It's the audiences that make it work

21:20, Mar 04 2014
Kerry Prendergast
Senses working overtime: New Zealand Festival executive chairwoman Kerry Prendergast - a former Wellington mayor - calls the festival a three-week ''sensory overload''.

Kerry Prendergast has been part of the New Zealand Festival team since 1994. Now the executive chairwoman, she tells Festival Day about her 2014 festival highlights and what makes the Wellington event so unique.

How are the acts chosen for each festival?

There are two different sorts of productions - some are New Zealand works and we have a contact with Creative New Zealand who helps us with that. Choosing the international acts is something that our artistic director begins doing by going to festivals around the world and looking at all sorts of productions. There might be 100 different potential shows and, after two years, this goes down depending on things like who is available or if we can afford to have them. By about August the year before, it comes together and we can really see what kind of festival we are going to have.

What NZ Festival shows have you been to so far this year?

Power Plant, which we included because we wanted something our children and grandchildren could go to. There's also Deca Dance, which I loved because I really enjoy vibrant exiting dance. One that blew me away (and I didn't go with that level of expectation) was Brel, I didn't know what I was in for.

Which upcoming shows are you most looking forward to?

Unmythable has had rave reviews, really looking forward to that. I also cannot wait to see Rian because it sounds like it's going to be full of Irish fiddles and I've seen YouTube videos of it and the energy that goes into that looks amazing. Finally, My Stories Your Emails - I'm looking forward to that because it sounds a bit risque but also because it seems particularly pertinent at the moment with people leaving unpleasant comments on social media.

Do you ever feel exhausted after seeing so many shows?

When you're going to about 26 shows a season, there's always a risk of what I call a ''sensory overload''. We went to Needles and Opium and then Deca Dance in the same evening and both stimulated every sense you had. The next day I just had to sit down and discuss everything with my husband to digest it all.

Do you think the NZ Festival could only be in Wellington?

What makes it uniquely Wellington is how walkable our city is. People like the fact that they will go to a pre-dinner show or vice versa and then use public transport to get home and they can do all that in walking distance. Our venues are also unique, especially this year with Power Plant and our raw and wild Botanic Gardens. Wellington is the cultural capital of New Zealand and it takes a lot of hard work to make sure we keep that title. We have an audience of just half a million people and yet we've been keeping it going for 26 years. I'm always in awe of Wellingtonians and their support.