Brian Potiki was born in Hawera and was educated at Rongotai College. He graduated with a BA in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington. In 1975 he directed Harry Dansey’s Te Raukura for Victoria University’s Te Reo Māori Society and in 1977 directed and narrated Nga Moteatea, a play featuring Māori classical literature for Te Reo Māori Society which toured colleges and tertiary institutions in Wellington and Mt Crawford Prison. In 1977 he helped form the first Māori theatre group, Te Ika a Maui Players, with Rowley Habib and Jim Moriarty. He worked and acted in the first production of Death of the Land. He read his poetry in the film featuring contemporary Māori poets, Two Rivers Meet, and in 1978 visited colleges with Rowley Habib and Api Taylor with the NZ Book Council.
In 1979 he moved to Auckland and founded Tangata Māori Theatre with Peter Turei and Janet Potiki, based at Outreach Community Centre, Ponsonby. In 1979 he presented his own script Wandering With The Prophets (Te Whiti and Tohu) with Peter Rowell in Wellington at the opening of an exhibition by Darcy Nicholas. In 1980 he took part in theatre workshops with Don Selwyn and Peter Rowell at Waiatarau Community Centre, Freemans Bay, and also directed, co-wrote and acted in Maranga Mai, a play about Māori land struggles which toured the North Island three times. Potiki set up a performance-in-schools programme which toured Auckland and Northland colleges and schools. The programme involved a survey of Māori writing in English, and featured his own songs and poems During 1981, Potiki had further performances of Maranga Mai and took the performances-in-schools to the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. In 1981 he was employed for six months by the Rotorua Art Gallery to organise an extension programme of poetry readings and film screenings. In the following year he was employed as a youth worker for Fordlands Community Association in Rotorua and took performance-in-schools to Gisborne, East Coast and Coromandel. He moved to Hokianga in 1983 to work with a marae-based music collective called Ahurangi. Potiki co-directed and co-wrote the script for the play No Ordinary Sun and toured it through East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Hamilton. Potiki was employed as a drama tutor for a pre-employment course in Kaikohe run by the Northland Community College. In July to September 1983 he toured the South Island with his own songs and poems. Potiki co-ran a Children’s Creative Theatre with Jill Walker at the National Co-ops Hui at Kaiwhaiki, Wanganui River. In 1984 he moved to Wellington where he worked on the play Te Tutakinga I Te Puna with Paul Maunder’s Theatre of the Eighth Day and acted in the play’s two week season at the Depot Theatre. He co-wrote and acted in Hikoi Roadshow which was produced for the Hikoi-ki-Waitangi (ending at Waitangi, Feb 6, 1985) and toured in Northland and Auckland. In 1984 he made a national tour of his own songs and poems with performance poet David Eggleton in a show called Nga Reo Whakawhiti which was sponsored by QEII and Students’ Arts Councils. Potiki co-ran a Children’s Creative Theatre workshop at the Land Rights Hui in Tauranga with Jill Walker and performed The Land Puppet Show with Jill Walker in Taranaki, Auckland and Northland. In 1985, he toured with the play Te Tutakitanga I Te Puna from Auckland to Christchurch for one month sponsored by the QEII Arts Council.
Potiki taught songs and theatre skills to unemployed teenagers for Taranaki Iwi Katoa Trust at Pungarehu and Whenuakura, Taranaki, and directed this group in street theatre performance in New Plymouth. He coedited with Jill Walker Nga Rongo Kōrero National Works Co-ops and Work Trusts Magazine. Potiki received a travel/study grant from Māori and South Pacific Arts Council to research the history of Taranaki prisoners in South Island during 1870-1890. In 1986 he travelled to the South Island and co-taught Creative Drama Courses for Southland Community College with Jill Walker. He gave performances around Southland and co-ran theatre workshops in Queenstown. In 1986 he co-founded Theatre for Peace and co-wrote the script and directed the play The Pearl which was performed at various Southland venues, including at colleges and prisons. In 1987 he was employed by Christchurch Polytechnic Department of Special Programmes to run performing arts courses for unemployed for one year. Potiki took the students from this course on a tour of the West Coast and directed and wrote Huanoa which they performed. He hosted the South Island theatre workshop by three Philippine theatre trainers of the Philippine Educational Theatre Association and in 1988 moved back to Lake Rotoehu.
In 1989 he and Jill Walker co-tutored a LINKS Creative Theatre Programmes in high schools through Waiariki Polytechnic. In 1990 he received a QEII Theatre Initiatives grant to complete the play Hiroki’s Song at Oruanui near Taupo. Potiki established with Jill Walker a storytelling theatre for all ages called “Travelling Tuataras” and he and Jill formed the Waiariki branch of National Community Artworkers’ Network. He organised the North Island tour of the play NO XYA (Our Footprints) in partnership with Gitksan & Wetsuwetan tribal representatives of British Columbia and Headlines Theatre Company of Vancouver. Potiki took a children’s theatre workshop at Nga Puna Waihanga annual hui at Te Kuiti in 1990, and in the same year directed and acted in the central North Island tour of Hiroki’s Song. In 1991 “Travelling Tuatara” had summer performances and Potiki ran a children’s theatre workshop at Nga Puna Waihanga Hui at Ngaruawahia. He received QEII funding to tour Hiroki’s Song for three weeks between Rotorua and Invercargill in October-November 1991.
Potiki received a QEII Professional Development grant to visit aboriginal theatre workers in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. He performed an extract from Robert Sullivan’s play Sale of the Treaty at the Nga Puna Waihanga hui at Omaka. In September 1992 he did a return tour of Hiroki’s Song at Dunedin high schools and intermediate schools.
The Book Council website biography concerning Potiki states: “In 2010 Brian Potiki finished writing Hey Maori People, a book about Maori theatre in the 1980's. He is currently writing The Raw Man, a biography of writer Rowley Habib based on their thirty-year-long correspondence.”
Potiki has written poems which have been published in various journals and in Te Ao Marama, and has also written history plays.
Potiki writes: “Brian has been a thief [mainly books & food], a member of a radical Māori theatre group, and a parent. He lives near Rotorua.”
- Correspondence and phone conversation with Potiki 21 Nov. 1992, Aug. 1998, 16 Sept. 2004.