Vita Vaka and Nicole Pereira. Photo: Matt Brown.

Pacific theater debut

A dynamic duo hopes to start a new appreciation for Pasifika culture in the community.

The region’s first ever Pacific theatre is set to make its debut in Blenheim this weekend.

Written and directed by 30-year-old kiwi-born Tongan Vita Vaka, and producer and partner Nicole Pereira, Mafana highlights issues faced by Pacific youth in New Zealand.

Vita says the show uses a variety of Pacific performing arts to get the show’s message across.

Performers rehearsing for this weekends debut show. Photo: Matt Brown.
Performers rehearsing for this weekends debut show. Photo: Matt Brown.

“We’re telling the story through dance and music but also acting as well.”

Twelve young Pasifika actors from the boys’ and girls’ colleges as well as the wider community will perform in the show.

“Mafana – what it means is heart warmth – something that is heart-warming or uplifting,” Vita says.

“With Pacific people, they get excited or this emotional feeling that they get when they see something expressed further than they can.”

“I’m hoping that with this show it can ignite and start the Mafana within people to pursue and fulfil their destiny.

“If you’re trying to achieve your goals or dreams, it’s not an easy thing to do,” he says.

“Having the Mafana ignite them will help carry them through beyond their fear, beyond something that you can articulate.”

Along with directing, writing and performing, Vita composed the final song, the Mafana Anthem, for the play.

“The other music is from Pacific artists or using musical instruments that we do in the Pacific,” he says.

Vita secured funding for the show through Creative New Zealand’s Moana grant and additional funding has come from various local organisations.

“[The grant] was all about using heritage arts for communities to experience and explore who they are and their Pacific cultural identity through the arts,” Nicole says.

“When we were writing for funding, we had to rationalise why money should go into a project like this with a small Pacific community and a small Pacific audience.

“In the bigger areas, [Pacific Islanders are] a majority group so this stuff is really well developed and supported.

“This is a way to ignite that cultural identity and be really proud of it,” she says.

Mafana actors Monu Moli and Joshua Leota. Photo: Matt Brown.
Mafana actors Monu Moli and Joshua Leota. Photo: Matt Brown.

17-year-old Marlborough Boys’ College student Joshua Leota plays the lead character, Simon, a Kiwi-born half-Tongan half-Samoan.

“[Simon] is kind of out of touch with his culture so he disregards it,” Joshua says.

“Through the play, he is taught the island ways.”

Joshua says he relates personally with the character.

“I’m Tongan-Samoan as well, I wouldn’t say I’m the most in touch with my culture, so this is a learning experience for me.”

Vita hopes Marlborough’s first Pacific theatre will ignite a passion in the community for more performing arts.

“My dream and my hope is that I can instil this in someone else and they carry on, that releases me to create more projects,” Vita says.

See Mafana at the Marlborough Boys’ College 7pm, Saturday 7 September.

Tickets are available online at http://bit.ly/mafanashow and cost $15 for adults and $7 for children.

The Blenheim and Districts Highland Pipe Band are putting on their first ceilidh in 15 years. Photo: Supplied.

Haggis on hand for special ceilidh

A homemade haggis will help lend a taste of Scotland to a special fundraising effort.

The Blenheim and Districts Highland Pipe Band will hold their first ceilidh in 15 years at the end of the month.

And a traditional haggis made by Scotsman John Nichol will take pride of place for the Address to the Haggis.

Organisers hope the Scottish social event will raise enough money for the band to perform at two key championships in New Zealand later this year and early next year.

Pipe Major Simon Kubala says the celebration of Scottish music and dancing will also feature some traditional customs.

As well as the haggis ceremony, traditional dancing and music from the pipe band there will be country dancing and dinner.

There are some great silent auction items up for grabs too, he says.

“It’ll be a lot of fun; the relaxed atmosphere, the tradition of getting a group of people, some who won’t know each other, up dancing and getting along like a family.

“Pipe band used to be more about older members but that’s not the case now. We have a six-and-seven-year olds sign up to learn to play,” he says.

Simon says the community have been very supportive with several businesses donating prizes for the auction.

