The show must go on — to acclaim

My Grandfather is a Canoe final scene (back row, from left): The White family: Emily, Mauosamoa,...
My Grandfather is a Canoe final scene (back row, from left): The White family: Emily, Mauosamoa, Petone and Melitiana, (centre front): Lasela Sumner. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Winning a Dunedin Fringe Touring Award is a fitting end to Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafu‘na’i very first play and its tumultuous beginnings finds Rebecca Fox.

After months of preparation, excitement and nerves, Christchurch first-time playwright Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i could only watch her play hit the stage via Zoom.

Tafuna’i — who was supposed to be playing the lead in her show — her producer, Dunedin’s Pip Laufiso, and musical director Hiliako Iaheto all got Covid-19 the week of the My Grandfather is a Canoe performance in the Dunedin Fringe Festival.

"What an amazing voyage it has been."

However, due to some earlier contingency planning, the show was able to go on. Tufuna’i even had an understudy in her 19-year-old niece Lasela Sumner.

"It definitely paid off as we only had a day’s notice.We had to step back and allow the young people to take the reins. It was amazing they did so well."

The play features eight Pacific languages and includes the poetry of Papua New Guinean Michael Dom and Tafuna’i’s son, Oliver, who is one of the lead guitarists and vocalists. Each poem had its own illustration, created by artist Silivelio Fasi, which were projected on stage.

Laufiso said theatre titans Tanya Muagututi’a and Posenai Mavaega of Pacific Underground also came to Dunedin to support the production and overall delivery.

My Grandfather is a Canoe director Marisiale Tunoka (centre) with show musicians (left to right)...
My Grandfather is a Canoe director Marisiale Tunoka (centre) with show musicians (left to right) Oliver Tafuna’i, Waisea McGoon, Lopeti Sumner and Siaosi Kei.
That effort was recognised by the Fringe when it awarded the show, which was based on a book of poetry Tafuna’i launched last year, its touring award, which will help it to be performed at Auckland’s Fringe Festival.

The award provides $1000, free registration and support to deliver the play at Auckland Fringe.

“Lasela was amazing with only a day in my role, and the rest of the cast made up of the White family — dad Petone, mum Mauosamoa and their two daughters Emily and Melitiana — rallied to support her. So, to get the touring award despite that upheaval is so gratifying,” Tafuna’i says.

Sumner’s effort especially touched Tafuna’i as the teenager struggled with anxiety, but really stood up to the challenge.

"It gave her an opportunity to find it in herself. I’m pretty proud with her and the team."

She also praised the work of Dunedin-based actor and director Marisiale Tunoka in bringing it all together.

"He took on so many more roles as our leadership team isolated."

The play features eight Pacific languages and includes the poetry of Papua New Guinean Michael Dom and Tafuna’i’s son, Oliver, who is one the lead guitarists and vocalists.

Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i
Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i
Each poem had its own illustration, created by artist Silivelio Fasi, and these were projected on stage.

To also see the audiences’ reactions to her work — including a few tears, sadness and joy — reinforced the work she and others had put into the show.

She puts the success down to her wayfinding techniques and the ability of these to provide a framework for the team to follow when under pressure.

"It shows how resilient it is and it was so tested during the fringe."

Tafuna’i is now looking forward to a a five-day season at Christchurch’s Little Andromeda in July.

"I can’t wait to be on stage and actually step into the role."

But after her niece’s success, she plans to write a role into the play for her — the beauty of being the playwright, she says.

Tafuna’i is now "thinking hard" about the future of the play and the amount of resources needed to mature it to be the best production it can be.

She is holding discussions to work out who is available for the the Christchurch and Auckland performances.

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