Wellington. It is as windy as they all say it is and, charming. It was our home for two years and the place my second child was born. Years after we left, I came across a link to a short film called, Coffee Group, created by local Wellingtonians.
Coffee Group is a short film written and directed by Tess Jamieson-Karaha, based on characters written by Tess, Jane Ballentyne and Stefanie Delprete. It is a story of “3 mums, 1 mother of a morning, 3 conceptions, and 3 very different reactions to a positive pregnancy test.” The film is an honest exploration of the moments of Motherhood we all experience, but rarely talk openly about. After watching the film and being so inspired, I knew I had to reach out to Tess Jamieson-Karaha, who wrote and directed it.
Please, introduce yourself Tess!
I was born and raised in Wellington. I travelled the world for 5 years after high school then returned to study at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama school when I was 26. I was pregnant when I graduated in 2010 and so my double careers of motherhood and acting were born simultaneously! Since then I have worked in film, T.V., radio and theatre and currently teach screen acting at Te Auaha New Zealand Institute of Creativity.
How did you recruit the team that created Coffee Group? (I'm assuming that with a team full of Mamas and lots of laughter, there definitely were some near accidents!)
Jane (Karen) came to an open acting class I was teaching. We bonded over the real life of Motherhood, ( she has four girls!) and so it was a no brainer that we had to create a film together, plus, she's a comedic genius. Megs (Phoebe) was in my acting class at Toi Whakaari, so we had a strong creative bond as well. The rest of the crew were sourced randomly, but it just felt like everyone who was attracted to the project 'got it'. Andreas ( D.O.P ) is a Father so he also loved the idea of creating a glimpse into the 'secret life of...' There were some real life accidents on set! A beautiful poop on cue from my niece! (who played my baby).
The stories are candid and confronting, especially in the face of idyllic representations of Motherhood in the media. Was it easy for you to share these stories or were you apprehensive at all?
I was driven to tell this story as candid as I could. I was sick of seeing glossed over representations of motherhood on screen. I wanted to show reality so that mums out there could go, “Yes! Thats me! Ahh I'm not the only one! I'm doing Ok.”
What do you love about each of your characters?
I love that they are all just doing the best they can with the resources they have; each searching for some connection from the outside world to get inspiration, whether it be caffeine for some kind of brain function, someone to talk 'at', or just 5 minutes of peace. Underneath it all, it’s just a place to be messy, vulnerable and accepted. All the characters represent a different part of me. I am all three of these women at different times.
What advice, if any, would you have each of them if you could sit down and hold her hand?
Haha. Firstly Don't listen to my advice! I don't know what I'm talking about! And then repeat after me...Keep bringing it back to kind. You'll be OK. They'll be OK.
Would you be happy to comment on your experience as a first time Mother?
We were really idealistic about the kind of birth we wanted and what type of parents we were going to be. All that was blown to pieces in the form of an emergency cesarean and a little insomniac fire-cracker of a daughter! Being an actor freshly trained, staying at home as a mum was really challenging for me. Luckily, my partner Hayden had a flexible job and he worked extremely hard to provide for us, whilst supporting me in building a career at the same time.
What did you feel, if any, was lacking in the support and preparation for this momentous experience called Parenthood?
No one warned us it would be so incredibly hard and confronting! Everyone is so excited and positive when you say you're having a baby, but no-one pulled us aside and said "So, just so you know...there will be times when it feels like an evil puppeteer is pulling your strings in the deep hours of the night and you will be so sleep deprived you will feeling like you're legitimately going insane and screaming and punching the wall will feel like the only logical thing to do.” “Oh, and also you're opening yourself up to the world of judgement, projection and competition between Mothers you normally wouldn't be in the same room with."
How do you feel Motherhood changed you? Your career?
Motherhood has confronted me with all sorts of emotions and behavioural patterns that I didn't know were in me. Having kids is like having two little mirrors reflecting back all your unprocessed life lessons and forces you to have accountability. I'm still learning to let go of teaching lessons and just flow with the energy that exists in the present. It’s a blimmin’ hard job! In terms of my acting/writing career I think motherhood has allowed me go much deeper into the characters I play and the way I view the world. Also it's nice to be able to focus on a single thing for a day! You appreciate the space to focus so much more, so you do focus so much more!
Were you lucky to have support structures like the 'mummy village' or 'mummy tribe'? Did you feel you could be open about the highs and lows of motherhood?
I was lucky enough to live close to my best friend who had already established a community of kick ass women who could talk openly about the light and dark of motherhood. I just jumped in and got cosy. I also have three sisters who were all raising kids of similar age. I seriously think I would have lost the plot if I didn't have my village of mum's help, through the first few years. So much blood, sweat and tears were shared between us. The support of like minded women is invaluable on so many levels.
So what's next for you?
We're just in post production of a web series called Burnt Chops. Written by Jane Ballentyne who played Karen in the film. The story follows six mothers as they leave a coffee group. It's very funny in parts but has the ability to go much deeper into the lives of these mother's as they battle relationships, PND, single motherhood, allergies, living with mum, etc. I'm really proud of it and will keep you posted!
About Tess Jamieson-Karaha
Tess gained a BPA from Toi Whakaari in 2010 and has worked as a professional actress in the T.V, Film, Theatre and Radio industry ever since.
She has many screen and theatre credits including Seed by Elisabeth Easther at circa in 2015, Playing Lisa in Desperate Huttwives in 2017 at the Hannah Playhouse and picking up a best actress nomination in the Rome web awards for her role as Beth in the web series Potluck by Ness Simons ( Head Tutor at the film school). Potluck has gained 8 nominations worldwide and had over 2.6 Million views making it to number 6 worldwide on the youtube channel web series list.
Her solo show Please Help Yourself was transcribed for Radio New Zealand in 2012 and is set to be filmed at Te Auaha this year in collaboration with Ness Simons and Robin Murphy.
Tess produced, wrote and performed in her short film Coffee Group which was nominated for an online audience award as part of the promofest short of the year competition in 2016. She is currently producing her next film project, a web series called Burnt Chops.
You'll also hear her voice on the radio, in schools, and on T.V. adverts as she is a regular voice over artist for NZME, School journals and Clemenger.