The Edinburgh Fringe can be a hard mistress/master. And after the initial exhilaration of the first week, the hard and bitter challenge of this entertainment industry cage fight can begin to bite.
Some entertainers have the humanity punched, drained and stamped out of them. There are some individuals who seem to be able to weather the storm better than others, Mika is one such individual. This is his 10th Fringe and I think it was his 7th or 8th appearance before I became aware of him.
Mike is a Maori hailing from New Zealand or Aotearoa, which means "land of the long white cloud". As he reflected to me, ‘Yes, we named the country after fog’. The comment sheds some light on his approach to life and his character. Funny, fabulous, feral, fearless, futuristic, fantastic (lot of F’s here!). Did I mention fabulous? Anyway, I was interested in speaking to Mika not only because of the unique show he has here this year but also because of the work he has done back home engaging with young people and seeking to develop the opportunities for New Zealand youth.
Mika has in his time warmed up for Grace Jones in New York, entertained HRH Prince Charles here in Edinburgh at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. He shocked audiences when he appeared in the Oscar-winning film ‘The Piano’. And notoriously he penned the world first ever gay haka, Tēnei Tōku Ure (This Is My Penis).
As you can tell in an era of the mundane, monotonous and predictable, Mika is a truly original artist – an entertainer with three decades of work spanning stage, film, television, fashion and music.
Mika explained that this year he has brought a ‘haka-vogue cabaret’ with tribal pop dance duo Bare Feet Street.
But the venue for the performances of this show might be any where and the audience decides?
I’ve not encountered anything like this before and I’ve seen just about every strategy there is at some time during the last 25 years of coming up to the Fringe. The possible show venues will be outlined on Mika’s Instagram account and then audience members vote, directing the performers to where they must deliver the next show - and the system is completely paperless and heading towards carbon neutral.
Mika has already won a clutch of awards: Melbourne Fringe Festival's Best Cabaret; Auckland Fringe Festival Best Cabaret Production and Auckland Fringe Festival's Best Cabaret Performance, so the show’s pedigree is pretty high. But above and beyond the style and form of this show Mika undertakes some profound and important work back home using art as the platform for engaging and helping the young people of his own country and he has big long term plans.
In his own words: ‘If art and culture are the soul of a nation then we need more healthy leaders to support the never-ending wave of inequity in New Zealand. Help us make work that helps others.’
To achieve this, Mika established ‘The Foundation’ a charitable organisation aimed at supporting healthy, creative social change projects led by young people adopting the role of influencers who develop and present all manner of media and shows. Some of these influencers move onto Studio Projects. This is yet another facet of Mika’s empire. Within the Studio Hub they are given opportunities to create pathways and networks to major industry players on professional projects before setting off to be the nation’s next wave of future leaders.
The Aroha project devised by Mika which I strongly urge you to take a look at on YouTube is a media strategy to confront bullying, alienation and suicide within the youth demographic. This has also emerged from the Mika stable of projects and initiatives. The stories that you will encounter here are heart rending, but the empowered responses aided by the Mika Foundation are wonderful.
I know lots and lots of people in this industry who talk about doing this sort of thing and helping others, Mika is the only one I know who has navigated this financially challenging environment, battled with bureaucracy and forged something with a core of real humanity and is actually delivering a service which is both constructive and powerful.
Before concluding I do want to make specific reference to Bare Feet Street the group accompanying Mika and who are some of the progeny of The Foundation. The duo consists of Jay and YahYah, modern day content makers in the world of pop culture. The way they explained and described their role they clearly represent the next wave, the future wave of the way music, dance and screen will move forward. Their approach is to absorb and deconstruct modern day Pop Culture and then create something new and different from the ashes. And they appear to be taking over the world one bare foot at a time.
To find out what the options are for Salon Mika on Bare Feet Street visit Mika’s instagram account and get ready for a wild ride!
Social Media: @mikahaka @barefeetstreet