Hamilton's first Toi Wāhine Festival from August 1 to 11 is commemorating 125 years of Women's Suffrage in New Zealand with events celebrating women's creativity, ideas and actions.

There events throughout this week at a number of venues including The Meteor Theatre, The Clarence Street Theatre and the Waikato Museum.

See the full festival schedule here. It includes a film night, live theatre, burlesque, a panel discussion on obstacles and issues facing women, a baby whisperer workshop and a workshop on writing, recording and releasing your own music.

As part of the festival new company, Cove Theatre, presented a work-in-progress showing of the play Wāhine at the Meteor Theatre on Aug 4.

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Director Cian Gardner said that Wāhine is "fully devised" meaning that it is an original and collective creation.

The performers have collaborated on the script and the Toi Wāhine audience were invited to contribute as well.

Wahine director Cian Gardner (centre) with audience contributors Calla Knudson-Hollebon and Eli Oliver. Photo / Horiana Henderson
Wahine director Cian Gardner (centre) with audience contributors Calla Knudson-Hollebon and Eli Oliver. Photo / Horiana Henderson

"We wanted the community voice involved. For people to respond to it, really raw, just the bones of it, so that they could feel invested in the show," Gardner said.

At the show were Dunedin soprano Calla Knudson-Hollebon and Waikato dancer Eli Oliver.

Oliver was interested to see the play "right in the middle of it's process" and Knudson-Hollebon said that getting people to contribute to the script made bringing the show together, "more of a community effort."

The script, written on a long roll of paper, lay on the performance floor and was available to view and comment on.

A questionnaire was also distributed at the end of the show and asked attendees to share their experiences with women in their families and for opinions on the play's characters.

Gardner said that she wanted the characters to portray everyday New Zealand wāhine and to explore what Mana Wāhine is.

"To me it's the inner strength of a woman. What we bring to a situation. What we bring to life that others don't always have," she said.

In times of crisis or hardship Gardner said she looks to women, to her elders.

The play she says is an exploration of that search for strength not in a heightened reality but in the kitchen of Nan's house.

Conversing around Nan's retro kitchen table in the festival performance were actors, Karina Nathan as 'Ruby', Hinerangimarie Berryman, 17, as 'Ihapera' and Liza Kire as 'Nan'.

Kire has had "itchy feet" to get back on stage and said her character is a foresight into what she will be like as a Nan.

"I'm gonna be that sassy old nan that has everyone else doing everything." she said.

The actor says she has always been type-cast as an African-American singer but with the Cove Theatre production she is excited to be part of something she knows.

"I know what it's like to be Māori, I know what it's like to be female and I know what it's like to grow up in this kind of environment in terms of the show," Kire said.

Youngest member of the cast, Berryman is becoming familiar with the theatre environment. The Meteor intern and Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga student has performed in school productions and Wāhine is her second "real show."

She added her "young perspective" to the script and says something in the show she thinks is key is how strong women are together.

Her role models include her mum and lots of kapa haka women, particularly the late Talei Morrison. Berryman is proud to be a woman of Māori heritage and says, "I grew up in it and I'm not gonna stop."

The Toi Wāhine Festival runs from August 1-11 and the full performance season of Wāhine will be at the Meteor Theatre from November 21-23.