Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

16/06/2021 - 19/06/2021

Gisborne War Memorial Theatre, Gisborne

06/10/2023 - 07/10/2023

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

12/10/2023 - 12/10/2023

Opera House - Toitoi, Hawkes Bay Arts & Events Centre, Hastings

28/10/2023 - 28/10/2023

Kia Mau Festival 2021

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2023

Reimagine Festival / Taranaki Arts Festival 2023

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2023

Production Details

Curator – Grace Iwashita-Taylor
Director – Fasitua Amosa

Produced by UPU Collective
Presented as part of the PANNZ (Performing Arts Network of New Zealand) touring programme

The power of Māori + Pasifika literature roaring to theatrical life.  

The world of Oceania is not small. From the energetic volcanoes of O’ahu to the southern reaches of Aotearoa, she is borderless and vast – and growing bigger by the day.

After decades of dismissal and disconnection, her children are closer than ever. It’s time for a reunion. UPU brings the wealth and power of Pacific literature to roaring theatrical life.

Curated by award-winning poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor and led by powerhouse director Fasitua Amosa, UPU gives the stage to Oceania’s most electrifying poetry. Tusiata Avia, Audrey Brown-Pereira, Karlo Mila, Albert Wendt and more: UPU is for the trailblazers, the icons and the new writers transforming Aotearoa today.

‘This show is pure oratory and storytelling at its finest’ – Theatrescenes

Following a knock-out Silo Theatre’s season at the Auckland Arts Festival last year, UPU joins the Kia Mau Festival 2021 with an all-star line-up of leading Māori and Pasifika performers, including Maiava Nathaniel Lees, reviving the words of our literary legends and bellowing out the proclamations and provocations of the next game changing generation. Kia Mau Festival is proud to partner with the UPU Collective and the Wellington Premiere Season of UPU.

‘A must-see’ – Tearaway

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington
16 – 19 June 2021
Preview 15 Jun
Tues – 6.30pm
Fri – Sat 8pm
$10 – $45
Buy Tickets

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2023
Gisborne War Memorial Theatre
6 – 7 October 2023
7:00 pm

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace
Thu 12 October 2023
Premium $55
A Reserve $45

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2023
Opera House, Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre
Saturday, 28 October 2023
6pm Touch Tour, 7pm Performance
Tickets from $25 (A complimentary companion ticket is available when booking.)

To Book Audio Described Tickets:  Phone Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre box office on 06 877 9600. or email accessibility@toitoivenues.co.nz

Maiava Nathaniel Lees
Mia Blake
Ana Corbett
Shadon Meredith
James Maeva
Nicola Kawana
Nora Aati

Creative Team
Curator – Grace Iwashita-Taylor
Director – Fasitua Amosa
Set Design – Michael McCabe
Light and Projection Design – Rowan Pierce
Soundscape Design/ Original Composition – ‘Anonymouz’, aka Faiumu Matthew Salapu
Costume Design – Kristin Seth
Artist/ Projection Mamanu Design – Tyla Vaeau
Movement/ Choreographer – Joash Fahitua

Supported by Creative New Zealand.

Theatre , Physical , Performance Poetry ,

A spectacular showcase for Oceanic talents, voices and perspectives

Review by Jo Morris 29th Oct 2023

In Samoan ‘upu’ means ‘word’, and in Upu, words from across Oceania are gathered and celebrated. It’s a testament to the vibrancy, energy and beauty of poetry from the region.

Poets featured: Tusiata Avia , Audrey Brown-Pereira, Ben Brown, Jaqueline Carter, Sia Figiel, Konai Helu Thaman, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Briar Grace-Smith, Simone Kaho, Daren Kamali, Celestine Kulagoe, Albert Leomala, Grace Mera Molisa, Karlo Mila, John Pule, Lyz Soto, Leilani Tamu, Apirana Taylor, Tayi Tibble, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Hone Tuwhare, Brandy Nālani McDougall, Maualaivao Albert Wendt, Noʻu Revilla & Craig Santos Perez.

The poems demonstrate both the unique voices of the poets and a shared vision, as they address colonisation, family, climate change, love, sex, religion, power and tourists. It’s a powerful mix of established and new voices. Through Iwashita-Taylor’s selection and arrangement, the poems – and poets – acquire fresh meanings, talking to each other. There’s a common awareness of the natural world, but an intriguing sense of a shifting kaleidoscope as our attention is drawn to different flora and fauna across the region.

Actors: Maiava Nathaniel Lees, Mia Blake, Ana Corbett, Shadon Meredith, James Maeva, Nicola Kawana and Gaby Solomona.

