12 Aug 2015

Curtains open on Taranaki Arts Festival

2:50 pm on 12 August 2015

Taranaki theatre fans are brushing off concerns about the regional economy and snapping up tickets to the International Arts Festival which begins tomorrow.

The Modern Maori Quartet.

The Modern Maori Quartet features the talents of Toi Whakaari graduates. Photo: Supplied

Chief executive Suzanne Porter said she had been surprised ticket sales for the biennial festival had been so strong.

"It's been quite a tremendous success this time. We normally might sell out a show on the day or heading in close to the day, but we've been selling out for a number of weeks.

"In fact MAMIL, which is the Mark Hadlow show Middle Aged Men in Lycra sold out two performances very very early so we've put on an extra show and that is about to sell out."

Ms Porter said the ticket sales demonstrated that the Taranaki community trusted the performances would justify the outlay.

"Yes, times are tough, but people are saying, 'you know, we need a night out, we need to take the kids to something' and it shows a really strong level of commitment to the festival."

The Taranaki International Festival of the Arts began in 1991 and is New Zealand's longest running arts festival after Wellington.

Visitors to the region accounted for between 10 and 12 percent of ticket sales and the festival had an economic impact estimated at between $3.5 million and $4 million.

This year's incarnation included 45 different shows and Ms Porter said a feature of the event was the number of productions that were taken out into Taranaki's rural heartland.

"We are very unusual as a festival, in that we do do a very big regional showcase, and I don't know of any other arts festival that does it to the breadth that we do, but we are Taranaki not just New Plymouth.

"We feel very committed to getting those performances out and about the region, and this year we are in Stratford, Opunake, Eltham, Tikorangi, Kakaramea, Waitoitoi and Hawera."

Ms Porter said an act that was sure to go down well in the smaller centres was the Modern Maori Quartet.

Featuring the talents of Toi Whakaari graduates James Tito, Maaka Pohatu, Matariki Whatarau and Francis Kora, their show promised a celebration of harmonies delivered with swagger and cheeky charm.

"It's a really modern take on the old Maori show bands and they are consummate performers and I love their take on contemporary songs.

"They do a great take Lorde's song Royals for example and they do all the old classics like Hoki Mai that we all know and love."

Kiwi actor Mark Hadlow stars in Greg Cooper's one-man show MAMIL which has sold out two shows in New Plymouth but is also playing in Stratford.

He could not wait to tell the tale of a self-medicating, self-loathing and stressed-out property developer, who seeks redemption, through cycling -- especially to the good people of central Taranaki.

"I love taking the show to the local theatres, because the theatres themselves are so fantastic. We are going to play in Stratford at the Kings Theatre and I can't wait. And Stratford people are booking, so thank you Stratford."

Hadlow said events such as the Taranaki International Arts Festival were a lifeblood for New Zealand performers.

"When you get an arts festival like this, you get a buy-in from the public which makes it a whole lot easier to put on a show, because you're not carrying all the risk."

And it's not all about the locals of course.

Ms Porter said a Band of Magicians, who have been described as magic's first supergroup, would be a big hit.

"It's the new type of magic. These are young, very entrepreneurial guys with their own TV shows, a number of them have been on the Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres shows, so they come with really strong credentials."

Exxopolis is a giant structure built by the UK's Architects of Air.

Exxopolis is a giant structure built by the UK's Architects of Air. Photo: Supplied

A more family-orientated attraction is Exxopolis, a giant luminous, inflatable world that has been erected in Brooklands Park where Womad is based each summer.

Built by the UK's Architects of Air, and spread over the area of a rugby field, it is described as multi-sensory experience in which ticket-holders traverse a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring domes, and where the imagination can run wild.

The Taranaki International Festival of the Arts runs until August 30.