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Thursday 10 November 2016


People like these: Cindy and Ramon

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 9th February 2016

People Like Us, an original musical show written by Joanna Jayne St John and premiering during the Auckland Pride Festival, features amongst its cast singer/songwriter and documentary maker Ramon Te Wake, high-energy entertainer Cindy of Samoa and designer/performer Zac d'Larte. Its choreographer is national dance treasureTai Royal.

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It's a show about journeys and people finding themselves in a society which doesn't understand them or have a place for them. They have to make their own lives and find their own sense of place.

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Ramon Te Wake
In format “it's a trans musical,” says Te Wake. “I don't think that's a term that's been used before, it's an original musical and we're all trying to figure out whether it's a play with music of a musical or because it's a new thing we can kind of dabble in whatever realm we want.”

“It's about Seina, my character, a trans woman who is an ex-street worker, sassy and savvy, similar to me but there are a lot more layers to her going on. She ends up in a relationship with Bianca, who's a cross-dresser who is figuring out who she is. She's dealing with her family and being accepted and Seina is dealing with her ex-pimp and being pulled back to that world. The whole thing takes place within Dot's Bar, where Vera is the host, the mama, she's all-seeing and all-knowing about what goes on in everyone's lives.”

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Cindy Of Samoa
“It's not that common for a trans to go out with a cross-dresser,” Cindy laughs. “Maybe in twenty years, but you can't control people's feelings and emotions and lives.” However, at Dot's, she says, “everything is possible.”

Cindy plays Vera, a character based on the revered, late Peter Taylor, a gay international equestrian who became the creator of a succession of boutique Auckland glbti bars. His drag name was Vera and he at times referred to his HIV infection as Vera Virus. Vera is, as Taylor was, a mother hen, a wise head on determined shoulders.

“It was very easy to say 'yes' to playing this character because they gave me a part that is very much me, someone who takes everybody under her wing and brings everyone together, people on the street or without family, who's got her head in the right place. When I first told people about the part I'm going to be playing they said: 'Oh, you just be you!' But when the rehearsals started I was told: 'We do not want to see Cindy, we want to see the character who is based on Peter Taylor, the owner of the real Dots.' I didn't really know Peter well but he was always lovely and pleasant to me. Then when I'd [captured] something of Peter they said: 'Now we want to have a little of Cindy in there.' Now I know why some actors go mental!”

Taylor was known for emotionally embracing people, reinforcing their lives with his intensity and uplifting spirit. One of his books was titled Don't Postpone Joy.

“I like to make people happy,” says Cindy. “Perhaps that comes from when I was younger and wanting to be loved because I was always making people happy and people were drawn to me because I could make them happy.”

For glbti people the journey to finding ourselves generally starts in early childhood when something feels different, when we acknowledge that we are somehow a little different to most or all of our peers. Both women look back on extremely difficult childhoods.

“I remember crying on my bed quite a lot and rocking myself back and forth as a single-digit kid, and I always said to myself “You'll get through, you'll get through” and I always knew there was something on the other side,” Te Wake says.

“You deal with the shit that is dealt out to people who are different, and I was different. I was colourful and over the top and out there, doing my thing. Even though I was bullied and taunted, in the family and at school, and adults were hideous, there was something in me about not giving in or giving up. I would cry... then I would pick myself up and go on. Knowing there was stuff I needed to do, a place I needed to be, that there was a place out the other side of all that pain and shit, that's what kept me going. I grew up really fast, I had to figure it out as a safety thing and move forward.”

She recalls her transition being pert of a group journey, in the company of two close trans women sisters. “We all came together at an incredibly important part of our lives... When you're so closely in someone else's life you learn about people.”

“Mine was a solo journey,” Cindy recalls, “but I felt love from people who came to the clubs, they treated me as their baby, they fed me, I'd lie with their bags and someone would put their coat over me when I fell asleep... and when I woke up it was morning and they were still partying. They used to take me everywhere, that's where my support came from.”

“When I was younger the only places that were hard for me were home, school and church but everywhere else was fine. My family was Christian and I went to a church school... they all looked at me as the anti-Christ! I wasn't allowed to go out... sometimes they would cut my hear and beat me up and I would run away.

I am very thankful for my upbringing because now I am very disciplined in everything, I'm on time for appointments and my shows, I reply quickly to emails. I learned a lot from growing up.

Neither woman is currently in a relationship but Cindy remembers a time when she was with a special man with mixed feelings. “I had a boyfriend.. and in this show [a character called] Johnny sings a song and I cried when then actor sang it because I remembered a time at the airport with the perfect man in my own life, the perfect husband who I had to give up to find myself and be my best, sang it to me. I look back and think if I went back to him, if I had stayed with him I wouldn't be who I am, my journey would stop. No one else can be in charge of my life but myself. No one can make me happy but myself.

People Like Us runs from February 16 - 21 at Auckland's Pumphouse theatre. Details and bookings here.



 


Jay Bennie - 9th February 2016

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