indicated by its title. However, in my experience of Talofa Papa on opening night in Auckland City’s Basement theatre, and judging by the well-deserved standing ovation from a varied audience (in age, race and gender), it speaks to many of us. I leave the show with the feeling and need to call my loved ones.
To Papa, Grandma, Kasino Mita and the team at Co-lab, I say fa’afetai, malo soifua and tālofa lava.
Talofa Papa is presented by The Co – Lab and plays at Basement Theatre till 16th March.