One of the highlights of next March's Auckland Arts Festival will be a live performance in front of a screening in the Mercury Theatre of the 1962 cult horror movie, Carnival of Souls.

Actor director Oliver Driver will direct the show and Leon "Dr Colossus" Rajdokovic will rework the soundtrack, renowned for its eerie organ score. Carnival of Souls will also be staged at the Civic Theatre.

The festival programme, announced earlier this evening, has a strong theatre lineup, including Paper Sky - A Love Story, a new romantic work by Red Leap Theatre, whose The Arrival enchanted audiences in last year's festival.

David Malacari has programmed what he believes to be the first Bolivian theatre company to come to New Zealand, with La Odisea, a Spanish version - with English surtitles - of Homer's Odyssey.

As much theatre as music, The Manganiyar Seduction features a huge group of male musicians from Rajasthan playing Sufi songs in the Civic, each player stacked in layers across the stage in red-curtained cubicles.

Ireland's Gare St Lazare Players, featuring actor Conor Lovett, will perform two solo works by Samuel Beckett, while Brokentalkers, a chorus of gay Irish men, will stage a song-cycle called Silver Stars.

British playwright Lennie James and Auckland's Massive Company team up for a new drama about violence in an Auckland suburb called Havoc in the Garden. English comedian Daniel Kitson is flying solo in a 90-minute monologue called The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church.

Aotea Square will be transformed into a garden hub for the festival, with the Spiegeltent hosting nightly "adult" cabaret shows, including New York drag queen Taylor Mac, who'll sing David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album, along with songs from the Tiny Tim songbook.

Titeres Porno, an explicit puppet show from Colombia, will also perform in the Spiegeltent, while a miniature lake at the other end of the square will accommodate the more family-friendly Vietnamese Water Puppets.

Musicians appearing at the festival include American singer Martha Wainwright and Australian troubadour Paul Kelly who will perform a 100-song, A-Z song cycle through a four-night season.

Legendary American jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette and his band will reprise the soundtrack he recorded in 1970 with Miles Davis, a tribute to early 20th century heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, for one show at the Aotea Centre with the William Cayton documentary on Johnson screening behind them.

Producer Charlotte Yates, who has created musical homages to James K. Baxter and Hone Tuwhare, has been commissioned by the festival to create a 12-song show called Ihimaera, in which musicians like Che Fu, SJD and Teremona Rapley will work with new poems written by Witi Ihimaera.

Classical music productions include a world premiere of New Zeibekiko, a new work by composer John Psathas, performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, A Symphonic Odyssey by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Germany's Lautten Compagney.

Auckland choreography legend Douglas Wright has a major new work, rapt, and French dance is represented by a programme by artists Maguy Marin, Jerome Bel and Rachid Ouramdane. Black Grace's UrbanYouthMovement, dancers aged between 16 and 21, will create a new work, Who Are You?, choreographed by Neil Ieremia.

The festival also includes a major visual arts programme.

David Malacari interview: "Auckland is a more important cultural centre than Wellington", is in Saturday's Canvas magazine, with a feature on the 2011 programme in Saturday's arts section.

What: Auckland Arts Festival
When: March 2-20
Where: Aotea Centre and Square,
Civic Theatre, Mercury Theatre,
Maidment Theatre, Bruce Mason
Theatre, Auckland Town Hall and
Concert Chamber
Tickets: On sale Tuesday. See the festival website
Anything else?: The biennial festival started in 2003, with 888,000 attending the four festivals held so far; 110,000 people went to last year's festival events.