A free trial flight through Marlborough Aero Club is one of the prizes.

The 20-strong club hope to travel to the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships in Invercargill in March and the Hororata Highland Games in November.

“It’ll be great to open piping up to people a bit, it used to be a bit closed off but that’s certainly not the case now,” says Simon.

The event will be held at the Blenheim Bowling Club on Weld Street on Saturday 31 August.  Doors open at 6.30pm.

Tickets are $20, with under 18-year-olds paying $5 and may be available from the door on the night.

Bayview Seafood in Picton, Challenge Station in Blenheim and Alden Lodge on Wellington Street in Picton are also selling tickets.

Nathan Haines is coming to Blenheim as part of a 25th anniversary tour. Photo: Supplied.

Nathan Haines makes triumphant return

A year and a half ago, chart-topping Kiwi jazz musician Nathan Haines was weeks into a months-long fight against throat cancer, a battle that would at times rob him of his voice, his energy and his plans for the future.

Post-treatment, the ambitious young man who left New Zealand in his teens and put out the first of 10 solo albums at age 22 is re-releasing an album and going on tour.

“This time is very special. I have reassembled the band I put together 25 years ago,” he says.

The album, Shift Left, marked the beginnings of a career that has taken Haines all over the world. It was also hugely influential in the New Zealand music landscape.

“I had no idea back then the influence that it would have.”

When he started there was no blueprint for the sort of music he was creating, so Haines started from scratch.

“There are some things about the album that I might not do now but I was 22,” he says. “But there is some fantastic musicianship on it.”

But all that legacy threatened to come crashing down when he was diagnosed with cancer. Haines didn’t know if he would even be able to talk let alone play again.

Nathan Haines is coming to Blenheim as part of a 25th anniversary tour. Photo: Supplied.
Nathan Haines is coming to Blenheim as part of a 25th anniversary tour. Photo: Supplied.

He managed to teach his other throat muscles to do the work. He swore off alcohol and coffee and negotiated ongoing radiation therapy.

“That was the most difficult part of the whole thing. I’m still dealing with the side effects daily,” he says.

But Haines thinks that he is now playing as good as he ever has.

He will also have some good company. The musicians who helped him on that first album are also coming out to accompany him on tour.

“It’s going to be a milestone,” Nathan says. “It’s been a journey, but I feel incredibly blessed to be here to do what I’m good at. I have an incredible passion and love for music.”

Nathan Haines plays at the Trafalgar Centre on August 17. Tickets through ticketdirect.co.nz

The Marlborough Weekly has a double pass to give away. Email [email protected] with your name and contact details by 14 August to be entered into the draw.

Marlborough Singers, from left, Elaine Harmer, Ros Henry, Marie Dietrich, Bett Munn and, on the piano, Margaret Hastings. Photo: Matt Brown.

Choir’s key to success

Members of one of Marlborough’s oldest choirs hope to find help to pay the people they rely on to keep them in key.

The Marlborough Singers have been entertaining audiences across the region for almost 60 years.

And ahead of their latest concert on 28 July, they are appealing for possible sponsors to step forward and recognise the effort put in by their pianist and conductor.

Singer Margaret Hastings says while most concertgoers are grey-haired, the music they sing transcends age.

Margaret, who has been singing with the choir for close to 40 years, says their popular “lighter variety” concerts appeal to all.

“Like most people who sing, we sing because we love doing it,” she says.

“You always feel better when you’ve been singing.”

Their concert, the Best of Broadway, features music from popular shows such as Broadway, Les Misérables, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

But while the singers take centre stage, the group would like to see other members recognised for all their efforts.

“We’ve seen lots of conductors come and go, pianists come and go and singers come and go.

“Of course, everybody just sort of did there thing and volunteered.

“If we want a good quality production, we need a good quality conductor and we need to pay for them.

We’re also on the hunt, looking for sponsors to help us with this.

The conductor and pianist put in a lot of hours of practice and study and time, and they deserve a payment for their effort,” she says.

Margaret says the choir’s love of singing keep them focused.

