Ana Chaya Scotney’s one-woman play is an Earth-shattering experience
Powerful. Fragile. Wistful. Defiant. Ana Chaya Scotney (Tūhoe) is all these things and more in ScatterGun: After The Death of Rūaumoko. Ana dons a dozen faces to explore the frayed threads of whakapapa, diaspora, and the meaning of ūkaipō (origin) as ties that bind tangata. Transforming from character to character, transporting between times and places, Ana is an unbound force on stage.
ScatterGun is the moniker of the main character Agnes, a millennial Māori woman with Tūhoe whakapapa, living in ‘The City’. We join ScatterGun on a night in her life at her brother Rūaumoko’s five-year memorial gathering. But this setting, a family gathering at the Viaduct, is only the grounding scene for the play. As we delve deeper into the night we maneuver between her external and internal experience, traversing the mythic and the real until it is unclear where these boundaries start and end. Whaikōrero (speech), tautohetohe (debate), and epic poetry inspire the piece with Ana transitioning seamlessly through monologues, karakia, rants and even a rap at one point.
Our entrance to the play is in the metaphysical realm. Ana, poised and enigmatic, darts glances around the audience that feel intimate yet daring, before taking the stage with raised arms. Crawling, crouching, leaping, Ana transforms the empty stage into a cosmic playground; her ritualistic motions have a child-at-play energy. With each emphatic “BOOSH” Ana vocalises, there’s a sense of revelry in her movements as the empty stage erupts with the appearance of tectonic activity.
She is Rūaumoko, ātua of natural disasters, volcanoes and seasonal change, responsible for the movement beneath Papatūānuku’s interior. “At the time of Papatūānuku and Ranginui’s separation, he was still in utero”, Ana explained, “He’s the personification of unrealised potential”. His mythology feeds into the aspirations behind ScatterGun as having a “remedial quality”; regeneration and restoration are foundational themes for the piece. Despite being a disruptive agent, Ana believes that what underlies Rūaumoko’s kaupapa to “create new land, to create volcanic and tectonic variation” was “to create understanding, to bring things closer”. It was these ideas which inspired Ana as the “bigger metaphoric language inside these more intellectual or philosophical concepts around place and belonging, economics, race, class.”
What it means to be Māori at this moment in time and place is a question that reoccurs throughout the play, but is left open for further exploration. Shortly into the play, Ana imitates a pouwhenua, staring down the audience with a pukana. This is our first introduction to ScatterGun, their mokopuna, as Ana-as-pouwhenua talks them up; ScatterGun seems like the baddest out there. As the play progresses, we see ScatterGun reveal more of her anxieties. We witness her grapple with her cultural identity and the disconnecting effect of the Urban setting, dipping in and out of memories of whānau back in Te Urewera. These are tender moments: an uncle recalling traditional practices of their iwi trading on the awa before the introduction of meth ripped apart tribal bonds; an aunt recalling a moment of connection with the whenua as she touches the ground then caresses her pregnant stomach in an invocation of Papatūānuku and Rūaumoko. So when we are brought back to the present at the Viaduct, there’s something unsettling seeing ScatterGun surrounded by the Remuera WASPs swarming the function. We feel her longing for ūkaipō grow as the night goes on, as ScatterGun realises her growing disconnect from her ancestral homeland and becomes painfully aware of her disconnect with her present family.
As part of research for the play, Ana and her fellow show creator Eleanor Bishop travelled to Te Urewera, where both Ana and the character ScatterGun hail from. Over 10 days, they interviewed whānau across Tūhoe nation and Pōneke, seeking to understand the meaning of ūkaipō and the various ways individuals interpreted it. What they uncovered were deeper questions around “home” for someone in the indigenous diaspora. For Ana, this was “wanting to understand more about your home, and what home means personally, what does it mean to other people?” “Where does that relationship to place get interrupted or impeached upon by the rudiments of modernity, time and class” was something Ana wanted to interrogate, which she mused that “it does make you existentially question your place inside here, being here now”.
The character of ScatterGun is based only partially on Ana herself—both of mixed ancestry, both knowing what it’s like to live in two worlds. ScatterGun is more a representation for the experiences of indigenous peoples in urban settings and what that means for one’s identity. Ana, having lived in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Tāmaki Makaurau at different points in life as well as Te Urewera, sought to unpack the meaning of ‘The City’. “The City for me is actually a power source because there’s so many of us who are in that liminal space”, Ana , “learning from people about their origin stories and being of other diaspora—I love it”. Rather, the way ‘The City’ has been historically defined by “laissez faire voices dominating the channels about who we are, who we should be and where we’re going” is what Ana believes, “makes you feel like you’re in deficit all the time: you’re not enough of one thing, you’re not enough of another.”
One of the key questions the play poses is “what are you accountable to?”. Accountability is something that Ana thinks is “something that becomes more ambiguous in ‘The City’, being inside of a juggernaut.” “It’s survivalist” being in the Big Smoke, and yet “you get to define yourself”, which Ana finds “ can be so isolating, especially coming from those parts of Aotearoa with such an embedded sense of community”. This issue of accountability bubbles to the surface in a moment of conflict between ScatterGun and an old flame, ‘Old Mate’, post-hookup. He’s genuinely offended when ScatterGun asks him what he’s accountable for. The self-aware white, cis, straight Old Mate, feels disconnected from a sense of cultural identity and envious of ScatterGun’s. He concedes capitalism as his ‘culture’ but not by his choice—really, he’s not accountable to anything. At the fight’s climax, ScatterGun demands Old Mate leave, to which he retorts “I’m not going anywhere! This is my house, ScatterGun.” It’s a blink or you’ll miss it bit of irony—a clever call back to ScatterGun’s Viaduct conversations about housing prices for stolen land. Who are white people accountable to—their oppressor’s guilt? What is anybody accountable to?
The play may have been promoted as a “philosophical tapestry” but don’t let that fool you. The heavy moments were lightened by cheeky quips, and jokes scattered throughout the play kept it from careening into seriousness. It was Ana’s wit and charm following her in every character that allowed the play to be unpredictable; existential one second and then a weed joke in the next. You got the sense that even in ScatterGun’s most solemn lamentations, the play didn’t take itself so seriously that it was unwilling to take the piss out of erudite discourse on politics, colonisation, and society.
In Ana’s own words, the play “calls out bullshit that I don’t like in the world”. Yet with outstretched arms and an open heart, she invites us to share a moment that is surreal, wild, and moving. As the creative team is hard at work to recreate the play as a film, keep your eyes on ScatterGun. It’s a true privilege to feel such manaakitanga and aroha from a performance.
ScatterGun: After The Death of Rūaumoko was developed by Ana Chaya Scotney with Eleanor Bishop and directed by Stella Reid and Eleanor Bishop. The show premiered in March 2022 at NZ Fringe, and ran from 28-30 July at Basement Theatre. ScatterGun will play at the Sydney Fringe Festival.