Theatre-maker Fiona Collins intended to be away for a year when she became Creative New Zealand's Artist in Residence at the National University of Samoa in 2009.
But being there meant life made more sense for Collins, born and raised in New Zealand in what she describes as a traditional household steeped in Samoan culture and protocol. Rather than hurrying back to NZ – where she'd made a name for herself in productions like Frangipani Perfume, Awhi Tapu, the Vagina Monologues and Vula along with a role on Shortland Street - Collins decided to stay in Samoa. For a decade.
Now she's back in NZ with film credits to her name she never expected – a role in Samoa's first feature The Orator, the female-centred Vai and a credit as a casting director for Disney's Moana – and 10 years teaching performing arts at the university. That job meant writing shows for her students to perform.
"I looked around for material I could use for students to perform – stuff they could relate to - and found… Well, there wasn't very much at all, so out of necessity I started writing my own," says Collins, on the phone from Rotorua. "I arrived a week before the tsunami struck so that was the first thing I wrote about."
Now New Zealanders are seeing what she has been writing and how it is growing Pasifika theatre. Collins is touring her play AloFA (Samoan for love) which arrives in Auckland this week after performances in Wellington, Rotorua and Hamilton. Those followed seasons in American and Western Samoa.
AloFA perhaps marks a coming of age – or at least growing success in bringing together Western theatre traditions with fa'a Samoa.
"What I write can get quite political but there needs to be a lot of humility and respect, so it's presented in a way that doesn't offend my culture, my ancestors and my parents! I'm only 50 but I didn't want to be viewed as another angry, screaming person telling everyone else what to do," she says.
"In the past, I have been criticised for censoring my own work but I am not trying to do that. I am just presenting things in such a way that it doesn't alienate my audience. I don't want them to walk out; I want them to have a conversation and reflect on what they've seen. Those who disagree with my approach, that's fine. They can go and write their own plays if they don't like what I am saying and how I am doing that."
The play follows Niko, an eldest son who, after 25 years away, returns to Samoa after the death of Alofa, the family matriarch. He is immediately confronted with the fallout from his long absence and, says Collins, secrets and lies – so beloved of family dramas anywhere in the world – are revealed.
"A lot of my work is female-orientated but with AloFA, I used a predominantly male cast and have found men – who I was wanting to get a message through to – have responded more, have called themselves out on certain things."
That cast is Uelese Petaia, Ali Foa'i, Iaheto Ah Hi and Atutahi Potaka–Dewes.
Where & when: Q Theatre, Friday and Saturday; Mangere Arts Centre, Wednesday, September 25 - Friday, September 27.