“Like most people who sing, we sing because we love doing it. If you’re a bit down, there’s nothing like singing to cheer you up,” she says.

The community choir are taught by Blenheim-man Robert Tucker who sings with the New Zealand Opera Company.

He also teaches in Wellington and divides his time between the two regions.

“He’s very particular and we’re having to really come up to the mark for him.

We’re wanting it to the best we can be because it reflects on him,” Margaret says.

The concert will be at the Wesley Centre on Sunday afternoon at 4pm.

Tickets are $15 and available at the door.

Dr Molly Wittig is holding a mug of coffee as she explains a busy start to the day meant her morning caffeine fix had to wait.

Psyched-up over book fest

Dr Molly Wittig is holding a mug of coffee as she explains a busy start to the day meant her morning caffeine fix had to wait.

The midwinter sun filters through the windows at her comfortable Blenheim clinic room, a stack of well-thumbed papers and her latest read lay on her desk, a book she knows very well.

Molly will be at this year’s Marlborough Book Festival talking to award-winning journalist Naomi Arnold about the book she edited – Headlands – New Stories of Anxiety.

It was, Molly says, a fascinating read.

“She’s a very accomplished journalist. We spoke yesterday [Thursday]; she’s down some really cool things and is really driven and accomplished.

“The book is great for people to know that they’re not alone and maybe they can identify and think, wow, that’s what I’m going through.” She says.

A published fiction writer with a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University, Molly is the perfect choice to head-up this element of the festival.

Appearing on stage at the ASB theatre is making Molly slightly nervous. She prefers to think of it as a “chat about the book with friends”.

“The great thing about the festival is it feels like a group of friends who are all there because we love books and authors,” she says.

Featuring a collection of stories by 32 Kiwis from all walks of life sharing their personal experiences of anxiety, the book seeks to show what anxiety is.

Brave contributors share their stories in a way which is sometimes raw and confronting. But all want to see an end to the stigma surrounding mental health.

With steady number of people seeking her help, Molly, who runs the Wittig Clinic, says readers will be able to relate, or know someone who will.

“The big question is why she chose anxiety and how she got these people,” she says.

“It’s a diverse group of people who’ve been willing to do it. It’s like casting out a net and seeing what you catch.”

Born in New Orleans, Molly arrived in Marlborough permanently with her husband Alex, also a doctor, but of medicine, in 2014.

With a young family, a cat, a dog, a private practice and three chooks, it is little wonder that the day’s first cup of coffee sometimes falls by the wayside.

But Molly’s buzz is not caffeine induced; she’s excited about the festival. As a festival devotee and a writer, herself, there’s plenty to look forward to.

She co-wrote Guardians of Draconem, a magical realism book for middle graders aged 8-12 years-old.

Its follow-up is underway.

“It’s finding the time. It’s always roaming around in my head, it just a matter of picking up the threads again,” she says.

This will be my fourth festival. I just love it, the organisers always do such a professional job.

“I always try and pick the ones [shows] I really want to go as, sadly I can’t go to them all and then I’ll hear that someone else was really good,” she says.

One in four New Zealanders suffer from a diagnosed mood or anxiety issues.

Is the issue more prevalent than it once was? Probably not, says Molly, but people are more aware of what to look out for and when to seek help.

“A hundred years ago it wouldn’t have been diagnosed and just dealt with by the family, probably in the dark without anyone else finding out.

“It’s getting better though, it’s less taboo and less scary.

“The book brings out that there’s definitely a cultural disconnect with Māori people less likely to seek help than pākehā.

“In the States, going to therapy has become mainstream but there are still many who are reluctant to seek help.

“There is a dearth of help but it is improving,” she says.

Tickets to the event, at the ASB Theatre on Saturday 6 July from 2-3pm, are available from ASB Theatre or online via Ticketek.

Marborough Book Festival will be on from the 5-7 July.

For more further information visit marlboroughbookfestival.co.nz

Renowned New Zealand soloist Olivia Sheat. Photo: Supplied.

Opera star returns home for stage show

A New Zealand renowned soloist who grew up nurturing her talent on the Marlborough stage is returning to the region for a special concert.

