Two leading Samoan theatre practitioners have won 2016 Senior Pasifika Artist Awards from Creative New Zealand (the New Zealand arts council). Oscar Kightley and David Fane were granted these awards in acknowledgement of their outstanding contributions to the arts in New Zealand as writers, actors and directors. Kightley originally trained as a journalist and was a co-founder of the seminal Christchurch theatre company Pacific Underground in 1992. After graduating from the national drama school Toi Whakaari, Fane joined Pacific Underground to play the leading role in Fresh off the Boat (1993) co-written by Kightley and Simon Small. Kightley’s first sole-authored play Dawn Raids, produced by Pacific Underground in 1995, dealt with the controversial forced deportation of Pacific Island migrants in the mid-1970s.
In recognition of the growing influence of Pasifika theatre, Kightley and Fane were commissioned by the New Zealand International Arts Festival to co-write A Frigate Bird Sings, which premiered at the festival in 1996. This play was critically acclaimed for its sensitive portrayal of fa’afafine, men who live as women in Samoan society, often known as ‘the third sex.’ In 1998 Kightley became the first writer of Pasifika descent to win the prestigious Bruce Mason Playwriting Award. In the same year, Fane and Kightley were two of the founders of the all-male comedy group Naked Samoans, whose provocative brand of humour explored topical issues such as family dysfunction, child abuse and racism. The Naked Samoans have toured extensively, including a season at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The central characters were re-developed for the animated television series bro’Town (2004-2009) co-written and voiced by Fane and Kightley along with Mario Gaoa and Shimpal Lelisi. bro’Town’s subversive humour won its creators Best Comedy at the New Zealand Screen Awards for three years in a row.
Kightley and Fane performed in the popular comedy movies Sione’s Wedding (2006) and Sione’s 2: Unfinished Business (2012) co-written by Kightley. bro’Town and these movies have given both Kightley and Fane a higher media profile than most New Zealand theatre practitioners, and they are in demand for celebrity shows and as radio and television hosts. While they are best known for their distinctive, politically incorrect Pasifika comedy, they are equally at home in straight drama. Fane has had powerful dramatic roles such as a Fijian resort owner in Toa Fraser’s Paradise (2001) and the dysfunctional father in the 2012 revival of A Frigate Bird Sings. Kightley wrote and played the title role, a Samoan detective in the television series Harry (2013), alongside well-known New Zealand film star Sam Neill.
Oscar Kightley and David Fane have both done much to raise the profile of Pasifika performing arts and to support and mentor other Pasifika artists. They were presented with these awards at a ceremony at Wellington’s St James Theatre on October 26, 2016, acknowledging their exceptional and wide-ranging contributions to New Zealand theatre, television and film.
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