16 Apr 2021

Curtain call for legendary actor Rawiri Paratene

From Checkpoint, 5:55 pm on 16 April 2021

It is curtain call for legendary actor Rawiri Paratene. The Whale Rider star will be the first to tread the boards at the new auditorium of Aotearoa's only independent kaupapa Māori-led theatre venue, Te Pou.

It will be his last show. After overcoming three strokes that left him with language impairment, the actor will bow out of a 50-year career with a play reflecting back on his life on stage and screen.

Paratene has become a household name as an actor, a producer, director, and writer. He has paved the way for many artists after him. Best known for playing Koro in Whale Rider, and for the nostalgic kids' show Play School, he's also toured the world with Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

After the strokes, Paratene said he is a lucky man.

"I didn't know what had happened… I was very lucky, because since then I'm part of the stroke club.

"[Paratene's brother] said: 'Words. That's who you are, that's what you do.' That's true, and I said: 'No, there's more. There's more to me than that. I've always been positive."

Peter Paka Paratene opens at Te Pou Tokomanawa theatre on Friday. It's a story about Rawiri's life.

Rawiri Paratene onstage for Peter Paka Paratene at Te Pou Theatre.

Rawiri Paratene onstage for Peter Paka Paratene at Te Pou Theatre. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The artist, originally from the Hokianga, hopes audiences will enjoy getting to know how he came to be the person he is today.

"It's about my life, especially my mahi work, my work life."

Tainui Tukiwaho is directing the show. He said working in a Māori-led space with Paratene had been a humbling experience.

"We did this show, I think it was 2017. So when we came to doing it again I had a preconception of what I thought the show needed to be, which was the script that Paka had written for us.

"I was wrong, because as I sat with Paka and realised, or had a better understanding of aphasia, that I can't expect the show to repeat. I can't expect Paka to be the person he was prior to his strokes and aphasia. And he doesn't expect himself to be that either.

"I hope our audience comes in and sits there and watches our koro being brave, diligent and powerful within the new space that he's occupying."

Rawiri Paratene onstage for Peter Paka Paratene.

Rawiri Paratene onstage for Peter Paka Paratene. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Amber Curreen is kaihautū taha whānau at Te Pou. She said the tūrangawaewae of the theatre is a special place of tino rangatiratanga and is where Māori sisters can belong.

She said the opening of the new auditorium would give life to new works by Māori who could dream bigger in a larger space.

"For me, having a new whare that also holds all the wairua, has mauri of all the work that's been done in it before, is really special."

Paratene himself has his sights set on new endeavours, as he enrols to complete a Masters degree.

He said it was time to pass the baton to the next generation.

"And what beautiful, amazing, brilliant young people we have."