Lorae has been a leading force not only in creating New Zealand content for theatre viewers over the last 30 years but also for pushing boundaries and raising the voice of women and queer people in this forum. Lorae was the first woman to take a writers residency at Victoria University in 1994, and this year, her 11th play was a finalist for the Adam Play Award.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending the staged reading of Scarlet and Gold a few weeks ago, held as part of Circa Theatre’s 40th Anniversary celebrations. The reading showcased many talented, Wellington performers, including Carmel McGlone, John Phelong, Isobel McKinnon and Lorae herself. The performances that were shared in this simple staged reading were already powerful and full of humanity; many of the actors will be part of the production later this year.
Lorae describes the process of writing the show as spanning several years and involving research and re-inspiration, with the help of her nephew, about what she initially thought was perhaps “not much of a story”. Lorae became inspired to write Scarlet and Gold as she discovered more about her great uncle Bill Parry, who was one of the founders of the New Zealand Labour Party. Bill began his working life as a miner in Australia and eventually sought more freedom and change in New Zealand. Inspired to improve working conditions for a notoriously high risk profession, he became the first independent Union representative for the mining men in Waihi – a small town on the East Coast of the North Island.
The story of Scarlet and Gold follows Bill and his wife as well as several other, fictionalised families, many of whose members Lorae describes as an “assimilation” of real life figures. These families are the human face of the Waihi Miners’ Strike of 1912, and within Scarlet and Gold, show us the modern relevance of this struggle. The script covers the events leading up to the strike and the violence and injustice which followed. A piece of New Zealand history which marked an early refusal to adhere to the class oppression which many of the working class immigrants had sought to escape. The miners of Waihi demanded better and used the political vehicles of Unionisation and Socialist ideals to create the change they wanted. Lorae’s reflection on this event from our past, shines light on the move away from unions that our country has taken in the last 40 years, as well as reminding us of the force collective action can be.
Having contributed much to New Zealand Theatre in the way of female and queer stories over her career, Lorae is once again motivated by a desire to create work that showcases the quieter voices in society and that is relevant to the political climate of the day. In this story, she has raised the voices of the women whose families we’re affected by the strike. Lorae found that it was these women who lead much of the campaign against the ‘Gold Bosses’ when the miners themselves were jailed. The play focuses on the struggles of the working class Irish and English immigrants of Waihi; struggles which speak to the values of bravery and resilience held by many New Zealanders. The fact that guts, trust and strength brought every single one of our Tipuna – Maori, Pakeha, Asian, Polynesian – on the long voyage to New Zealand, is a motivating one. Seeing some of their stories in a human context, through the magic of theatre, can help us to connect to our inherited strength as New Zealanders.
Within Scarlet and Gold, there is a touch of the Maori community who also inhabited Waihi at the time of the strike, seen most poignantly in the opening Karanga. I can see great potential for this presence to grow as the production is brought to life. It is perhaps more important than ever to be hearing a Maori voice in stories like this because of overwhelming evidence that Maori and other minority groups bear the brunt of these struggles today.
Motivation for change and re-invigoration of the fighting spirit which came out in the Waihi community at the turn of last Century, is something Lorae, Kate and Jan hope to achieve with the 2016 production of Scarlet and Gold. Like them, we feel both consciously and unconsciously the undercurrents of struggle in our communities today. As many New Zealanders receiving benefits from the government (Student, Disability, Job-seekers) cannot meet their basic needs; as both private and public housing becomes unaffordable; as low income earners are punished rather than supported; as the housing bubble continues to grow too big for its boots and the economic “pop/crash/bangs” experienced in the US and Europe become more and more likely here. A play like Scarlet and Gold, that does not let us forget both the structures that aim to profit from our ignorance and fear, as well as our power to change them, is a gift and a necessity.