A recent, very successful movie about a certain circus showman depicted him as a benevolent, charismatic entrepreneur, but failed to reveal the darker aspects of ‘the greatest show on Earth’. Mika Haka and a talented troupe of First Nation performers present a very different picture in their burlesque/cabaret/circus/theatre show, Natives Go Wild.
“It’s the other story of PT Barnum – his stealing and exploiting natives to use in his worldwide little conundrums of the circus world,” explains Haka.
The romanticised history of circus entertainment ignores an underbelly of horrible mistreatment, bigotry, oppression and worse. Many indigenous people were literally kidnapped and enslaved.
“I have been amazed at the silence of the worldwide media,” says Haka, referring to the reserved response regarding The Greatest Showman. Natives Go Wild aims to redress the misrepresentation. “PT Barnum gets mentioned in a very caring, loving, new millennium kind of way,” says Haka, tongue firmly in cheek.
Conceived and written by Rhoda Roberts, the show brings together an extraordinary cast of Aboriginal, Tongan, Fijian, and Maori performers.
“We’ve got singers and poets and contortionists and native dance and gospel singers and hip-hop and RnB; and then you’ve got queer, crazy, gender fluid…I think the cast is perfect for this type of thing,” says Haka.
The characters are based on real people and there is a narrative thread that ties the acts. It’s a stunning display of physical feats, incredible skill, cheeky humour, beautiful artistry, and cultural pride.
“It’s cutting edge and wild, as cabaret should be…We’re definitely a diverse bunch of natives, I can tell you that much, girlfriend!” says Haka, whose own career as a singer, actor, political activist, philanthropist, and queer celebrity, has been colourful and eventful.
He plays a spruiker who gets to say some shocking yet very funny things. The entire cast will be riffing on the idea of freakishness, says Haka:
“We can be naughty in a very native way.”
Oct 22-27. Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $39-$59+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
By Rita Bratovich