Fri, Apr 12, 2024 1:15 PM

A tale of two sisters


Tessa Jaine

Blenheim sisters Peata and Charlotte Pānoho, and indeed the entire Pānoho family, are creative powerhouses across multiple disciplines, making a significant impact on the world directly from Marlborough. As the family tours the country on a musical journey together, Justin Eade spoke with the sisters about their upbringing and creative journey, always grounded in family, faith, and their sense of place and culture.

The Pānoho family had just relocated back to New Zealand from the UK in 2000 and were living in Auckland when dad Andrew got a job offer in Blenheim, and they moved here not knowing much about the place. Peata (24), and Charlotte (25) have now grown up almost all of their lives in Marlborough and see it very much as home. On their dad’s side they are of Ngāpuhi (Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau), Ngāti Hīne, Ngāti Whātua and Scottish descent, and on mum Ana’s side they are primarily British and Malaysian Chinese.

Growing up, Peata says her mother was a master at making products from scratch, altering clothes and growing their own food, so that they lived a careful, but very healthy lifestyle. “I can’t think of a better childhood really. My four siblings were my best friends and we got to do everything together.”

Charlotte says their house was like a train station, with people from all over the world and all walks of, life constantly passing through. “A large portion of our studies were dedicated to music practices, drama and art lessons with hospitality to visitors often taking priority over traditional schoolwork.”

With their father being a fine arts painter and lecturer, and their mum’s background in children’s book publishing and choral singing, the siblings never really had a choice about getting involved in the arts. Their mum started teaching them to play recorder and enrolled them in ballet classes at ages four and six. As they got older, they moved on to other instruments, becoming heavily involved in the Marlborough Youth and Civic Orchestras, winning awards for excellence.

Both sisters taught music privately and in schools for about eight years, but it wasn’t until their late teens that they started finding their own niches. For Peata, that was musical theatre and urban dance, while Charlotte moved into the live entertainment industry as a sound and lighting technician. Then came film. In 2013 the sisters attended a high school filmmaking workshop and started making short films with siblings or friends every few months. In 2019 Peata joined the crew of local feature film Northspur as wardrobe supervisor, and the connections she made on that set effectively launched her into filmmaking. “I started volunteering on 5-10 short films every year to build up my skill level, and by the second year I was starting to get the odd paid project. By the third year 90% of the films I worked on were paid.” Charlotte, meanwhile landed a job as a camera assistant in 2020 and since then has worked intermittently in camera teams in film and TV, and more recently in sound departments too.

Working as an extra on The Convert with Guy Pearce and Lee Tamahori was a major highlight for Peata. Another was being a production runner a few years ago on an anthology for Whakaata Māori, with Lawrence Makoare (LOTR), and RickyLee Russell (Boy). “I got to sit in a car for 40 minutes chatting and listening to these two incredibly experienced actors talk about involvement in the arts in New Zealand,” says Peata.

Meanwhile, Charlotte has worked on New Zealand feature films Muru and Ka Whawhai Tonu as a technician. Some highlights include watching Cliff Curtis working on set and singing with Temuera Morrison offset. In TV she has worked on the programmes Match Fit, Cooks on Fire, and the drama series End of the Valley, amongst others.

Peata is now also taking leading roles in films, most notably in the short film War Paint, currently on the Whakaata Māori (Māori +) platform. “In front of the camera is where I love to be most, but being behind the camera serves the multi-purpose of honing skill, making income, building industry connections, and getting to observe other actors working.”

Peata recently starred in the short film War Paint, produced in Marlborough.

She quit her full-time office job and started acting professionally in 2022, securing an agent. While she does have to supplement her income with videography, editing and seasonal work, she says, “To me, acting is the best job in the entire world. I love it more than anything else I’ve ever done. Being on set, I’ve never once felt like I was ‘working’ - it’s just such a joy.”

