Haere atu rā koe e hine, e hoki ki te pō, haere atu ra, haere atu rā
Nāu i kāhakina atu ai ki tua, haere atu rā, ki runga i tou waka tupuna i te taha o te arai e
He rerenga roimata te mutunga kore e …
Haere atu ra, haere atu rā
Theatre is no place for the weak, it’s a space that is demanding, terrifying, exhilarating and joyful, intimate yet out-of-reach at the same time.
It is on the ‘boards’ of theatre Nancy Brunning, our beloved friend, colleague, sister, aunty and national treasure inhabited that space with understanding, commitment, personal intensity and dedication to her craft, storytelling.
Considered the renowned Māori woman actor of her age, Nancy’s mastery of technique made her an artist.
All actors seek to find the truth in their work and to do right by their characters but her artistry allowed us to see Māori in a different light. To see ourselves on stage and screen as we know ourselves to be. ‘not just victims or dole bludgers’ (sic),but powerful people with strength and dignity.
She learned from an early age the disturbing effect of colonisation and that put a fire in her belly. That fire burned in her performances as she sought justice for her characters.
Toi Whakaari drama school, provided her with the necessary skills to hone her craft and with encouragement from those she always acknowledged as her mentors, Rona Bailey, Tungia Baker, Roley Habib, Don Selwyn, Wi Kuki Kaa and Keri Kaa, Nancy herself became a strong advocate of Kaupapa Māori theatre and performance.
Her willingness to spurn well-trod narratives, walking instead her own path with lethal effectiveness and wide-ranging insight, garnered enormous respect in the screen industry also.
Nancy was THE sought-after Māori actor, called upon to perform in any film or television project. Even if not age appropriate for a role, she’d still be referenced and at times simply aged up because This diminutive woman stood with immense power whenever she took the stage or the camera lens.
Nan was the second to last born in a whanau of seven kids but considered herself a Middle child. Stuck between the “spoilt only boy child and the spoilt baby girl” (sic), she was determined to be noticed and knew from the age of 15 that Māori theatre was what she wanted to do for a living and her love of theatre drove her to the end. Her most recent work was ‘Witi’s Wahine’ which she wrote and directed for Hāpai productions to be performed at Te Tairawhti inaugural Arts Festival in early October. While her illness interfered with final rehearsals she was determined to rise from her sick bed in Poneke and travel to Gisborne to support her cast and crew.
That steely determination is what our diminutive but powerful sister will be remembered for. That and the immense love and respect accorded to true artists.
She will be remembered for her strength of character, her generosity, creativity and a strong desire to celebrate Māori on screen and stage. While theatre was her passion, she shared her love of storytelling across the big and small screen and in doing so Nancy inspired and supported a new generation of Māori creatives.
This from Te Tairawhiti arts festival.
Artists create worlds of wonder, provocation and poignance which remind us of the importance of story. They shine light into dark places and provide commentary on the difficult and challenging times. They also lead us into spaces for reflection, create moments of joy and uplift us.
Nan touched us all with her artistry but sadly left us wanting much more of her.
Dad is from Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga (Ōtaki, at the head of the fish) and mum is Ngāi Tūhoe (Ruatāhuna, the heart of the fish).