Pitsch's picks for Hawke's Bay Arts Festival

The Harcourts Hawke's Bay Arts Festival celebrates its sixth year with a homegrown line-up featuring some of Aotearoa's finest talent.  With 65 events over the two-week period from October 12-26, there is something for all tastes.  The main hub of the festival will this year be in central Hastings with the bulk of performances to be held at Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts and Events Centre. Festival Director Pitsch Leiser gives us his perspective on the 2020 Harcourts Hawke's Bay Arts Festival.

Creating a Festival in 2020 is quite an achievement, tell us why people should come out and celebrate. 

2020 has been a year like no other with huge disruption and uncertainty in people’s lives.  The line-up allows us to be reflective, thoughtful, and be challenged, but above all to celebrate our stories and artists of our country and region. We are here as a festival to support our artists and offer them a platform to entertain and create a space to discuss and express the important issues of our current time. We welcome all our community to come and engage, participate, discuss, laugh and cry with us.

A range of lower priced and free performances will enable broader access for our wider community and better reflect our diversity in the audiences, not just on stage. 

Tell us about some of the ways the festival has evolved this year?

We have looked at ways we can really get into our own community in Hawke’s Bay and find stronger connections and stories of our place here in Heretaunga. 

The Kaupapa for the  2020 Festival is inspired by the well-known local waiata Tūtira mai ngā iwi, written in the 1950’s by Te Amorangi Wi Te Huata, which calls us to stand united, shoulder to shoulder, pakihiwi ki te pakihiwi and celebrate unity in diversity.

It is reflected in the festival's opening performance, curated by international theatre artist Lemi Ponifasio in collaboration with his company MAU Wahine, the Hawke's Bay Orchestra, conducted by José Aparicio, Kahurangi Dance Theatre and Ngatai Huata.  This is a piece curated uniquely for the Festival and reflecting the contrast of our region.

This year we have three pieces of work that explore the stories and identities of both young people and some of our elders, again digging into our community in a distinctive way:

As the Day Draws In is a stunning contemporary piece of verbatim theatre.  Hawke’s Bay is home to co –creators and theatre makers Puti Lancaster and Teresa Woodham, who wanted to tell stories that are not often heard beyond the private domain of family life. That is why they chose to sit with six elderly people aged between 72 and 92 and record their stories, from full and long-lived lives.  The piece is brought to live by an extra ordinary ensemble of local and national actors.

Hawke’s Bay Youth Theatre who are based at Keirunga Theatre have been rehearsing for their upcoming performance during the Festival.  They have grappled with a new, energetic, and visceral production of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman.

Another avenue through the Festival for young people is the Furnware Ambassador programme.  This is about developing the next generation of actors, playwrights, technicians, producers or directors to engage with professional practitioners who in turn encourage them to become theatre-makers and creative ambassadors within their schools and local communities.

So, what can we expect from the 2020 event?

We will celebrate our region and the wider arts community in New Zealand, this is a 100% homegrown Festival.  We have been able to bring together the best of what is available within Aotearoa at this time.  We have a strong line-up of theatre with A travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs, Black Lover, As the Day Draws In and Everyman. Our music offering is strong and varied including Stretch, Thomas Oliver, Ria Hall, Soaked Oats, The Revolutionary Arts Ensemble, Troy Kingi, Tami Neilson, Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, Avantdale Bowling Club and Bic Runga.   Classical music and opera include NZ Trio, Gitbox Rebellion and NZ Opera – The Human Voice.  There is dance including Java Dance, Ecology in Fifth and Shel We.  Comedy is with Two Hearts, kids’ events including Before Karma Gets Us and The Perfect Gift, an amazing Readers and Writers weekend 16-18 October, a wonderful selection of free and community events including Nuit Blanche – Art After Dark.  The line up really does have something for all tastes and budgets.    

Once the festival is underway, where will we find you?

This year our main performance space is Toitoi Arts and Events Centre, so I will be mostly found here but of course we have many other events across our region in many interesting and unique venues.

What are some of this year’s hidden gems we should keep an eye out for?

Avantdale Bowling Club Tom Scott’s self-titled Avantdale Bowling Club still feels as fresh as it did on release two years ago.   The genre isn’t easy to pin down. Hip-hop and jazz have a long association but mostly it’s been through samples and loops. Here, Scott is far more ambitious and enlists an enviable cast of amazing musicians to play behind him. Remove his vocals and you’d be left with a solid, groove-orientated, jazz record.

Ria Hall’s Manawa Wera is a collection bursting with heart, with the Tauranga artist's intention to uphold "the mana of Aotearoa reggae" unmistakable in every track.  Coupled with an opportunity for audience participatory exploration, where song and space facilitate diverse views, experiences and lived realities

Black Lover Auckland Theatre Company's production of Black Lover follows the interactions between former Rhodesian Prime Minister, New Zealand-born Garfield Todd and his loyal cook Steady. The story centres on the humorous and essentially human exchange between Todd and Steady, against a backdrop of gripping drama about war, politics, and colonialism.

Black Lover

Travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs is a true story told in an innovative setting, bringing to life not only Barnaby Olsen’s travel experience but reigniting our own wanderlust. In this wonderful story there are delightful characters, interesting experiences and the love of dogs! It is a work full of surprises, pushing storytelling to all sorts of places, taking us along with it for a night of pure theatre magic.

Tami Neilson – The F Word – she filled the Spiegeltent for the final night in 2016 and we are delighted to have her back again. Her show the F Word from Dolly to the (Dixie) Chicks, is the journey of feminism through song from the first #1 hit for a female country artist in 1952, through to today. Tickets have been flying out the door for this one!