About 200 people were early risers and weathered the rain recently to support the traditional dawn ceremony celebrating the opening of a new $3 million purpose built Māori performing arts venue in West Auckland.

The new Te Pou Theatre, the home of Māori theatre in Auckland, is a kaupapa Māori driven initiative that will provide a performance and rehearsal space for indigenous theatre practitioners and creative artists. It’s one of the first independent professional performing arts venues in the world.

The opening was attended by Labour MP Kelvin Davis, and a raft of distinguished enthusiasts of the stage and screen including Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand, Dr Hinemoa Elder, Te Rauhiringa Brown, Maaka Pohatu and Jarod Rawiri.

Davis says the venue will hopefully encourage more Māori into the performing arts industry.

“We know everybody may not want to be an account or a lawyer. A place like Te Pou gives an opportunity for our people to follow in their heart’s desire.”

It took three years to raise funds for the $3 million renovations. More than 13 organisations donated funds and resources towards the theatre, including principal sponsors, Ngā Mātārae, Auckland Council. Foundation North, Lottery Community Facilities, The Trusts Community Foundation, and Manatū Taonga Regional Cultural and Heritage Fund.

Te Pou Theatre was established in 2015 initially in Auckland’s New Lynn before moving to its current location at the Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson.

Co-founder, Amber Curreen, says the theatre is a much-needed space for Māori and other indigenous creative artists and was established to provide support and development of indigenous voices.

“In Aotearoa and other indigenous theatre communities around the world, it’s so important to have a place to stand, a place where you are not the other and where the whare runs on values that make sense to your culture,” she says.

“Te Pou is a place of belonging for the Māori community where our people feel like it’s their kind of place, which is so often the case with venues.”

The opening included a traditional Māori “mauri” ceremony led by Rewi Spraggon and Hemi Tai Tin and former national kapa haka champions, Te Roopu Manutaki, gave a spirited performance to celebrate the occasion.

The first play to be performed in the new theatre is Hemo is Home in March. It’s a comedy about a young child’s relationship with his dead relatives at an urupā (cemetery).