Taking up the lead role in the upcoming Dawn Raids production has been an emotional and learning experience for actor Michael Falesiu (pictured).
For Michael, who stars as Sione, and smooth crooner Fabian by night, the role has provided an opportunity to learn more about the Dawn Raids – a series of racist attacks on Pacific peoples by the New Zealand Government in the 1970s.
“It is an honour and a privilege to be acting in this role as a New Zealand-born Pacific man,” Michael says.
“One, because I get to help tell the stories of our ancestors who had to go through such a traumatic time here in the 1970’s and two, I get the opportunity to learn more about this period and how it affected our communities and the minds of our people.
“Also, as a Pacific man I must be bold in who I am in this role, because I owe it to our people.”
The play, which comes in the wake of last year’s Dawn Raids Apology by the New Zealand Government, is the masterpiece of Arts Foundation Laureate, actor, writer, theatre and film director and comedian, Tusitala Oscar Kightley (MNZM).
It revisits the shameful period in the 1970’s when the New Zealand government cracked down on overstayers in Aotearoa, ripping Pacific families from their beds in a series of targeted early morning police raids.
Dawn Raids was first staged in 1997 by legendary Pacific theatre collective Pacific Underground, and 25 years later, the play is being presented once more in partnership with Auckland Theatre Company and a new generation of Pacific talent.
One such talent is Michael, who began his acting journey in 2013 in the production of Hearts of Men, which showcased his multiple talents on stage including impeccable comic timing, dancing, singing, and guitar playing.
In 2020, Michael was offered the role of Maka in the Fresh Shorts New Zealand Film Commission-funded film Lea Tupu'anga/Mother’s Tongue.
When he is not acting, Michael can be found presenting at live events, or helping at Auckland’s Ormiston Junior High, where he is a learning assistant.
As far as acting roles go, Michael says being cast as Sione carries great meaning.
“Every role, big or small, carries meaning for me to be honest but this role has a special place as it is my first lead role in professional theatre.
“For this role I knew I needed to do more research and study about the Dawn Raids for my character development.
“Details about the Dawn Raids were not taught to me in school, although they should have been – and I know our people did not really speak much about it either, it was such a daunting time.
“So, there is this weight I feel I carry when in this role but it’s a good one and a good challenge - hopefully I can bring justice to the character I play.”
Keeping the Dawn Raids top-of-mind in Aotearoa is important, Michael adds.
“I mean, it’s a part of New Zealand history, right?
“This production has given me more understanding on why our people are the way they are, here in New Zealand.
“It’s important that our stories are told. We love telling stories through plays, songs and dance, so why not keep the stories of the Dawn Raids in the public eye, in the form we love.”
Dawn Raids, by Oscar Kightley is a co-production between Auckland Theatre Company and Pacific Underground, showing at ASB Waterfront Theatre, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland from August 16 to September 03, 2022.
On August 23, there is special Pay What You Wish performance, where you literally pick your own ticket price.
Visit the Auckland Theatre Company website for more information, or phone 0800 282 849.