Māori actress’ new work shines light on mental health

By Aroha Awarau
  • Northland
  • Auckland
Photo credit: Sacha Stejko

Shocking suicide rates in Aotearoa have inspired Māori actress Cian Elyse White and her friends to write a theatre work about mental health awareness. 

The Te Arawa performer, who is currently starring in the TV show 800 Words, says her new work deals with important issues.

“We wanted to build a platform to speak out about mental distress and how it affects people in everyday life,” she says. “Last year the suicide statistics were the highest they've been, especially amongst our youth. We asked ourselves what we could do to deliver a message of hope.”

White started a new company called REcollective Theatre with best mates and fellow actors Romy Hooper (Step Dave) and Esmee Myers (Disney’s Pete’s Dragon). DeVine is their very first show and it's about a family reunion where an unforeseen event brings dark secrets to the surface. The show aims to spark conversations around how to deal with whānau suffering from mental distress.  The guest director was Morgana O’Reilly, an actress who starred in the feature film Housebound and the Australian soap Neighbours.

The group visited community groups and marae in Northland to help research and develop the show.

“Theatre is our first love, and we believe it’s a powerful vehicle to deliver important messages,” says White. “I’m humbled by the mana wāhine I’m surrounded by. Having such dynamic, diverse and highly skilled actors under one roof is so powerful.”

DeVine has a fundraising season at Auckland’s Basement theatre, which opens on Tuesday and then will tour to Whangarei, Kerikeri, and Kaitāia,

“The show is for those who aren’t aware of the gravitas of this mamae, this hurt that many people are carrying,” White says.