Playwright Jay Junior Williams says his new show, which will star 14 male actors in peak physical condition, will help people with Māori and Niuean heritage to connect with their Pacific roots.
Williams, who is from Niue, spent seven years as a drama teacher in Gisborne and Manutuke. During his time on the East Coast, Williams met many Maori Niueans who knew their Māori culture but not their Pacific side.
“There are a whole lot of Niueans out there who are half Māori. There are pockets all over the country,” he explains. “They’ve mainly been raised in Aotearoa and know more of their Māori side.”
He was often approached by these Māori, who wanted to know more about their Niuean culture. Williams is writing and developing his new play, My Name is Niue, to help people connect and understand their Niuean heritage.
“There is no starting point for them. I wanted to write a play so they have something to relate to," he says.
This will be Williams’ ninth play. His last production, called Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane was performed in 2013 and dealt with youth bullying and suicide. His new play will be about a Niuean men’s touch team competing at the world championships. He plans to cast 14 fit and athletic actors in the main roles and likens it to the Hollywood stripper film Magic Mike – with a twist.
“To us, being fit and healthy is not about sex," says Williams, "I don’t want to portray Māori and Pacific men as being a piece of meat. We’re deeper than that. We’re fathers, sons and husbands and we bring lots of things to the table.”
Williams says he will be writing My Name is Niue as a starring vehicle for body-builder and former hip hop dancer Billie Paea.
Originally from Auckland and now living in Australia, Paea says he’s excited about the chance to show off his acting chops - and his physique.
“Imagine 14 of the best-looking bodies on stage," says Paea, "That can be inspiring. But that’s only one element to it. The play will also tell an important and an inspiring Pacific story.”
My Name is Niue is set to debut during Niuean Language Week later in the year.