Charlotte tries to avoid being featured in the camera lens, “However I do enjoy being part of a team or performing as part of a cast onstage!” Both Charlotte and Peata say there is a lot of filmmaking happening in Marlborough and many people want to work in film, but the funding is lacking, and their paid work mainly comes from outside the region. “I find it sad that young adults my age have so few prospects in arts related education and industries in the region. We who stay, and those who return after university, are forced to work multiple jobs, or rely on teaching to make an income,” says Charlotte.

Some key mentors for Peata include the late Duncan Whiting in theatre, and Jeannie Mark and Kimi Young in dance. While Charlotte cites Andrew Scott for live events, Fred Renata for camera, and Fraser Satherley for sound.

In music Peata says her key collaborators are her siblings Charlotte, Iona, Solomon and Henare, and her parents. “We’ve been playing duets and trios together for as long as I can remember.”

Both sisters credit Linda Lloyd for her huge influence in their music development.

This past summer Peata, Charlotte, Iona, Solomon, and friends Daniel and Peter are travelled New Zealand with their father Andrew on ‘The Untouchables’ tour, performing original music written by Andrew with some of the arrangements by the sisters. Charlotte effectively acted as their producer, organising the tour. She says she could see herself producing more in the future but working at a hands-on level is her current focus. “Understanding the cogs that turn the wheel that move the machine, taking a project from concept to completion maintains my interest at the moment.”

The Pānoho siblings - Iona, Charlotte, Peata, and Solomon - performed with their dad, Andrew, in Whangarei during their busking tour in early January. (Absent - mum, Ana, and brother, Henare). Photo: Daniel Wye

Of the tour Peata says, “There are many external pressures on parents these days, and our heart is simply to support and encourage families around New Zealand, in the passing on of good old kiwi values to successive generations.”

Peata says every iwi, every marae, every whānau has their own set of values and ways of doing things. “I have my own family culture, born out of the values my parents held dear. Just as our ancestors did, we retain those customs we see as important and discard those we do not. I am proudly Māori, yes, but that aspect of my identity sits alongside my English, Scottish and Chinese heritage too.”

Charlotte agrees and sees every language as a gift. She has completed te reo Māori courses in the past and her current method of learning is to immerse herself in environments which only speak te reo Māori, like Mau Rakau training sessions and working on film sets that operate in te reo. Peata retains a special love for te reo Māori and Gaelic. “I think this stems from an awareness of their present vulnerability, and from something God placed within my DNA, passed down from my tūpuna, that stirs my heart when I speak those languages.”

Both sisters have a strong faith in God. “I would say that my values in regard to faith in God, the importance of hospitality, of family, and honouring of elders, tends to align with many others of Māori heritage; hence I often find myself working on Māori projects,” Peata says.

Her Christianity is expressed organically by telling truthful stories that portray evil for what it truly is, that honour God by being excellently made, and that uphold morals which make society a better place. “As an actor I don’t usually have much control over the stories I tell, but I do have the ability to say no when something feels wrong, and I have learnt never to compromise on that.”

Charlotte adds that taking risks and trusting God gives great opportunities for growth. Her film work has been very dependent on faith and ‘co-incidences’. “It has not been easy to see myself working in arts industries while living in Blenheim. After considering travelling as a technician in the entertainment industry I decided to stay in Blenheim simply because I believed it was where I was meant to be, and at least we had a thriving theatre and performing arts scene.”

Peata and Charlotte say they will continue to call Marlborough home for the foreseeable future. Photo: Aimée Preston

Soon afterwards however, the lockdown shut down all entertainment and events and she had even fewer prospects of work in Blenheim. But suddenly, four different opportunities in film came up within the space of a month and she credits the combination of her faith and God’s response for such a fast-track entry into the industry.

As for where they see themselves in the future, Peata says home to her is where her family is, and for the foreseeable future, that means Marlborough. “I can see myself doing perhaps six-month stints away for work but unless my family relocates or I start a family of my own elsewhere, I’ll probably always come back to Blenheim.”

While Charlotte says, “I used to consider moving away from Marlborough but not anymore, I like a challenge!”

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