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About this resource

About this resource | Curriculum links

This project is designed to support the teaching of drama in The Arts in New Zealand Curriculum for years 12 and 13. It will also meet several drama achievement standards for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) at levels 2 and 3.

Within this resource, the contemporary Māori play Purapurawhetū is studied alongside The Pohutukawa Tree - written nearly 50 years ago and one of the first plays to focus on relationships between Māori and Pākehā - as a gateway to understanding bicultural elements in the history of New Zealand theatre and the development of Māori theatre.

The classroom activities provided span a range of processes for working in drama, and have been designed to be adaptable for further use. In the activities under each theme, the focus of the material and the strategies is different for each play, so they could readily be adapted for the other. Different script extracts could also be used. In addition, many of the activities could be adapted to study other New Zealand plays with bicultural themes.

Purapurawhetū could also be studied on its own, as an exciting example of recent New Zealand or Māori writing. To enable this, the material related specifically to the two plays has been provided as separate documents.

This project was developed for the Ministry of Education in 2002 by Janinka Greenwood (writer) and Vivienne Plum (researcher), with assistance from Playmarket.


This section first surveys the history of New Zealand theatre as it relates to biculturalism and the emergence of Māori theatre. Moving on to trace the roots and significant events in the development of Māori theatre, it then focuses the pivotal topics of spirituality, tradition and political correctness. The concept of 'sightlines' is introduced, followed by imaginative classroom activities. Teachers may use this material before, during or after working on the plays. Overall, this is a valuable resource that could be used independently for any study of New Zealand theatre and drama.

The bicultural landscape & Māori theatre (PDF 201 KB)

This section contains seven classroom activities designed to offer 'ways in' to the text of Purapurawhetū through the making of new texts. As such, they are generic and could also be used on their own as starters for improvisation, or with any study of New Zealand theatre. The activities draw on the skills of story telling, use of pre-text, physicalisation, and working with text.

Ways in to Purapurawhetū – Weaving stories (PDF 119 KB)

Working with supplied script extracts, this section provides detailed classroom activities for approaching, understanding and performing pivotal scenes in the two plays.

Rehearsing and performing – Purapurawhetū (PDF 106 KB)

Rehearsing and performing – The Pohutukawa Tree (PDF 94 KB)

Grace-Smith evokes the image of weaving capturing stories to describe her approach to play writing. Four activities provide opportunities for students to learn aspects of the craft. People close to Mason recall the evolution of The Pohutukawa Tree script, and the effect that he and this seminal play had on the development of New Zealand theatre. Three activities give students ways to see inside the 1950s world, and to analyse colonial attitudes and discourse.

The writer's perspective – Purapurawhetū (PDF 202 KB)

The writer's perspective – The Pohutukawa Tree (PDF 216 KB)

This section compares the two writers' directions for sets, lighting, sound, and action, and how these were interpreted by the technical teams in several productions. This leads to practical activities for students to analyse these productions and develop their own designs. There is also an exercise in evaluating a play for a radio version.

Technical production – Purapurawhetū (PDF 123 KB)

Technical production – The Pohutukawa Tree (PDF 309 KB)

A rare opportunity to see inside, and practice, the work of a theatre historian. Grown from the work of recreating the performance history of The Pohutukawa Tree for this project, this section provides another method for students to approach historic social and cultural attitudes through analysing period plays and past dramatic performance. The activities include a video documentary project.

Working as a theatre historian (PDF 177 KB)

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