This dissertation examines four recent productions of Shakespeare's plays, and a fifth based upon Shakespeare, from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand that were created either partly or entirely by indigenous artists. My discussion is concerned with the various ways in which these five productions functioned as vehicles for cultural and political indigenous expression. Considering the "meaning" or "effect" of a performance to be something that is negotiated in an active socio-cultural dialogue, I take into account both the intentional (artist) and receptive (audience) aspects of the productions in question.
This study's objects of enquiry inevitably occupy a somewhat anomalous position. As various critics, particularly within postcolonialism, have argued, in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Shakespeare has been valued, read, and institutionally circulated in ways that serve the cultural and ideological interests of the dominant colonising culture. Whilst they were unavoidably contextualised, and indeed, politicised, by this cultural-historical framework, the productions under analysis here complicate the view that Shakespeare's imperial signification and oppressive function is unequivocal by relocating his plays and suggesting new voices in which they might be made to speak.
The first chapter of this thesis examines a 1999 Queensland Theatre Company production of The Tempest and a 1999 collaborative production of Romeo and Juliet by the Brisbane theatre companies. La Boite Theatre and Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts. These works were created by indigenous and non-indigenous artists, and both responded to their specific production contexts by examining issues of racism and reconciliation. Incorporating material from interviews with key practitioners within both productions, this chapter focuses largely on the creative intentions behind the works, considering the implications of these in relation to common postcolonial conceptualisations of Shakespeare's contemporary signification.
Chapter two looks at a 1997 Sydney Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that juxtaposed Aboriginal Dreamtime and Elizabethan-style imagery. This chapter places more emphasis on the critical commentary that surrounded this all-Aboriginal production, highlighting the ways in which dominant cultural attitudes and assumptions regarding both Shakespeare and Aboriginality affected the production's "meaning" as a socio-cultural text. The third chapter continues to look at issues of representational authority in indigenous Shakespeare production through an examination of a 2001 film from New Zealand entitled Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti/The Maori Merchant of Venice, an all-Maori work that was spoken entirely in a te reo Maori (Maori language) translation of The Merchant of Venice. This chapter considers the various socio-political implications of harnessing Shakespeare into a project of indigenous linguistic recuperation, and argues that the film constituted a decisive instance of indigenous representational control, being produced and funded by Maori companies.
The final chapter investigates a production entitled Romeo and Tusi that was performed throughout New Zealand between 1996 and 2001. Unlike the other four works under analysis, Romeo and Tusi was not an enactment of a Shakespearean play, but an original comic piece whose script borrows narrative and textual elements from Romeo and Juliet. As well as examining the importance of indigeneity as a discursive commodity within the play, I show that Romeo and Tusi alternates between endorsing and opposing Shakespeare and his Romeo and Juliet narrative, and consider the implications of this strategic ambivalence.
In identifying the ways in which these five engagements with Shakespeare's iconic and widely circulated texts operated as vehicles for indigenous expression, I ultimately argue that the works marked out new points of orientation by which the relationship between Shakespeare and indigeneity might be conceptualised within contemporary Australia and New Zealand.