The Victoria Spiegeltent

Festival Opening

Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival / 
15 October 2019 / 
By Bridie Freeman

There’s a moat (almost) around the Victoria Spiegeltent, the green carpet floated over sodden grass. Buckets put down 10 minutes ago to catch the run-off from the festival garden awning are splashing over. Inside the tent, crew are wiping seats and mopping floors where the rain leaked in. The show tonight was briefly cancelled, but “the show must go on”, insists festival director Pitsch Leiser, in redbands and a high-vis vest.

It’s no glamourous affair, the formal opening. Rain and gumboots and cold aside, the artists who were scheduled to perform on the carpet have flagged it (for warmth and rehearsals), and the small, intrepid crowd are dressed for practical hopes of staying dry. But there’s excitement, anticipation, like it’s Christmas eve for arts and culture.

We hear that the journey to get to this point so far has been an epic tale of touch and go: the shipment with the 600-seat capacity original 1930s Belgium spiegeltent (twice as large as any we’ve seen on the village green) was four days late, SWOT teams swarmed the container upon arrival, there was trouble at customs. And then, the rain. But despite all odds, and with mammoth effort from a staunch, hard-working crew behind the scenes, the tent is up, the bar is stocked, the coffee’s hot, there are heaters to huddle around, and the five consecutive nights of headline act Limbo have long sold-out – that’s 3,000 seats.

The intention this year has been to extend the festival’s reach to the wider community, to programme shows that will draw the crowds (alongside the more challenging, poignant ‘arty’ ones) and entice people who may never have been to the arts festival before to participate. With 30% of ticket sales to festival newbies for popular (sold-out) picks Topp Twins, Dave Dobbyn and Limbo, it seems Pitsch and his team have their Christmas wishes in the bag.

There are bubbles and jubilation as the mayor cuts the ribbon and declares the fifth annual Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival open.

The festival runs from 15-28 October, with a range of international, Kiwi and local shows (both in the Spiegeltent and at venues like the Blyth and MTG), free community events, readers & writers talks:  The Hook, as usual, will be reviewing them all.

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