Stories are how we learn about the world, how we keep our history alive, how we entertain our people, how we connect to things that are important. We say "tell me a story" when we're young. But we don't outgrow a need for stories. We say, "Tell me about that time when..." We say, "You've gotta hear this." And in our content-saturated now, we say, "Have you seen that show?" We need stories like we need fresh air. Lucky for us that as part of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, the much anticipated UPU, arrives on the shores of Turanga to breathe life into us with some of Oceania's most moving stories.
UPU, which means "word," is a theatrical production that weaves together almost 40 Oceanic texts from 29 poets, curated by award-winning poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor and directed by Fasitua Amosa. For two nights, the War Memorial Theatre will become the waters and islands of the Pacific, interconnecting stories about colonisation, family, love, religion, and the impact of climate change on the people of the moana.
As Tama Waipara, TTAF's chief executive and artistic director says, "UPU is a synthesis of some of our age’s greatest thinkers, provocateurs and navigators of word. It is sophisticated, ancient, cutting and dripping with sass. It’s like bathing in all the splendour of Te Moana-Nui-ā-Kiwa without having to go anywhere. UPU reminds us of the vastness of our ocean and the richness of our shared cultural contexts.”
Ana Corbett, one of the original cast members, has been involved with UPU from the very beginning and since 2020 has been producing with Amosa and Iwashita-Taylor. “UPU is a unique offering,” says Corbett. “There is no other show that places the vastness and depth of Pacific poetry and writers on a stage in this way. It is an absolute joy to be able to do work like this.”
Corbett has a connection to Te Tairāwhiti and looks forward to bringing this powerful performance to our region. She first came as a student of Toi Whakaari with tutor Teina Moetara of Rongowhakaata. “Part of building our Toi Whakaari community was an annual bus trip from Te Whanganui-a-Tara to spend a week at Manutuke Marae." Says Corbett, “The ocean and coastline here create something beautifully magical. There is a special energy about this place. Perhaps the remoteness of it adds to its wonder - it's hard to put into words but I know I always love coming back.”
UPU gives voice to many of Oceania’s most powerful poets, writers like Maualaivao Albert Wendt, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Briar Grace-Smith, Karlo Mila, Hone Tuwhare, Sia Figiel, and Ben Brown. In addition to Ana Corbett, the cast of accomplished Tagata Moana actors include Maiava Nathaniel Lees, Mia Blake, Shadon Meredith, James Maeva, Nicola Kāwana and Nora
Corbett reflects on her experience as a performer of UPU. “As an actor you always want to work with great text that explores interesting and challenging ideas. The special thing about poetry is that it has a way of weaving these ideas into your soul. Audiences are constantly surprised at how they were moved and affected by it.”
Don't miss the chance to breathe in the fresh air of these masterfully told stories.