Tauranga Arts Festival launched this year's programme in style, with the largest audience ever turning out to the launch.

Baycourt held a near full house with more than 500 people attending the launch event last night in its 11th year running.

The room was filled with some of Tauranga's most influential people, including Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless.

The festival will run from October 24 to November 3 and organisers say it is set to celebrate New Zealand's diverse stories with a colourful programme covering a range of theatre, dance, workshops and speaker discussions.

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It will feature both home-grown and international talent, including performers from the United States, Germany, Scotland, Canada and Australia.

A beautifully harmonised waiata - a dawn chorus named Takiri Ko Te Ata penned by local singer Ria Hall and performed by The Mauao Crazy Choir - welcomed the audience and opened the event.

Tauranga Arts Festival chairwoman Kathryn Lellman said this year's launch enjoyed the largest audience ever.

She said the festival bought some of the finest arts and culture events to Tauranga.

"10 days and nights of world-class experience, right here in our back yard."

Goretti Chadwick in Still Life with Chickens. Photo / Supplied
Goretti Chadwick in Still Life with Chickens. Photo / Supplied

She said the festival aimed to engage people emotionally, not just sell tickets.

"We don't want just bums on seats, we want hearts in our theatre."

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said two-year intervals for the festival might seem like a long time to wait, but "sometimes, good things take time".

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He said the festival "energised" the CBD and encouraged people to come in and shop before the event or make a night out of it afterwards with dinner or drinks.

Festival director Jo Bond said in a written statement the team didn't start out with a theme in mind but sometimes a thread could be seen running through the events in the programme.

Jo Bond (left), Tauranga Arts Festival director and Festival Trust chair Kathryn Lellman. Photo / Sandra Simpson
Jo Bond (left), Tauranga Arts Festival director and Festival Trust chair Kathryn Lellman. Photo / Sandra Simpson

Diversity emerged as the central theme for this year's festival.

"Celebrating all the peoples who make up our nation and our community seemed important after events in Christchurch," she said

This year's programme includes a number of award-winning plays.

Still Life with Chickens is set in Auckland while Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is an examination and celebration of what it means to be a Samoan woman in New Zealand.

Both plays explore stirring topics, including loneliness and sexual abuse, but keep the mood light with plenty of humour.

Cellfish is another award-winning drama that sees Māori prisoners explore Shakespeare with funny and unpredictable results.

The dance events on offer include Māori-indigenous Australian choreographer Amrita Hepi's exploration of heritage and belonging in A Call to Dance.

Hepi will speak to people at Tauranga Art Gallery and develop a short dance that reflects the character and people of Tauranga Moana.

The Speaker Programme will feature two panel discussions on diversity.

Amrita Hepi performs A Call to Dance. Photo / Sarah Walker
Amrita Hepi performs A Call to Dance. Photo / Sarah Walker

Sri Lanka-born and New Zealand-raised novelist and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam, second-generation Chinese-New Zealander Renee Liang, and Samoan-Pākehā actor and playwright Victor Rodger will tackle the issue of racism.

Meanwhile, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, The Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O'Brien and award-winning columnist Rachel Stewart will talk about being "different" while living in the public gaze.

The Schools Festival will comprise of workshops, including from internationally renowned illustrator Craig Phillips, and there will also be four writing workshops for adults, including Tim Balme's session on screenwriting and Catherine Robertson's on novels.

According to data collected by the festival, more than 500,000 people, including schoolchildren, have attended a festival event since its inception in 1999.

The 2017 programme drew more than 47,000 people, according to the data.


Tauranga Arts Festival
October 24 to November 3
For more information and the full programme, go to the festival's website.