Keep an eye on Leki Jackson-Bourke; if his 2017 success is anything to go by, we could be hearing a lot more from him.

With playwright Maree Webster, Jackson-Bourke, 26, was one of the team behind last year's cult comedy Meet the Fakas — a Niuean language play which sold out at the Basement Theatre and twice at the Mangere Arts Centre.

They collected a 2017 Auckland Theatre Award for the production while Jackson-Bourke was named as a best newcomer to the city's theatre scene. He added that gong to the prestigious Creative New Zealand Todd New Writers Bursary Grant which earned him $20,000 to put towards his next play

He's the first Pasifika playwright to win the Todd award and also became one of our youngest published Pasifika playwrights last year after an earlier play he co-wrote, Inky Pinky Ponky, was included in Talanoa: Four Pacific Plays.

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His new play, Just Pring It! is a fictional look at the behind-the-scenes drama at the ASB Polyfest. As a Marcellin College pupil, Jackson-Bourke took part in the world's biggest annual Polynesian arts festival and has fond memories, plus a few questions he wants to raise.

"One of the themes will be traditional versus contemporary — that's always a hot topic for the community."

Meanwhile, he's continuing to hone his backstage skills as a stage manager with a new theatre initiative. Summer Theatre in the Gardens starts this week at Nathan Homestead, with Think of a Garden. Written by John Kneubuhl, the partly autobiographical play offers a candid look at one family's experiences during the fight for Samoan independence.

Jackson-Bourke says he wants to champion Pasifika stories and languages, especially given how many of the latter are threatened.

"We want to write plays that everyone can get the gist of but that also push our languages," he says. "In Auckland, we have the largest Niuean population in the world but the language is described as the fastest dying Pacific language so we are in crisis mode.
I can speak it but that's very rare, especially given I was born and raised in Grey Lynn."

Despite the accolades, 2017 wasn't his best year. Jackson-Bourke was left reeling when Best Pacific Institute of Education went into liquidation. As the biggest provider of tertiary training to Pacific people, its closure affected about 1200 students studying at campuses in New Lynn and Manukau.

The Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (Pipa) was shut down and Jackson-Bourke, about to leave with a Bachelor of Arts in Pacific Performing Arts, says it was heartbreaking and devastating.

"Pipa was more than an institution. It was a safe space where young Pasifika practitioners could play and produce magic. At the same time as encouraging a strong sense of community, we were also encouraged to work and become the best we could be as individuals and taught to value what each person can contribute.

"You didn't come out like a robot, committed to one way of doing things because there was a strong focus on how to find your own voice and navigate through different and difficult situations."

He has spent summer taking stock and feels more empowered than ever to continue to make work which shines a light on Pacific peoples, their cultures and identities in New Zealand.

LOWDOWN:
What: Think of a Garden
Where & when: Nathan Homestead, Hill Rd, Manurewa; Thursday — Sunday