One of our caption producers, Sarah Maiava, has been awarded a Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts internship. In this interview with Radio New Zealand’s Lynn Freeman, Sarah discusses her work as a caption producer at Able.
Listen to the the interview or read a transcript below.
LYNN: Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust is an organisation that champions arts in New Zealand’s Pacific Island community. It runs an internship programme funded by Creative New Zealand that matches promising people with mentor organisations. There are three placements available each year, and we’re talking to two-thirds of this year’s intake – textile designer Sonya Elspeth Withers and captions producer Sarah Maiava. Given Sarah is the first captions producer I’ve interviewed, you can guess my first question.
SARAH: Captioning is basically closed-captioning Teletext. It’s like subtitles. It’s dialogue written for different television programmes for Deaf and hearing-impaired viewers. Not just dialogue but any sort of sounds, we transcribe. So that might be sound effects, non-verbal utterances – so if someone coughs, we would write ‘coughs’; if someone laughs, we write ‘laughs’ – music, all that kind of thing. Predominantly for Deaf and hearing-impaired viewers, but also English as another language, or if you’re in a loud environment and you want captions on if you don’t want the sound on the television. Yeah, it’s used for all sorts of different things.
LYNN: I imagine something like – and I’m plucking this from the air – something like Shortland Street, there would be a script and there would be useful information, but that, I imagine, isn’t always the case for the programmes. What are some of the trickier ones that you work on?
SARAH: Ooh, ITM Fishing Show is a difficult one because there are lots of non-verbal utterances, people exclaiming, people talking over each other, so we have to navigate all these different sounds that we’re hearing. And that’s why we often work in a team, getting each other to help out if we can’t decipher what someone’s saying. Sometimes accents can be an issue.
LYNN: Even sound effects on a fishing show, I imagine, would be quite… the sound of the reels stripping the line, that kind of thing.
SARAH: Yeah. And sometimes it’s a case of, well, we don’t want to write too many sound effects if you can see it visually on screen. So if someone knocks on a door and you can see them knocking, then we try not to caption the obvious.
LYNN: What got you interested in this?
SARAH: I just found it advertised online. I think it was Seek or The Big Idea or somewhere. This was after graduating. I did English literature in Wellington, and, yeah, I just thought, ‘This looks like a really interesting, unique job.’ It’s the only job of its kind, really, in New Zealand. It’s called Able. It used to be part of TVNZ. It was called TVNZ Access Services. And I just thought, ‘Wow, I get to watch TV for a job.’ I mean, that’s pretty cool, I think.
LYNN: Yes, but actually, the way you describe it, I think it’s a lot more complicated than we would imagine, because you hear the word ‘captions’, but as you say, it incorporates everything, even including music in there. I imagine music sometimes might be quite hard to incorporate.
SARAH: That’s where you can get a little bit more creative. I mean, when people say things, we try to do it verbatim, and we include things like ‘um’s and ‘uh’s and ‘you know’s – all those bits in-between. We try and incorporate all dialogue. When it comes to things like music, there is an element of creativity, of ‘Well, what kind of music is it?’ Is it intriguing music? Is it suspenseful?’ And we also try and navigate things with children’s programmes, trying to use adjectives that they understand, like, ‘happy music’, ‘scary music’. So, yeah, there’s a lot to think about when you come down to it.
LYNN: Sonya, going to bring you in here. Textile design – can you describe your style for us?
SONYA: My style is more so interpreting my Samoan identity through my designs, which are more so, like, surface pattern design on fabric. A lot of it sort of stemmed from stuff I looked at in my master’s around siapo, which is our Samoan term for tapa cloth, I guess. It’s sort of a combination of, like, traditional and contemporary processes and how I sort of hybrid them or use them in response to my identity as an afakasi.
LYNN: And do you feel free to interpret those traditional designs and to push them into other directions? Because I know in some of the islands there is a great sense of protectiveness towards the traditional and a fear that traditional craft are being lost.
SONYA: It’s really funny you bring that up, because if anything, I find it’s more so, like, Polynesian diaspora in New Zealand that have a sense of protection around it. If you do go back to Samoa, from what I saw – I did a little bit of research there when I was doing my master’s – if anything, I find the groups of people that are making siapo are really open to all these different resources that are coming into the islands and adapting the processes themselves. So there’s, like, this kind of weird mix going on.
LYNN: What’s your colour palette? When you’re talking Samoa, I have a very strong sense of colour in my head.
SONYA: Big time, so my latest collaborative collection that I did at New Zealand Fashion Week with Harford Menswear is all about, like, saturated colour. And it was more a reflection of how I saw colour when I was in Samoa, because you’ve got all this sunlight and all this colour coming out. That’s sort of what I wanted to reflect. Whereas, like, I find when I’m in New Zealand, you know, you’ve got that sort of filtered sky look, and it sort of dims the colours down in the environment around you. I sort of wanted to step away from that. And I’m always, like, pushing those colour boundaries, playing with proportion, playing with texture and how things sort of fit together as a puzzle and how it sort of responds to what I’m trying to communicate.