Upu is also a testament to the transformative power of performance. While the concept is exciting, it’s realised through the passion and power of the actors; how they work to shift the poetic forms on a page to a fully realised experience. Individually, each actor is compelling and committed. Together, they make the words take flight, building tension in an almost cinematic way through layering voices, choreographed movements, and a fluid shifting from single voices to many and back.

There are standout moments in both the single and multi-voiced modes. In Tusiata Avia’s ‘This is a Photo of My House’, a pulled-back delivery allowS the quiet tragedy of the words themselves to speak, while collective voices make Sia Figel’s ‘Songs of the fat brown woman’ speak for more women than just the subject of the poem.

Set design, sound and lighting are all impressive. A deceptively simple set of three ramps facing forwards and back, allow impressive variations in form and pace – in a way, functioning like the white space on the page of the original poems. Natural sounds – waves, birdsong – combine with percussive ones to ground the performances, while the lighting is thoughtful and subtle.

There’s an almost tangible sense of connection in this work – between actors, poems, cultures, ideas and beliefs – all sharing a connection with the Oceanic space. The ordering of the works helps create a sense of progression – that the audience is on a voyage of discovery.

A notable omission is the lack of acknowledgement, during the performance or in the programme notes, of the poets whose works are included. It’s a jarring gap: carefully considered, no doubt, but inexplicable to the outsider. If we are on a voyage, it feels like the waka itself is being undervalued. 

Nonetheless, the words themselves have a chance to shine, and every aspect of the performance honours them. Upu is a spectacular showcase for Oceanic talents, voices and perspectives.


Make a comment

A powerful, emotional, humorous, joyful, beautiful and potent celebration

Review by Victoria Kerr 13th Oct 2023

Opening with ‘A Samoan Star Chant for Matariki’(by Selina Tusitala Marsh) and (by Brandy Nālani McDougall), the ensemble cast – Maiava Nathaniel Lees, Mia Blake, Ana Corbett, Shadon Meredith, James Maeva, Nicola Kawana and Gaby Solomona – transport us to the birth of the universe and earth and then take us on a journey through time and the islands.

Fluid and lyrical, and accompanied by a soundscape that takes us across the sea, we hear the voices of the present and the past: angry, funny, sad, sardonic, lusty and formidable. The tempo, pace and tone shift fluently throughout the show taking the audience on a voyage of emotions, and roaming across the moana and backwards and forwards in time. 

‘Upu’ means word in Samoan. In the creation of UPU, Grace Iwashita-Taylor has curated a selection of voices and poems from across Oceania’s islands and across time which explore a variety of themes: the impacts of colonization, trade and tourism, love, sex, religion and family, and climate change. These voices are interwoven to create a powerful, emotional show that does not hold back on the pain of colonialisation and the racism both casual and structural that pervades our cultures.

The humour and joy are also here, most notably with ‘On Cooking Captain Cook’, ‘Spam’s Carbon Footprint’andthe truly captivating performance of ‘Songs of the Fat Brown Woman’.

Director Fasitua Amosa and the cast present these voices on a dark stage with a range of stage platforms to show shifts in time, place and space. The performers move effortlessly and beautifully across these spaces and pieces and the timing and choreography are excellent. All the actors are strong and powerful in their performances both in individual and ensemble pieces, although a few words are lost. The costumes whilst largely neutral in tone are all unique and incorporate traditional dress or adornments from across the islands.

The span of poetry is reflected in the cast who are able to embody different ages and stages of life. We move from birth of the islands and individuals, Polynesian ancestors coming to the islands and the impact of colonialisation, missionaries and traders to the tourists and concerns of our contemporary world.

A truly beautiful and potent celebration of the words and voices of poets across Oceania.


Make a comment

An illuminating journey of discovery

Review by Beatrice Papazoglou 09th Oct 2023

UPU is a performance filled with poetry that glints and glitters like a polished paua shell – each poem reveals new beauty and depth as the language entrances the listener. Make no mistake though, this isn’t a show filled with pretty fripperies just for the sake of being pretty. UPU rigorously communicates pride, the cost of colonisation, joy, grief and sensuality – to name but a few of the featured messages and emotions – via the works of master poets from many islands of the Pacific (or the Moana).

Seven highly experienced Māori and Pasifika actors serve as our guides into and through this amazing world. Dressed simply in neutral colours, but with each actor adding a different and beautiful cultural item to their costume, this ensemble is powerful to watch when presenting a united front. The whole cast is present throughout the performance, supporting one another with focussed listening and occasional echoes. They all move smoothly and sure-footedly over the three elegant ramps on the stage – subtly turning them into footpaths, beaches, roads, hills, cliffs and the Moana itself according to their needs.

