When an earthquake devastated areas of Bolivia in 1998, first the rescue and humanitarian aid teams responded, and then the artists.

Members of a theatre group called Teatro de los Andes journeyed to affected communities and recorded people's testimonies and stories, which were eventually turned into a play called In a Yellow Sun.

The same group opened La Odisea at the Maidment Theatre last night as part of the Auckland Arts Festival, but had offered to perform In a Yellow Sun as a tribute to the people of Christchurch instead.

Although it was too late to change the programme, festival organisers said the offer was a reminder of "the importance of storytelling and the arts in understanding and processing these sorts of terrible disasters".

La Odisea, a retelling of Homer's Odyssey, is one of the major productions of a festival which organisers have admitted has had a "mixed" start in terms of ticket sales.

"Indications are that we'll have a strong finish," said spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer. "Audience numbers have definitely been affected by the unprecedented and unbelievably sad events in Christchurch, but now we are getting very busy."

Tickets for the cabaret show Smoke & Mirrors and the Rajasthani concert The Manganiyar Seduction had been selling very well, she said.

The festival garden in Aotea Square was buzzing and organisers were hoping works such as music and theatre spectacle Sound of the Ocean and Douglas Wright's rapt would help the festival finish strongly on March 20.

La Odisea, in which Ulysses is reimagined as a Latino immigrant who encounters hardship on his long journey back to his family in Bolivia, was also expected to be a hit.

One of the group's actors, Karen Lisondra, said the story was based on experiences common to many immigrant workers.

"In Bolivia, there's so many immigrants that go away and send money back home."

Ms Lisondra, 34, said the company of nine actors included members from Bolivia, the US, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Brazil.

She was born in Kansas to Filipino immigrants before moving to Bolivia to join the esteemed theatre company.

"The play is very relevant for the Bolivians in the cast, but also for any of us who have really migrated Bolivia in order to do this ... it makes it even more of an odyssey."

*La Odisea runs every night of the week until Saturday at the Maidment Theatre