When Sieni Leo'o Olo saw Massive Company perform for the first-time, she returned to drama classes at Aorere College and told her classmates "we're doing it all wrong, guys!"

The show was The Brave and Leo'o Olo, 19, says it was obvious the all-male cast had spent time crafting each of the stories featured in the youth theatre company's internationally-acclaimed production.

Following the old "if you can't beat them, join them", she did just that and signed up for a workshop (the company runs numerous free development programmes in schools and the community) and later joined Massive Nui Ensemble.

MNE enables emerging artists, aged 14-25, to train, devise stories and perform with the company. Now it's taking Leo'o Olo and five of her fellow performers on a journey she never expected: to Scotland.


The group has been invited to the Exchange Festival in Stirling, "the gateway to the Highlands". The festival is run by the National Theatre of Scotland, who made a splash in the Auckland Arts Festival this year with The James Plays.

It brings together young theatre-makers (aged 16 to 25) from across Scotland and the world, to create and perform new pieces of theatre with help and support from a professional creative team. Each group - there are eight from Scotland, one from Harlem in New York and MNE - performs its own show while taking part in a week-long programme of masterclasses and workshops.

MNE has devised The Island, a physical theatre piece about what it means to grow up, here and now, in New Zealand and the impact of living in a supposedly isolated corner of the world.

The project, which was first decided on last year, saw the young performers told to go away and find out about their family history.

"I had no idea that my great-great-grandfather was Chinese and he travelled from China to Samoa to sell eggs and needles," says Leo'o Olo, who's also a budding stand-up comedian. "The story goes that he used to walk around the streets and blow a whistle to let people know he was selling eggs and needles, which strikes me as a strange combination."

MNE performs the show next week (Tuesday - Friday) before flying out early Saturday morning for Scotland.

Leo'o Olo says she's simply looking forward to everything. "It's the furthest I've ever travelled; I've been to Alaska because my uncle lives there," she muses. "There's actually a big Samoan population in Alaska and you quite often come across Pacific churches there ... "

Massive stalwart Miriama McDowell co-directs The Island with company founder Sam Scott. McDowell, well known from roles in films like The Dark Horse and Mahana, says she's impressed that Scotland has so many youth theatre companies.

"It wasn't like they selected eight because that's the total number; they went through a selection process and, from there, picked eight! It shows what a commitment they have to youth theatre."

What: The Island
Where & when: Mangere Arts Centre, Tuesday-Friday.