Rawene residency changes the script

A month spent in the Hokianga as the first-ever creative in residence at The Church – Rawene has rewritten the script for Auckland-based playwright Geoffrey Clendon.


Geoffrey Clendon smiles as he looks at the camera.
Geoffrey Clendon courtesy of Geoffrey Clendon.expand/collapse

The actor, director, writer, and teacher who has worked in the performing arts for 40 years in New Zealand and Australia, has spent the past month researching and writing his play ‘Te Whawhai Taake Kuri – The Dog Tax War’ based at the former Rawene Methodist Church which is listed as a Category 2 historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

The month-long soujourn enabled the author to meet with people from the community who shared their stories and research on the Dog Tax War – ultimately changing the shape of Geoffrey’s project.

“The writing didn’t go down the track I had foreseen, but the result will be something stronger,” he says.

“The highlight of the residency was meeting these people and learning more about the Dog Tax War. Although I had carried out considerable research before I arrived in Rawene, what I learned while I was there deepened my knowledge and understanding on a more personal level. The result will be something much richer.”

Having a month to focus solely on the project has been hugely beneficial according to Geoffrey.

“When I work from home, I am usually doing at least two other jobs besides writing. Rawene is a friendly place and by the end of the residency I felt like a local – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.”

Geoffrey is writing the play for a small cast enabling it to tour around Te Tai Tokerau and beyond, though part of the challenge in writing it is to evolve a means whereby many characters are represented by a relatively small number of actors.

“I think I have a handle on that now,” he says.

“It would be great to open the play in 2024 but there are many rivers to cross before we get there. One of the greatest challenges to presenting independent theatre is securing funding, but we are working on it.”

The church building was recently restored with funding coming from the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund – a fund for significant heritage buildings in private ownership administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

John O'Hare