YOUTH VOICES
How creativity can help heal
March 8, 2019
BY SHELLEY KNOWLES
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My Dad committed suicide when I was young.

It was the 90's. There was a lot of ignorance around suicide and a lot of blame was put on my mum.

I'm from Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and English descent. Born and raised in Hawke's Bay.

But I was lucky to have a really strong mum. Her love was enough for a mum and a dad. She was always uplifting me and my success is a real testament to her.

School wasn't easy. I didn't do well academically. I didn't even get University Entrance but my mum had started me in performing arts when I was little. I loved it.

At 17, I didn't know anything about business or running a theatre company but I was passionate about performing arts and young people. I started a ten week business course and wrote my first business plan.

In 2012 I was honoured as a teen entrepreneur in New York City. I still don't know how it happened! I was flown to New York and it was a surreal experience. I'm a girl from the 'Bay who didn't do well at school and here I was walking through Times Square with my own business plan.

That's when I knew I wasn't going to be a failure – something special was going to happen in my life.

In 2012 I set up 2Face Drama. Everyone in the group has been touched by suicide. We've lost fathers, mothers, cousins, siblings and best friends. The majority of the group are in high school but we have kids as young as ten.

According to UNICEF, New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.

When young people lose someone to suicide, they find it hard to talk about their emotions because they don't understand them completely yet.

Nobody understands a young person better than another young person. That's why we have our young people on stage. We use performing arts so that they can express themselves through dance, drama and haka. They can get their emotions out, instead of bottling them up.

As the kaupapa has grown, we've performed all across New Zealand and overseas to spread this message of hope.

We all learn off each other. It's the concept of tuakana teina.

The last show I wrote and directed was very personal. I was nervous because of the feelings that it might stir up. The performers didn't know how much they were helping me just by performing it.

The play speaks of losing a parent to suicide and struggling with mental health. The main character realises that she owes it to the fierce Māori women who were went before her, to keep pushing forward.

Every single person in our group has a role to play. They're part of the whānau. If one person wasn't here – the whole experience would be different for everybody.

We need to find the talents and strengths in our young people and then jump on that. If young people are struggling to communicate through writing or speaking, then who is to say that they can't communicate excellently through the arts?

When young people do something that they are proud of, then eventually the negative thoughts melt away.

The performers never leave us. They're part of the whānau forever. They go out into the world and do amazing things to help others. It's a ripple effect. It doesn't just stay here at 2Face Drama.

When I first started doing productions, my imagination was always so big that my reality couldn't catch up. Now I've been running 2Face Drama for seven years and I think I've got a bit of a expertise in this area.

Sometimes I've struggled along the way, but I've always had whānau around me for support. My mum always made sure that I had positive male role models in my life. There was always someone who could stand in for my dad.

I really shouldn't have achieved the things that I've achieved, but it's because I had a really awesome mum! She understood how to inspire me so I knew how to inspire others.

I see a lot of hope for the future.

Young people can write their own destiny.


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