Loose Canons: Cian Elyse White
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Cian Elyse White (Te Arawa, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Ngāi Tūhoe) is an actor, playwright and producer who was born and raised in Rotorua. Tonight she opens her play Te Puhi – a homage to the first Māori beauty queens – at Mangere Arts Centre, before it transfers to the Herald Theatre next week as part of Tāmaki Makaurau's Matariki Festival 2017. Cian trained at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School and is the founder of Māori production company, WAITĪ Productions. She directed John Broughton’s Ngā Puke in 2015 and aside from mounting her own play this Matariki Festival, the company is also producing new work I Ain't Mad At Cha at the Basement Theatre.
Cian has worked extensively in film and TV and she's currently a core cast member on South Pacific Pictures/Seven Productions' top rating show, 800 Words.
My lineage is my inspiration. If it weren’t for my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents and all of my ancestors, I wouldn’t be here, writing this article, in this very moment. Due to their endeavours, struggles, and battles fought and won (literally), due to their aroha, sacrifices, and the life my tūpuna lived, I am here today, and I'm brought into te ao hurihuri to serve my purpose.
My purpose is to tell stories. I specifically like telling stories that uplift and empower the Māori voice, inspiring our people to be hopeful and proud of our legacy and who we are. I'm from some of the most well-known tribes in Aotearoa. The Te Arawa people are renowned for our ability to make a living off storytelling, as well as host visitors and entertain. My father is also Ngāti Porou (Tokomaru Bay) and tells me stories of being clipped around the ear by his aunty, the famous songstress Ngoi Pēwhairangi when he was a boy. He tells me of my koro’s close relationship with his step-father, Sir Apirana Ngata and the times he was kidnapped by the Germans during World War II. My great-grandfather Pōtaua Waaka was a Ngāti Pikiao chief who also connected to the Kingitanga in Tainui. My nana was often babysat by Princess Te Puea, who also travelled over with a contingent from Tainui when my great-grandfather was laid to rest in Motutawa, our family urupā.
My whakapapa makes me who I am. Therefore it's a part of everything I do.
Rotorua was once the Māori capital of the world, and in 1962 it went from ‘Borough’ to ‘City’ status. I was born at the Rotorua hospital on October 21, 1988 at 9.05am and was delivered by our local doctor, doctor Jew.
Here are a few things that remind me of my home Rotorua, my favourite place in the world: the lake front, Sunset Road, Homedale, Kahukura, Heights, Koutu, Te Ngae, Out the E, Pleasant Heights, N.G.O, Pukehangi, Ngapuna, Glenhome, Town, City Focus (RIP), Fairy Springs Road, Eat Street, Lavas, the mall, Capers, Third Place Café, the Blue Lake, Lake Tarawera, Okareka, $4 mix bags of lollies from the sunset dairy, JPC, St. Michaels Primary, Te Kura o Te Koutu, HEIGHTS, Boys & Girls High, Lakes High, The Luge, The Gondola, Gengys, Fenton Street, Pukuatua Street, the lakefront, Sunday flea markets, everything's-shut-early-as-on-Sundays, ghost town/but busy-as mall, Te Puia, the museum, Government Gardens, Sulphur Point, Ohinemutu, Mourea, Okere Falls, Rot-i-ti, Lil Orb Donuts, PAK'nSAVE, New Years, Saturday sports, Kuirau Park Markets on a Saturday, the Mount, swims, Mourea, the Kaituna, Hamurana, PuawaiJade, the carving and weaving schools, Sulphur, Poly Pools, Lady Janes, my family.
I share my fathers utter adoration for music. Any type of music. As long as there's a beat, a tune, and a story, I’m transported to another world. All-time faves would have to be blues/jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Moore, Sam Cooke. The Hi-Marks, The Inkspots and anything from the 30s-50s is right up my alley. I also like a bit of country and grew up listening to Kenny Rogers with my second family the McBreens, who also were quite partial to music.
My family is musical; my brother plays the bass, drums, guitar and sings and I learnt piano, cello, violin, double bass, guitar and singing which lead to my ability to read music. My father plays the guitar, and my mother the piano. I also like a bit of dirty hip-hop. I find immense delight in the 800 Words 5am make-up truck soundtrack, as it is all dirty 90s and 2000s hip-hop and R&B.
My plays are laden with sweet beats. There’ll often be music playing when I write or in the rehearsal room. This might include Snoop, Nelly, Mase, Nas, Pac, Kendrik, Aaliyah, B2K, NEXT, Keith Sweat, Jagged Edge, Ja Rule, Mos Def, Lil Kim, 50 cent. If it has a beat, a tune and an epic lyric, I’m IN! I’m also a massive fan of NZ Music, Six60, Maisey Rika, Tama Waipara, Seth Haapu. Talent plus!
I look up to our strong Māori female leaders as they are the guides for young women like me. Everything they've done to REPRESENT our people has resounded epicly throughout the ages. Women like Te Paea Herangi (one of the first Māori female guides in Te Arawa), Guide Rangi Dennan (Ngāti Pikiao), Princess Te Puea, my grandmother, her mother. These women who surround and infuence me everyday are my fuel to write, direct, produce and perform in various roles within Te Ao Whakaari.
I won’t play two-dimensional depictions of women or our people anymore. Not that I have, but it's something I specifically look out for now when I decide whether to audition for roles. I ask myself, would my tūpuna be proud of this? Is this a depiction/message I would be happy to share with my niece, my daughter, our rangatahi? Is it an accurate representation of our people? Does the story have depth and truth and if so, what is it saying about us? If it's a comedy, are the laughs at the expense of what we value most and if so, is there a point to it? Don’t get me wrong, I'm all for racey storylines and harsh realities, as long as they are not at the expense of our people's integrity and truth.
Call me old fashioned, but yup, I believe whole-heartedly in love. Sometimes to my detriment. I believe in it, embrace it and incorporate it into everything I do. I greet with love, I work with love and I think and feel through love. Sometimes this makes me very sensitive and prone to heartache but I'll still always love.
First and foremost in that love is God, my Father and guide. Prayer and faith are a massive fuel for my tenacity and ambition. I'm never alone and I have the best co-driver in existence. Then his creation - Te Ao. Then my whānau and community. Then my friends. Then the opportunities that come my way. Then through the stories I write, the works I produce, the roles I play, the mother I’m yet to become, the grandmother I will one day be and the legacy I'm contributing to. Love is the best lens and one of my top five inspirations of all.
1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Te Puhi runs from June 8-10 at Mangere Arts Centre, then transfers to the Herald Theatre from June 12-17.