Firelight theatre is a modern musical theatre art form which originated in and is primarily practiced in the Oan Isles and Kohatu Isles. It forms a major part of the Oan tourism industry. The Oan Dance and Theatre Association (ODTA) is the formal association and union of performers, directors, producers and writers involved in this industry and awards the Aroha Prize in Dance and Theatre for Firelight productions and performances.
For millennia, the Insular people of the Southwest Pacific have told stories, danced and portrayed mystical and heroic stories around a fire in the evenings. These were special gatherings of people that brought together families and communities. Through these performances, important lessons were imparted and history was passed on. As the demand for these performances became more intense and as people's tastes in art became more refined, the performances became more elaborate. Costumes became more elaborate, performances longer, and the craft of storytelling and dance which required special dedication and practice. The introduction of writing and paper helped formalise and record these performances, such that certain stories and art forms spread and became famous.
In the reign of Ahua the Great, the court at Tokapa expanded. Chiefs sent their princes, princesses and other members of their court and households to the Serene Court at Tokapa in tribute to the new sovereign of a prosperous and united nation. Chiefs would often arrive at the court and many gatherings of important people took place in the city. As such, the Rangitanga-o-te-Moana commissioned the construction of a large outdoor amphitheatre where performances were held. Once casual and part-time performers aspired to stand before the Ruler of the Sea and the Serene Court. Thus parents prepared their children to perform there. As the competition for a place rose, schools dedicated to teaching the performing arts arose. Moreover, the shows for the Rangitanga needed to be grand and captivating to be worthy of his court. Thus writers, costumers and directors dedicated time to craft the art and impart their skills and knowledge. More theatres were built by Chiefs to emulate the royal court. Merchants then built theatres, realising that the increasingly wealthy population was willing to pay to watch it.
In the late 1800s, the art of performance became a tool to spread propaganda and proliferate the ideals of nationalism and loyalty to the Throne. The University of Tokapa began offering classes in the art in the early 1900s. It awarded the first degrees in performing arts. This led to the professionalisation and formalisation of the art. The Oan Guild of the Arts was established in the former half of the 20th century. It evolved into the Oan Dance and Theatre Association, when recording musicians separated and established the Oan Recording Industry Association and when film, radio and television personnel broke off to establish the Oan Broadcasting Industry Association. Around that time, the Oan government passed laws to protect and encourage the performing arts. Ever since, the Department of Cultural Heritage has been in charge of art policy especially with respect to the Firelight industry. The Aroha Prize was established to award exceptional performances in dance and theatre and the Firelight industry took a large part of those awards such that the Aroha Prize was rebuilt to fit Firelight theatre.
Usually these productions feature traditional Oan music, dance and acting acting. Thus performers are required to be multi-dimensional, making Firelight theatre incredibly challenging. The performances usually happen in the form of a play where characters and scenes tell a story. The usually arc follows that song and dance is reserved for emotionally charged scenes while dialogue features in narration and story-building. The process is incredibly demanding because it requires the performers to convey the story in a large crowded area. Modern venues usually feature sound technology to amplify the music and dialogue.
The largest productions by revenue are as follows:
- Ngātoroirangi and his sisters (Ko Ngātoroirangi me ona tuahine): 800 million KRB
- Māngōroa – the shark that formed the Milky Way (Māngōroa - te mango nāna te tupuni i whakatu): 755 million KRB
- The legendary Taniwha (Te Taniwha rongonui): 730 million KRB
- The battle of the mountains (Te pakanga o nga maunga): 695 million KRB
- The ballad of Hinemoa and Tukaneka (Nga korero mo Hinemoa me Tutaneka): 670 million KRB
- Maui fishes up Tokamotu (Ka hii a Maui i a Tokamotu): 580 million KRB
- Rangitake and the White Devil (Ko Rangitake me te Rewera Rewera): 550 million
- The Blue Road (Te Huarahi Kahurangi): 525 million KRB
- Three Mad Sorcerers (Toru Nga Makutu Makutu): 510 million KRB
- Arama Muto - director and writer of 'Ngātoroirangi and his sisters'
- Wiremu Akeata - president and founder of the Oan Dance and Theatre Association
- Apikaira Ngahe - multi award winning performer famous for portraying Hinemoa in 'The ballad of Hinemoa and Tukaneka'
- Timoteo Puwhira - multi award winning performer famous for portraying Ngātoroirangi in 'Ngātoroirangi and his sisters'.
- Adelaide Rahua - famous for building and designing the Māngōroa the Shark in 'Māngōroa – the shark that formed the Milky Way' and among the most famous set and costume designers in Aurora.