Tikanga resolves conflict

Most collaborative projects face conflict at some point and if group members lack skills to deal with differences, creativity can grind to a screeching halt.

From left: Georgia Taylor, Trae Tiaki Te Roimata Tapu Ki Te Ata Te Wiki and Jessica Coppell play shepherds in Mystery Play. Credit: David Lafferty
A dissatisfying theatrical collaboration during Kathryn Harris’ undergraduate studies led the Theatre Honours student to devise a strategy that attempts to solve this problem by adapting principles of tikanga Māori, the general behavioural guidelines for daily life and interaction in Māori culture.

Under the guidance of Dr James McKinnon, Director of the Theatre Programme and Theatre lecturer Dr Nicky Hyland, Kathryn involved third-year THEA 301 students in research, incorporating a tikanga framework into their collaborative process as they devised Mystery Play, an original piece based on an adaptation of medieval English liturgical drama.

“Given the religious content of the raw material we felt this might be a lightning rod for conflict,” says James.

Everyday aspects of tikanga Māori were brought into the students’ process to build effective collaborative skills and relationships. This included a weekly hui (group discussion), to share perspectives and check in with one another. Students also shared kai (food) at least once a week, which helped strengthen social bonds.

“Creating a dedicated time to air any grievances or opinions meant that issues could be identified early,” says Kathryn.

“Interviews with students afterwards showed that the intervention was generally successful, but there are aspects we need to change. In hindsight, instead of giving the students a ready-made framework it would have been better to present the concept of tikanga and then let them develop their own protocol to promote greater ownership.”

James will present the research findings at the Performance Studies International Conference in Shanghai in July.