Sep 26, 2023

Women in the Festival

Strong, Female-Led Stories Front and Centre of the Arts Festival


The Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival is renowned for showcasing stories from all walks of life, through art.


A continuous theme through this year’s programme is the range of strong, female led performances across theatre, dance, music and literacy. These artists, all at the top of their game, each have a unique story and a way of presenting themselves in their artform.


Here’s a snippet of what we can look forward to, from a few of the talented women of this year’s festival.



 Sameena Zehra – Tea with Terrorists (Theatre)

Friday October 20th at Toitoi - Functions on Hastings


Tea with Terrorists shares stories from a life that straddles two very different cultures. Arguing with mullahs, being an atheist in a religious, liberal family, wandering outside the green zone in war torn Kabul, being stalked by a sheep in Coniston, and having tea with some terrorists in Kashmir. It is a rollercoaster ride of dark comedy and delicious storytelling.


Sameena Zehra is an award-winning comedian, storyteller, actor, writer, director and blues singer/songwriter. An intersectional feminist and humanist with a unique take on the world; equally at home exploring the individual experiences of daily life and the larger issues of the world we live in, Sameena’s solo work has always been rooted in the human condition, in holding power to account, in bringing people together in spaces that are tender and robust. This direction was set early on, during her university years in India, creating forum theatre, performed on street corners, exploring a number of diverse topics, including the death penalty, marital rape, the caste system and religious dogma.


Her work is a goulash of storytelling and political commentary, peppered with absurdity, dark humour and personal context. She has also used performance and storytelling to work with victims of domestic violence, and to bring out the stories of, and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.




Tatiana Hotere - Skin Hunger (Theatre)
Friday October 27th at Toitoi - Functions on Hastings


Brazilian born actress and playwright Tatiana Hotere survived a range of deep emotions trying to overcome the grief of her husband, Jason Hotere’s, sudden death. The result of these emotions is 'Skin Hunger', winner of several 2022 Auckland Fringe awards including Outstanding Performance. 


“Talking about a widow’s sexuality brings a lot of shame. I thought, this needs to be in a play. Why is it that sexuality is ignored or shamed in a religious context? We are taught the purity culture; save yourself until you get married and then you can have all the sex you want, and then what?"

“When I wrote Skin Hunger, I typed until my fingers were numb,” Tatiana says. “Creative writing was an outlet for me. It didn’t fix anything, but it gave me space when I needed a break from the pain; I could look at it in an objective way and it gave me a little respite to heal and process it."

“For a long time after Jason died, I truly felt I wasn’t connected creatively with anyone else, but now my words have come alive. I get to use the stuff that happened in my life to help other people."

As a passionate mental health advocate and grief coach, Tatiana also produces and hosts the Crazy Grief podcast.




Charlotte Yates, Julia Deans and Sandy Mill - When Poetry and Song Collide (Music / Literary)

Sunday October 22nd at Toitoi - Functions on Hastings


In ‘When Poetry and Song Collide’, Charlotte Yates performs alongside the legendary Julia Deans and soulful Sandy Mill to take us through the intriguing backstory to the four albums she created with poetry from NZ literary titans James K Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Witi Ihimaera and Katherine Mansfield.


Charlotte Yates is a well-respected musician, songwriter and composer who has forged an individual path in NZ music that’s seen her endeavours include a still growing catalogue of seven solo releases.

She has composed music for TV, theatre and short film, and with an art-minded focus on the poetry aspect of songwriting has curated a number of brave tribute albums.


Charlotte is equally an experienced performer who has worked with some of Aotearoa’s most respected artists  and continues to actively encourage and mentor musicians and songwriters in Aotearoa and around the world through her online tutorials.


Julia Deans first come to the fore as the sassy and beguiling front woman for Fur Patrol at the turn of the century, but the past decade has seen her transition from iconic rock chick to glorious songbird.

Her first solo album Modern Fables was released to critical acclaim in 2010, earning her a swag of nominations for several coveted musical accolades. Her second solo album  ‘We Light Fire’ sees her return to the song writing force enriched with experience and full of purpose. Inspired by world events, friends, and family, the new album examined both what it means to be human, and our spectrum of strength and vulnerability. She has been involved in many collaborative projects, with Jon Toogood and Shayne Carter; staged tributes to Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell and Shakespeare, even a stint in Jesus Christ Superstar. In Hawke’s Bay she has been performing with Festival Opera, Small Hall sessions and the legendary  Hawke’s Bay Arts festival show, Both Sides Now.


Sandy Mill, born in Gisborne, of Ngati Porou descent, Sandy was a finalist in the Waiata Maori Music Award 2018 for her solo debut ‘A Piece of Me’ and entered the Top 20 NZ charts.

She is well known for her generosity as a musician and her breadth of talent and accomplishments. About her philosophy toward music, Sandy shares, “I bare my soul, I can’t help that. I have an intense need to mix genres, experiment, always strive for better but I know when it’s time to step back; enjoy and embrace the creative process - the good, the bad and the boring. And I don’t let fear stop me from trying something new.”







Theia X TE KAAHUGirl in a Savage World (Music)

Sunday October 22nd at Toitoi - Opera House

Theia makes unapologetic, trailblazing alt-pop. The enigmatic artist, now based in LA, has been making waves since she first emerged in 2016 with her breakthrough hit ‘Roam’ which amassed millions of streams. 


Theia has gone on to grow a dedicated fanbase locally and internationally, while earning critical acclaim from the likes of Pigeons & Planes, Rolling Stone, Clash and Billboard Magazine, which on her 2020release of her  99% ANGEL mixtape, described her as “one of the most exciting voices in pop to emerge from New Zealand in the last five years”.


A staunch proponent for the revitalisation of te reo Māori and culture, she has released several waiata Māori under the Theia moniker. However, in 2020 she launched the project TE KAAHU, which is written and performed entirely in te reo Māori. TE KAAHU’s debut album TE KAAHU O RANGI was released to critical acclaim in 2022 and was awarded the prestigious Taite Prize for Best Independent Debut, and nominated for a stream of other awards.


Although seemingly worlds apart, Theia and TE KAAHU are both expressions of an artist and songwriter with integrity and depth.




Jenny Mitchell and the Mitchell Twins

Sunday October 29th at Toitoi - Opera House


Jenny Mitchell started out performing at the Gore Country Music Club at the tender age of 4 years old. She’s come a long way since then with three albums, an Aotearoa Music Award and 2x Australian Golden Guitar nominations to her name. 

The gifted story teller says one of her first musical memories was watching her dad recording his own album. "It was him and a lot of his friends and the studio was this beautiful home studio in rural Southland. I don’t even remember much about the music being made but I can remember that it looked like something I’d like to do someday.”  Her first original songs were penned at age 11, inspired by a trip to Ireland where she met her Grandparent’s families and felt a deep connection to the places and people of the Emerald Isle.

Closing out the Festival, Jenny Mitchell and her sisters, the Mitchell Twins, will bring their folk/alt-country sound along with a full band featuring storytelling, fiddle and family harmonies for a night of soulful songs wrapped in wisdom and wit.


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