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Extra show for special audience

Witi Ihimaera was happy to be back with the most special wahine in his life, his sisters, at an invitation-only performance of Nancy Brunning's play Witi's Wahine at Rongopai Marae on Wednesday night.

Ihimaera said it was important they honoured Nancy's intention that the play be performed at Coast communities where the inspiration came from for some of his leading female characters.

About 70 special guests gathered at Rongopai, Ihimaera's family marae in Waituhi, many of them with close connections to characters in the play.

A dinner was followed by the performance directed by Waimihi Hotere and starring Mere Boynton, Roimata Fox and Ani-Piki Tuari and new cast member, Olivia Violet Robinson.

Actor and writer Nancy Brunning passed away last year, leaving a lasting legacy of Maori stories and characters on the small screen, silver screen and on stage.

Witi's Wahine was one of her final projects where she brought together some of Ihimaera's poignant wahine Maori characters. The play premiered at the Tairawhiti Arts Festival last year to rave reviews and this year has been performed in Uawa and Wairoa. There will be two final performances on Saturday at Lawson Field Theatre in Gisborne.

Ihimaera had a small film crew in tow at the marae from European broadcaster ARTE, who are making a short film about his work, including the region that inspired a lot of it. The film will be released in France and Germany next year.

He has been busy working on two new books, Navigating The Stars; Maori Creation Myths (non-fiction) being released on October 20, and a children's book, Aria and the Matariki Stars, which will be released next year.

The novelist, short story writer, anthologist and librettist was born in Gisborne and was the first Maori writer to publish both a book of short stories and a novel. The recipient of many awards, he has also had two of his novels made into feature films — Whale Rider and Mahana.

Rongopai Marae is on Lavenham Road at Waituhi, 17km from Gisborne. The extraordinary paintings, rather than carvings, decorating the meeting house's interior, have been described in rich detail in Ihimaera's writing.

‘THEY SAY, ME DO!': Author Witi Ihimaera with his sisters, from left, Polly Crawford, Gay Waititi, Caroline Haapu and Viki Carr at Rongopai Marae, Waituhi. Ihimaera his sisters had organised a few things for him to do while he was in town, joking 'they say, me do!' Picture by Paul Rickard