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New Works Spring To The Stage For 2021 Kōanga Festival

After a return to the stage in 2021 to premiere four brand-new productions, Te Pou Theatre are proud to welcome audiences back to their annual Kōanga Festival – a celebration of Māori storytelling, centered on their celebrated emerging playwright programme. With COVID-19 forcing the majority of the 2020 celebration into a digital space, the 2021 Festival will again be held by Te Pou Theatre at Henderson’s Corban Estate Arts Centre from September 23 – October 2, with a calendar of events that includes a Whānau Day and live performances alongside the programme of play readings, and digital offerings.

Four of the five writers in this year's Whakarongomai Playwrights Readings, as part of the annual Kōanga Festival at Te Pou 
(L to R: Baylee Watene-Kay, Ava Williams, Colleen Maria Lenihan, Te Aorewa Areta)

Named for Kōanga (Spring) in the maramataka Māori, Kōanga Festival gathers the community together for the season that is traditionally a time to combine efforts to plant for the next harvest. In the same spirit, the role of Kōanga Festival is to develop a fertile Auckland Māori Theatre creative economy outside of the busy Matariki season, focused on developing new creative talent and work. The 2021 Kōanga Festival will take place in surrounds of the gorgeous Corban Estate Arts Centre, as the whare of Tāmaki Makaurau’s home of Māori theatre has closed its doors to start the next phase in the ambitious building process. When finished, Te Pou will cement its place as the first permanent and purpose-built tikanga Māori led theatre venue. Now is a time of growth and development for Te Pou in both live and digital spaces, as they release their new branding and develop an innovative online presence for kaupapa Māori performing arts, alongside the brand-new building.

The landmark feature of the Festival is the annual Whakarongo Mai Playwrights’ Readings which will see the first public readings of four new works from five exciting emerging voices. Connecting writers with talented Māori directors, dramaturgs, and actors, the programme supports the development of new ideas from conception to the scripting stage and presents them to the public for the first time as part of the festival. The playwrights for the 2021 programme are:

  • Te Aorewa Areta (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui), a storyteller and journalist currently based at RNZ in Tāmaki Makaurau, presents her debut work as a playwright. The Kōkako tells the story of the mysterious, elegant, and intelligent Meri, a Māori woman who steps to the front of New Zealand’s suffrage movement, fighting for a cause that represents all women.
  • Originally from Blenheim, Tom Knowles (Rongowhakaata) is a performer, writer and producer, and a graduate of Toi Whakaari: The New Zealand Drama School. Alongside his many performance credits including Live Live Cinema’s Little Shop of Horrors, the Modern Māori Quartet, and The National Theatre of London’s production of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, Tom’s last work as a writer was the multi-award winning rock opera, Allergic to Love: Curse of the 80’s, which toured to America, Mexico and throughout New Zealand. For Kōanga, he presents Atarangi: Morning Sky, an Aotearoa Reggae-Roots musical that explores the Maori myth of creation, Ranginui and Papatūānuku, through the eyes of a teenager in 2021.
  • Author and photographer Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) and Te Ao Māori storyteller Ava Williams (Ngāpuhi, Tainui) combine their talents in Pīrairaka, Tīrairaka – a touching tale of two feisty kuia determined to bring their two young wāhine mokopuna to their whenua and whānau.
  • Actor and kaihaka Baylee Watene-Kay (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine), who entered the arts industry in 2018 through Creative New Zealand's Toi Māori Arts Internship program, offers her first work as a writer. Inspired by the legend of twin messengers Waiata and Hāparangi who belong to Māui’s waka wairua, Hoki Wairua Mai tells the story of the most celebrated achievement in Hawaiki. The two brothers, one deaf and the other blind, are in a race against time to deliver Koropā, the loneliest man in Hawaiki, to the birth of his 100th grandchild.

A free day of family friend activities returns to the Kōanga Festival in 2021 with

Whānau Day

, a fair-style celebration on

Saturday 25 September

. Host

Brady Peeti

will keep all entertained, with the fun-filled day including the bi-lingual

Te Mahi ā Rahi


Rutene Spooner’s

Pīpī Paopao

, storytelling in multiple languages including the new

Sing Like a Unicorn


Jeremy Redmore

, reo Māori books read by

Pere Wihongi

(Maimoa), face painting, market stalls, food trucks, coffee, children’s games brought to you by


, and an outdoor stage.

Complementing the programme is a special, one night only, performance of a new work in development:

Ngā Tohu o te Taiao - Kōanga

. An evening of connecting to the maramataka through pūrakau, pūoro and toi onepū, the work brings together mātauranga Māori with

Rikki Soloman

, live sand art from

Marcus Winter

and taonga pūoro from

Jerome Puoro

. An arts experience on

Sunday 26 September

, Te Pou Theatre is excited to play host with strictly limited tickets available.

Now into its seventh iteration, Kōanga is celebrated annually at Te Pou, which was established in 2015 as a response to the Māori theatre sector’s desire to have a home for their work. Embodying the literal meaning of its name ‘the support post’, Te Pou has provided hau kāinga to the work of dozens of exciting practitioners, offering a place for artists to develop and present their work under a tikanga Māori led arts management kaupapa. Te Pou took up permanent residency at Corban Estate Arts Centre in 2019 and are currently in the process of building a purpose-built venue for their mahi.

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