Matu Ngaropo is spending most of this week getting wet, changing clothes and getting wet again.
The 31-year-old Wellington-born actor of Tuhoe, Ngati Porou and Te Rarawa descent, is playing a pivotal role in the New Zealand pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
He is the narrator of the New Zealand story called Secrets, leading the audience on an imaginative journey through our literary and cultural past, interacting with a film played on giant screens and being the voice of some of New Zealand’s best-loved authors.
Ngaropo says his character is “like a guy who has fallen asleep and then the screens reflect his dreams – the things that he’s read come to life on the screen”.
The show, conceived by Mike Mizrahi of Inside Out Productions, lasts for 20 minutes and plays twice an hour. Part of the performance sees Ngaropo standing in the rain, reciting a poem by Hone Tuwhare. That means getting wet.
“The water is great,” he says. “For the first half of the scene it’s invigorating, then it’s a bit cold but people really respond to it.”
Behind the scenes is an incredibly dedicated – and busy - stage manager making sure his five sets of costumes are dried and ready for the next performance.
Ngaropo is no stranger to this kind of acting job. A graduate of drama school Toi Whakaari in 2003, he had a similar role performing the giant rugby ball that toured the world ahead of last year’s Rugby World Cup.
“I’m loving the job. I understand live, interactive experiences like this which is why Mike has brought me in for this role. But I’m conscious that these are special opportunities that I’m really grateful for.”
The German reaction to the New Zealand pavilion has been overwhelmingly positive with media hailing the island setting surrounded by water as “a perfect surprise”.
This week it will host hundreds of thousands of visitors as part of New Zealand’s Guest of Honour status at the world’s biggest book and content fair.
The pavilion takes centre stage at the fair and is also the venue for numerous events in the New Zealand programme including author readings, discussions and performances. The fair runs until Monday and concludes with New Zealand handing over the guest of honour status to Brazil.
As for Ngaropo, who now lives in Auckland, his next project is a new series of children’s show Pukoro for Māori Television, and he’s also developing a new Māori quartet with friends who performed with him in the Māori Shakespeare production of Troilus and Cressida which opened this year’s Cultural Olympiad in London.
Images: Lisa Gardiner