The directors of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival are passionate about the role they get to play in boosting the Waikato’s burgeoning arts scene.
Bronwyn Bent and Sally Barnett are in their second year overseeing what has become the Waikato’s premier arts event. The Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival celebrates 20 years this year, showcasing an array of local, national and international talent.
“With a number of free events each year, it’s not easy to say exactly how many visitors to expect, but we know that attendance figures over the past five years have averaged around 40,000 people enjoying different events throughout the Festival," Sally said.
"We also know that around 10-15 per cent of those are from outside the region.”
The Festival is run by a charitable trust, so it relies heavily on additional contributions to back up income from ticket sales, with the majority of financial support coming from local businesses and funding partners.
“The sponsors and funders are the backbone to this event. They make it happen and help keep it affordable, or even free for so many visitors. We’re immensely grateful to them all,” Sally said.
This vibrant outdoor festival showcases an exciting selection from the Waikato’s creative community. Bronwyn and Sally, who were both born and have lived in the Waikato, are active in arts programming and production throughout New Zealand, have been impressed with the range of talent available in the region.
“Waikato is in a great place in terms of performing arts diversity, depth and experience,” Bronwyn said.
“This event has built up such a reputation over the years that we have absolutely no problem enticing performers to be part of it.”
The 10-day festival this year features more than 50 acts, with a diverse programme appealing to all ages and budgets.
Sally said there will be some new and surprising acts as well as the return of festival favourites, from the family fun day to Opera at Twilight and festival finale, Sunset Symphony, featuring the local musicians of the Trust Waikato Symphony Orchestra and fireworks from the Waikato maestro of explosions, Martin van Thiel.
It’s not just the performers that are on show; the Festival also showcases Waikato’s favourite treasure, the Hamilton Gardens.
“We use 20 spectacular spaces and, in their own unique way, they each make an ideal setting for theatre, music, dance, circus, comedy or literature showpieces,” Sally said.
The new Mansfield Garden takes pride of place as backdrop for The Case of Katherine Mansfield, a one-woman show based on the writer's travel diaries, produced by the Morrinsville-based Cheeky Pukeko Productions.
“It’s a privilege to work the wonders of this amazing venue into the Festival programme,” Sally said.
“Another piece sees the audience take part in an enthralling production through the Gardens in search of Sasquatch, accompanied by ‘expert’ sasquatch finders!”
This year will include musical performances on the Lake Stage prior to evening events, so visitors can arrive early and soak up the atmosphere.
“We’re excited to have teamed up with Gourmet in the Gardens and Good George to provide food trucks and a bar between the main pavilion and the lake so that people can also enjoy the range of international food specialists that the Waikato has to offer, and really make a night of it,” Sally said.
New highlights this year include headline act Deluxe Deluxe from Australian cabaret stars Strut & Fret, Scottish-based folk duo, the Hamilton-born Jamie McClennan and partner Emily Smith, Italian jazz violinist Luca Ciarla and Aria-nominated Mama Kin Spender. Popular local musical act Looking for Alaska will also be performing.
For theatre-lovers, two shows explore the stories that families tell each other, in very difference ways. Akakite Mai Itauu Tua | Tell Me a Story is the work of local creative dynamos Benny Marama and Jeremy Mayall, featuring a nine-piece music group and stories of real-life love alongside mythological tales. Conversations with Dead Relatives, by festival regulars Flaxworks Theatre, tells the stories of many ‘dead relatives’, including actor Alex Ellis’s great-great-grandparents who were mayor and mayoress of Hamilton.
The Pacific Crystal Palace will host comedy stars Pax Assadi, Melanie Bracewell, Wilson Dixon and 7 Days stalwart Ben Hurley.
Literature will be represented with Nicky Pellegrino talking about her writing, and local literary luminaries Denise Irvine and Venetia Sherson in conversation with Roni Albert discussing Stand By Me, a history of Te Whakaruruhau: Waikato Women’s Refuge, amongst others.
The festival runs from February 20 to March 3 at Hamilton Gardens. Tickets are on sale from at www.ticketek.co.nz and a full programme available online at www.hgaf.co.nz.