LYNN: And what are the materials you most like working with for your patterns?
SONYA: I prefer working with natural fibres, but in saying that, the shirts that I did for Fashion Week, I actually printed on synthetic, because what I find with digital printing, it’s harder to get those saturated colours on natural-fibre fabrics than it is on synthetic fabrics. And also, like, access to resources I find is really hard, living in New Zealand. So it’s quite expensive to find somewhere in New Zealand that will print on, say, silk and get the right amount of saturation that I want with my colours, especially being a small designer.
LYNN: Sarah, I’ll come back to you. We started by talking about your captions work, but for this internship, you’re concentrating more on perhaps a direction you want to go in, which is arts management. Now, arts managers, I think, tend to be the hidden heroes of an awful lot of artistic endeavours in this country. Is that one of the appeals for you?
SARAH: Yeah, I think so. Um… I mean, I’ve always been interested in the arts, and I’m not particularly great with a paint brush, so (LAUGHS) I guess being a visual artist was off the cards for me. But I certainly love theatre, I love visual art, and I think artists are really interesting people. So, yeah, I’m all about promoting the arts, making the arts more accessible. So I think there are a lot of decisions there in terms of management and marketing where I’ll be exposed to a lot of that.
LYNN: Who have you been partnered with for this internship?
SARAH: I’ll be starting with Q Theatre, which is very exciting. I mean, I’ve gone to shows there just as a visitor, so I think I’ll be on the other side, right involved in all their processes and all their ideas and what challenges they might have coming up.
LYNN: Sonya, who have you been paired up with? Because it’s not what people might assume – another designer or fashion label. They’re pairing you in quite a different direction.
SONYA: Yeah, so I’m being paired with Te Papa in Wellington, which I’m pretty excited about. It sort of stemmed from an experience that I had in New York at the Met and Brooklyn Museum. I guess it’s going back to my heritage and looking at those, like, traditional textiles that I feel have a lot of stories that help me navigate how I take steps forward with my designs and things. And so it’s quite cool. I’m actually going to be working with the Conservation Team, more so around textiles, as well as the Pasifika Department too. So it’s sort of like this cool merge of textiles and Pasifika. It’s a whole new area for me, coming in as a designer and practitioner, I guess, and just sort of seeing how they go through conservation methods, how they work in with the public, how they connect with the communities that they might communicate with over certain textiles that they’re conserving, that sort of thing.
LYNN: So what do you hope to take away from that experience? I mean, clearly you’re going to be seeing a lot of materials close up, which is amazing, isn’t it?
LYNN: I mean, you probably can’t handle them, but at least to see them close up.
SONYA: To see them.
LYNN: Yeah, yeah.
SONYA: What really amazes me about traditional textiles is the time and place that it would’ve been produced and what would’ve been going through the creator’s mind at the time of coming up with it. So kind of like going back to siapo, I always wonder, I’m thinking, you know, if you look at how laborious the process is and what’s involved in, like, sourcing the fibre, you’ve got to wonder, ‘OK, how did someone come up with the idea to take a trunk or a piece of the paper mulberry tree, take of the bast and then take off the inside of the bast to beat it into this cloth?’ Those are questions that roll around in my head. And so, I guess, that's what I’m hoping, like, being amongst all this beautiful stuff, I’m hoping to explore and pick up new ideas and techniques. And again, it’s going back to that whole, like, ‘How can our history help us navigate in the future, innovation-wise as well?’ Yeah.
LYNN: It’s a nice thing to think that people might be studying your textiles in a hundred or 200 years somewhere like Te Papa.
SONYA: Yeah, I haven’t thought about that. (LAUGHS)
LYNN: It would be cool, though.
LYNN: Sarah, for you, as you start with arts management in this area, have you thought already where that might lead you and perhaps what your dream job might be, if you find that arts management is exactly what you want?
SARAH: No. (LAUGHS) I think part of this internship is finding that out. And, um, yeah, I think for a lot of people at this age, it is an age of experimenting and possibly going through existential crises. But I think that’s one of the beauties of this internship, and I do thank Creative New Zealand that it gives us this opportunity to be risky and to explore and to develop and to grow. And hopefully, out of this comes a really positive experience and, you know, I make my mark. There’s also the possibility I go, ‘Ooh, I don’t know if that’s for me.’ But there’s also the possibility with my internship that I might do some time at the Auckland Art Gallery – that’s something completely different as well. So I’m kind of putting my foot in different areas and seeing what comes of it.
LYNN: Sonya Elspeth Withers and Sarah Maiava, two of the interns selected by the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust. And we wish them luck with their internship.