Usually at this time of the year, only a couple of  weeks out from the festival, many of my friends and sometimes random strangers from across Hawke’s Bay realise that they haven’t got around choosing their tickets, so they often  ask me what my recommendations may be, my top picks of the festival.

It’s a bit like trying to read people’s minds. How could I know about their tastes? Do they like Opera or Hip Hop. Free Jazz or just free Jazz. I ask, is it dance or theatre, music or literature, that inspires or moves them? I dig a bit deeper to get a fuller picture only to end up with the answer that they don’t really know, or that that there is simply too much choice. A challenging predicament.

So what are my favourites? Aren’t all festival shows my favourites? Why else did I programme them? Haven’t I just laid it all out in this programme of finely selected works?

My taste differs from yours and yours differs from your friends and whanau and there is no right or wrong. Enjoying a music show, a theatre work or dance piece is always entirely subjective.

There are multiple layers that influence how much you may or may not enjoy a festival experience. It is finely nuanced. Could you relate to the work? Did it bring up memories?  Did it raise something that resonated for you or brought up thoughts and ideas whose time has come for you to engage in? Did it inspire you in ways you never expected? You may have laughed or even cried your heart out.

Either way I am going all out here to talk about a few gems in this year’s programme. Shows that are finely crafted, and were created by people whose creative genius, their vision and talents blew me away, moved me deeply and confirmed why I love what I do, despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges that come together when presenting a festival in our region, especially in a Covid-19 world.

A Travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs is a true story told in a most innovative setting, bringing to life not only Barnaby Olsen’s travel experience, but likely our own memories of the big OE. The crazy situations we found ourselves in, partly because of our lust for adventure, partly because we were young and fearless, if not a tad naive. Here we remember the characters we met and later wondered what ever happened to them as we returned back home and lost contact over time.

And do I need to say more about the love of dogs? That magical bond that happens between a human and dog. 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.

The Perfect Gift is a family show created by Justin Haiu, who previously brought us the delightful work of dance, comedy and slapstick with Double Derelict in the very first year of our festival and performed on stage in the Famous Spiegeltent right when an Earthquake shook us up, but it never distracted us from the brilliance of their movement , dance and comedy. They returned later with La vie dans une Marionette, tackling more serious issues with humour and exquisite mime.

The Perfect Gift is inspired by Justin’s his own experiences growing up with his mum, solo parenting three boys with love and great values, but no money. It is a beautiful story of the values much bigger than money; imagination, kindness and love that can get us through anything. It is a show that relies on the comic timing, the chemistry between the performers and the heartfelt tribute by a son to his loving mother.

Our Dreams are Changing is the second album of Anthony Stretch. I recently had the privilege of attending a listening session at Jamie Mcphail’s Sitting Room in Haumoana of the first public outing of this great new album.

It was Stretch and Paula Sugden, his collaborator extraordinaire on this album, that gave us a glimpse into the creation of this work and played us the album, not live but on CD. A true album listening experience, somewhat unexpected but with the stories behind the songs, the stories behind the creation of the recording of this work and to top it off with a couple of live songs. It was a unique opportunity for a selected few to glean an insight into the artists process of harnessing the creative magic of writing and recording a new album.

Our Dreams are Changing is going to be a night where we will feel pride of what amazing local talent we have right here in Hawke’s Bay. World class and just emerging as an incredible combination of raw talent and high sophistication in song writing and performance.

Last but not least the new work by Puti Lancaster and Teresa Woodham, As the Day Draws In, will no doubt be once again the quiet but sublime festival gem. It is the story of 6 older people, their life’s journeys and reflections as they grow older and closer to the end of their lives. It is based on interviews held and brought to live verbatim by a team of amazing actors, musicians and theatre makers.

This is my favourite work in the festival programme and is a culmination of fostering a relationship with our local theatre makers over the last four years that in turn brings us the best team from around Aotearoa to make this magic happen, telling our stories right here from the Heretaunga Plains.

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