Women's work

Happy Suffrage Day! We’re celebrating 125 years since New Zealand women won the vote.

Heretaunga Women’s Centre have been working hard on a beautiful collaborative wall mosaic, featuring a panoramic continuum of women’s fashion over the last 125 years, representing NZ’s range of ethnicities and perspectives. It’s worth moseying down to Clive Square to peruse, or how about watching the Mayoral Debate in the Council Chambers at 1.30pm – Hastings’ first woman mayor, Sandra Hazlehurst, and team, up against three “top-notch, red-hot secondary school debatees” on the truth (or not) of equal opportunities.

In Napier there are free film screenings this afternoon at the MTG – a Gaylene Preston documentary and the feature film Suffragettes.

The National Youth Drama School (NYDS), based here in Hawke’s Bay, have some great wee commemoration video clips on everyday sexism (see above) – you can find more of these on their YouTube channel.

Strong, dynamic women’s work 

Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival has an extraordinary array of strong, high-caliber women’s performance work this year. It’s an attunement festival director Pitsch Leiser finds particularly fitting as we celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. It wasn’t all intentionally programmed, he says, but reflects rather the strength of women’s work currently in New Zealand, as well as topical global themes, such as the #MeToo movement. “I’m excited that these contemporary issues, which affect not just women but all of us, are being explored in such creative, engaging ways.”

The sold-out opening show in the Spiegeltent, Songs for Nobodies, interweaves five ordinary women’s experiences with the lives of five great divas, single-handedly performed by New Zealander Ali Harper, in a remarkable cabaret theatre production.

There are smart, sassy theatre shows, from Penny Ashton’s hilarious satirical play on Jane Austen’s oeuvre in Promise and Promiscuity, to Robyn Paterson’s astonishing, adroit feat of performing both her parents in her show The South Afreakins, to Wild Dogs Under My Skirts, which explores what it is to be a Pasifika woman in New Zealand through Tusiata Avia’s fearless poetry.

Brave, necessary conversation starters, such as Jane Doe – arguably the most important Festival show this year, says Pitsch – which interrogates the uncomfortable truths of rape culture in an acclaimed, engaging format. As well as fresh, naughty fun with MaryJane O’Reilly’s neo-burlesque dance show In Flagrante that promises to keep tongues wagging long after it’s over.

Women’s voices feature strongly in the Readers and Writers programme too. In Rebel girls, Catherine Robertson and Tina Clough discuss how to get people who dismiss books by women writers to open the page and give them a go, while The Shrieking Sisterhood explores the diverse ways in which women argued for rights in New Zealand’s history – for the votes, for retaining land, for having a political voice.


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