Using only their bodies, voices and presence, the cast led by veteran Samoan actor Maiava Nathaniel Lees and vibrant Māori actor Nicola Kawana take us on a journey of discovery, with each poem illuminating a little more of the individual, wonderful cultures around the Moana, and the aspects that are shared by them.

The audience willingly goes along for the ride. We listen closely so as to not miss a word, and appreciate the family atmosphere provided by the several small children amongst us. It is a privilege to be present at what may be the first time in a theatre for some of those children – they are as engaged as we are. At the end of the show, we all hold our breath, hoping that it isn’t over, but the gracious traditional bow from those on stage tell us that it is. Our heartfelt applause tells them how moved we are by UPU.

As we come out into the foyer, I overhear some younger audience members saying they are going to find out more about the featured poets and their works. It sounds like they have taken up the offered paua shell – and so the journey continues.  


Make a comment

Celebrates indigenous reality over colonial myth

Review by Ethan Te Ora 19th Jun 2021

UPU gathers distinct literary voices from across generations of Oceanic literature, translating those poems as emboldened, finely pitched performance.  

After a season at Silo Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival last year, UPU joins the Kia Mau Festival with a line-up of leading Māori and Pasifika performers.  

Upu means “words” in Samoan. This production animates those words as living and breathing offerings, connected to oral traditions. The 70-minute performance includes 38 poems, gathering works from Hone Tuwhare, Tusiata Avia, Karlo Mia, John Pule, Audrey Brown-Pereira, Tayi Tibble and more, the icons and new writers transforming Aotearoa literature today.

Award-winning poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor curated the show, while Fasitua Amosa directed. Angular plinths are arranged like islands staring out on a vast ocean, while lighting and projection are used to transition between the disparate works without whiplash. [More]


Make a comment


Review by Grace Ahipene Hoet 17th Jun 2021

E ngā mana, E ngā reo, E ngā karangatanga maha, E rau Rangatira ma o te roopu UPU, tino ataahua tō mahi tō kaupapa, he miharo!  

Fluid like the waters of Te-Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the masterful poetry of the Oceania Poets dances across the stage like the grace, elegance and raw power of the moana. One day a glass smooth mirror ocean, next a raging churning storm at sea. UPU takes the audience on a journey across a myriad of whakapapa, hope, intellect and passion.  

Upu means word in Samoan, like kupu is for Māori. Seventy minutes of pure wordsmithery, truly “illuminating, poignant and powerful,” as shared by Miria George Executive Director of Kia Mau Festival.

UPU is not to be rushed but too be luxuriated in, to be dwelled on, to be laughed at and with, to be felt, to see and hear the mamae and pain of the truth, to hear the injustices and discriminations.

Add the lushness of the spoken word by UPU talented performers we then have a potent and evocative piece of theatre artistry.

So powerful are the words when performed by consummate performers like Maiava Nataniel Lees and Jarod Rawiri in ‘When a Pakeha tells a Māori Joke’ by Hone Tuwhare that they leave a lasting sting. We hear the deep-set pain and the bite of racism that cuts to the core of our Pasifik people.

Miriama MacDowell booms across the stage with a superb performance giving a richness to the written word leaving an illuminating and thought-provoking response.

Not to be rushed, but balanced from the quick witted truths of Craig Santos Perez’s poem, ‘Spam’s Carbon Footprint’, Shadon Meredith gives an impeccable performance of verbal diatribe and satire. His skilled performance holds human nature up to criticism with just the right amount of comedic timing; his breath work is stunning.

‘Songs of the Fat Brown Woman’ by Sia Figiel, beautifully bought to life by the Mana Wahine o UPU – Ana Corbett, Gaby Solomona, Mia Blake and Miriama MacDowell – you can see their gorgeousness and the true celebration of the sway in her hip flourishes, the ‘fat brown women’ speak truths about the Fat Blue Pasifikand theFat Brown Earth.

Brandy Nālani, ‘On Cooking Captian Cook’, “we ate him whole, head, heart, hands wrapped in spinach”. The words ruminate in theatre and hang like a matter of fact incident. Truthful performances breathe life into the words.

UPU, where the performers work hard in their elocution and projection. The wonderful Circa theatre at times can play havoc with the performers’ spoken word and the skill of the artist is to give clear and expressive speech, especially with distinct pronunciation and articulation. It is a must for this production, and at times a few words are lost in the ethos of Circa. However, this does not detract from a stunning opening night performance and a well-deserved standing ovation.

UPU is Pasifika theatre at its best, inspiring, this is a must see and hear production of Fasitua Amosa & Grace Iwashita-Taylor. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo