Wrestling and theatre may seem like worlds apart - but for Tyler Wilson-Kokiri, who is an actor and a professional wrestler, they’re more similar than people may realise. 

Tyler (Ngaati Porou) is one of four Māori playwrights showing their work in Te Pou Theatre’s Rangatahi Season 2023.

And in Wrestling with Wregret, Tyler merges both of his worlds together.

Tyler’s play is an ode to young rural Māori kids - set in an alternate universe where protagonist Mātī is divided by his desk job and his professional wrestling career

Tyler spoke to Re: News about his play and the role of rangatahi in theatre. 

IMAGE: Tyler Wilson-Kokiri (Ngaati Porou) is bringing his story of identity, choices, and body slams to the stage 

How did you get into theatre?

When I was four years old, my grandmother passed away. Her husband at the time was the pastor. 

During his eulogy, I had a little book and I was just walking around pretending to be him for a solid five or 10 minutes until everyone started laughing. That's when I was like, ‘Oh, laughing is really nice. Laughing helps people.’ 

My mum was the one who invested time and effort to get me to where I am. I love my mum very much. She has been the reason why I had any ambition to be an actor. 

And what about wrestling?

Well, that started when I was pretty young as well. Living in the wop wops, we didn't have a lot - but we did have videotapes of two wrestling shows. We watched those for years, to the point where we knew them off by heart. Growing up, that was injected into my life. 

Eventually, when I moved to Auckland I started training at Hugh's Academy, Maniacs United, and Impact Pro Wrestling.

Is there any connection between the worlds of wrestling and the worlds of theatre?

Yes, absolutely. This show, professional wrestling, and Shakespeare all have one thing in common. The stage is here, but the audience is in front of you and on either side of you. 

Working in the round, you're working with audiences from all sides. In professional wrestling, you're getting every side of the audience to not only see you but also trying to get them to invest in you. 

Also, how are you going to feel a body slam if you're not right next to it?

IMAGE: Around the ring, Tyler captivates audiences with his death-defying moves.

What inspired Wrestling With Wregret?

At the beginning of the year, I was having a tough time with acting. So I started looking at other jobs, jobs that I’ve done in the past that don’t fill that creative void for me. 

I will always go back to acting, I will always go back to wrestling. 

The end goal for this is to buy a wrestling ring, Grab a couple of mates of mine, and tour this around rural Māori communities. I would love… no, I need it to happen in order for my soul to be fulfilled. 

Why do you think rangatahi voices are so important in theatre?

Knowing all our youth, they put a really interesting spin on things that I would have had no idea on what to do. That's the potential of our rangatahi. If we can get those fellas more involved, and I hope that we do, I think the arts could be so incredibly interesting. 

What changes do you want to see in the arts?

There are not a lot of Māori people that I know holding it down backstage. I think because of our uniqueness, holding other creative spaces like sound and lighting design is another way to play.

It's one thing to do acting. To be honest, with Māori, it's in our blood to perform. But there are so many more avenues to stick our fingers into. There's a way to be creative within that space without necessarily being on stage. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring Māori creatives?

Find the people that you click with. I found my people at Te Pou. I was really lucky. But also there's nothing stopping you from creating your own community. Find your whānau, and work with them.

This is a time of individuality and uniqueness, so make sure that you're being your absolute purest self. All those things that you were brought up thinking were weird about you are your superpowers in this industry. So hold hard, hold fast and make some fun art. 

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