Rotorua-born actress Cian Elyse White is to pay homage to one of Rotorua's most beloved beauty queens while giving a positive voice to young Maori women.

Her debut play Te Puhi (princess) is a coming of age story inspired by Rotorua's Maureen Waaka (nee Kingi) who won the Miss New Zealand title in 1962.

Mrs Waaka, a Rotorua district councillor and esteemed community leader, died in 2013 aged 70.

The fictional tale follows a young Maori woman named Puhi, who goes from her whanau kapa haka group in Rotorua and is thrust on to the national stage after being crowned Miss New Zealand. Although it's an exciting new world, Puhi is faced with cultural and personal challenges.


White, who currently stars in TV show 800 Words said her work was a tribute to strong Maori women leaders such as Mrs Waaka.

"It's a homage to our kuia, and their history of achievements as mothers, nurturers, hard workers and leaders.

"The idea to do the play came about when I was living in Christchurch in 2013. It was the middle of winter and I was homesick then I found out Maureen had passed away. It got me thinking about how blown away I was by her beauty and moved by her story.

"She was an amazing, inspiring role model for Maori girls and I wanted to be able to honour her and women like her.

"Te Arawa has a known legacy of creating strong, empowered women and I wanted to not only create a platform where those Maori voices can be uplifted but tell an uplifting story about Maori and what success looks like from a Maori perspective."

White was thrilled to finally bring her masterpiece to the stage.

"It's been a wonderful challenge, not being a writer first and foremost, and slowly but surely it's made its way to the stage - It feels surreal really.

"I can't wait to bring it to Rotorua on tour next year."

Meanwhile White is helping another Rotorua woman, Turene Jones, with the debut of her play, I Ain't Mad at Cha, on June 20 at The Basement Theatre in Auckland.

White saw herself in Jones, especially with the Te Arawa connection, and wanted to reach out to help her produce her first show, debuting the same week as Te Puhi.

Te Puhi
- Finalist at the 2016 Adams Playwriting Awards
- Two-day season preview at Mangere Arts Centre, June 8
- World premiere at Herald Theatre, Auckland from June 13 to 17
I 'Aint Mad at Cha
- Finalist for Plays before 25 in 2016
- Debut on June 20 at The Basement Theatre