Puawai 2017 was a show to remember

The third annual Puawai festival was in a league all of its own. A commitment to togetherness, love and hope the week long festivities held laughter, fun, education, empowerment and a little bit of raunchy awareness

Auckland was treated to a spectacular week of shows, workshops, performances and community magic when Positive Women Inc, The New Zealand AIDS Foundation Body Positive and b.Terongopai.t, came together for the third annual Puawai festival. To call this occasion a mere festival is an understatement: it was a celebration of all the battles won, a commemoration of all those we have lost and a call for empowerment, awareness and hope.
Preparations started earlier in the year to ensure this HIV Awareness Week, running from November 27 to December 2, would be something completely different from what we have done in the past. Each organisation brought its own unique contribution translating into powerful experiences running throughout the week.
Opening night of the festival took place on November 27 at the Te Pou theatre where Borni Te Rongopai (our theatre and arts curator, and a lead architect of this festival) and his talented team, welcomed us into his home, his dreams for Puawai and for a coming together of all organisations and people involved to formally open the festivities.
Positive Women Inc, focused on the role of female empowerment in breaking the silence that permeates a woman’s life after an HIV diagnosis. Women are often busy looking after their families and fulfilling all that is required of them at home and at work that they may not look after themselves the way they should. Many women retreat into this silence, and the stigma that a positive diagnosis can create does not help matters. That is why we at Rose House decided to get cracking on breaking this female stereotype by helping women use their beautiful, strong voices.
We ran a series of workshops called “The Female Voice” at the Garnet Station Café from November 29 to December 2. These workshops featured renowned facilitators: sex educator Louise Bourchier hosted a sex talk (naughty, naughty), famous jazz singer Caitlin Smith hosted a vocal training session, and playwright Renee Liang hosted a day-long workshop on creating spoken word pieces. Every workshop used its own technique and style to commit to the universal message of empowering the feminine to overcome stigma, fear and hopelessness. Attendance was intimate and the gatherings made use of the cosy, soft space provided by the Garnet Station’s tiny theatre to develop on themes of liberation and uninhibited creation.
In the evenings – for three nights – this same tiny theatre transformed into a stage for the Wahine Toa shows. Three stories acted out by talented actresses Alex Ellis, Verity George and Maxine Cunliff who brought to life the inspiring stories of our very own Judith Mukakayange, Kate Leslie and Gloria Van Grafherst. All women who have been affected by HIV in some way. On opening night there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, so moving were these powerful performances. A big thank you to everyone involved with these workshops and performances. You were all instrumental in changing perceptions and encouraging women to use their voices.
Another event Positive Women Inc was involved in for the Puawai festival (along with Body Positive) was the Whakapapa Panel on HIV Oral Histories, which was held at the Basement Theatre. Jan Waddell, a Positive Women Inc. member and ex Board Member, joined us from Invercargill along with Bruce Kilmister, former CEO of Body Positive, Edward Cowley, drag queen extraordinaire, Kate Leslie, co-founder of the Burnet Centre, and Charlie Tredway, Mr Gay New Zealand. It was an all-star panel facilitated by charming broadcaster Steven Oates. Inspiring stories were shared and monumental experiences were looked back upon. It is events such as these that make what we do so worthwhile.
Body Positive held an open mic night at the Tin Room on November 29 focusing on MSM chem-sex. The event was hugely successful with many men sharing their stories in a safe space, without prejudice.
On November 30, the Civic Theatre was home to the Upside Down Cabaret, an event orchestrated, directed and even acted in by Borni, his troupe and his many celebrity friends. It was a full house with the audience in fits of laughter, singing along to some of the catchiest tunes. The laughs were brought on by comedian Neil Thornton, with many special celebrity appearances some of which included Jennifer Ward-Leeland and Jackie Clarke.
The NZAF added some glitz and raunchiness with the December 1 (World AIDS Day) act by BRIEFS giving proceeds from the evening to the cause. Think boy burlesque, sexy acrobatics and some adult fun by the Australian-Kiwi entertainment act. This event was held at the Q theatre and was a terrific night out for all.
The Puawai festival has come a long way in the three years since its inception; it has brought together HIV networks, has brought focus back to the community and has reignited the passion needed to bring change. We can’t wait to get cracking on next year’s festival and we can’t wait to have you there with us.