Olivia Sheat, 24, from Blenheim first took to the stage as a child.

The talented professional is set to return to perform with the Marlborough Civic Orchestra as they perform Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens.

It will be a welcome return for the classically trained opera singer, who says she particularly enjoys coming home to perform.

“Every time I come home it’s very heart-warming to get the kind of feedback that I do.

“You don’t get that as a professional as much and there’s so much more warmth from an audience that watched me grow up,” she says.

Olivia completed a Bachelor of Music, majoring in Classical Performance (Voice) at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music with First Class Honours in 2016.

In 2017, she was named as a Dame Malvina Major Scholar and made her New Zealand Opera debut as a chorus member and cover for the role of ‘Peep-bo’ in the touring production of The Mikado.

Since then, she has performed regularly as a member of the New Zealand Opera chorus.

Lead roles with Wellington’s Eternity Opera, as well as solo concert performances across New Zealand followed keeping Olivia to a tight schedule.

Performing in front of family friends in Blenheim always makes her home-town performances “extra special”, she says.

“My family come along every time I’m in Blenheim and in a lot of ways it’s extra special to come home and see the people I grew up with who have given me so much support along the way,” she says.

The Marlborough Civic Orchestra will also perform with pianists Barbara Song and Kimberly Jones.

Composer Kodi Rasmussen will also debut his latest work Allegro Cavallo Nero.

The family-friendly concert, conducted by Elgee Leung, will be held on 22 June from 7-9pm at the ASB Theatre.

Tickets are available from the theatre or through Ticketek.

Piano strikes right chord with concert goers

A top draw in Marlborough’s music calendar began as a way of ensuring a church’s special piano was not neglected.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church’s annual concert in Blenheim began 13 years ago after world-renowned concert pianist Marsha Stringer was asked to play.

Church wardens wanted to see more people make use of the space, she was told.

More than a decade later and Marsha and husband are finalising another concert.

The large concert grand Steinway in St. Andrew’s Church came from The Royal Albert Hall in London.

Marsha says it gives her “great joy” to play on the piano for the annual concerts, an event she always looks forward to.

“The acoustics are second to none and I get to work with some brilliant people.

“In 2006 I was told that St. Andrew’s Church would like more use made of their facilities, so would I agree to organise some concerts.

“I went home and roped in my husband, Barry, and we started to think about a concert for 2007.

“Our aim was to bring the best of junior and senior talent together for an annual event to be held on the last Sunday of May, she says.

The popular concerts attract performers from Marlborough, Nelson, Wellington and Dunedin.

Marsha, who has played at top venues across the globe, says all performers are professionals with “enormous experience and talent”.

“We have a wonderful network of performers who have performed in many places in the world.

“It is very fortunate that these performers are happy and willing to come so far to entertain the people of Blenheim”.

The concerts have been held every year except 2015 when serious illness saw it cancelled.

Featuring alongside Marsha will be cellist Lissa Cowie, who also trained at the Royal Academy in London, sopranos Lois Johnston and Olivia Sheat cellist Elgee Leung, mezzo soprano Elin Thomas, a string quartet and Marlborough Girls’ College choir Ovation.

The concert will be held on Sunday 26 May from 2-4pm. Tickets are $10 available at the door.

Homeward bound for record bid

A musician who catapulted to internet stardom is hoping her first headline gig will help make her dream come true.

Singer Eden Kavanagh, 24, won fans across the globe after her appearance on the Voice UK went viral.

Now to raise funds for her first album, the talented songstress will perform at Escape to Picton boutique hotel & restaurant in Picton.

And she’s looking to make her dream of releasing a record a reality.

Singer Eden Kavanagh, 24, won fans across the globe after her appearance on the Voice UK went viral.

“I’m making the music and having that polished. I can’t afford to do the recording, yet. Recording is the goal,” she says.

Eden made it through the gruelling selection process for the popular talent contest, the Voice UK, in January this year.

Performing for the judges, Eden had the crowd’s backing and entertained the judges, but was ultimately unsuccessful in her bid to secure a mentor.

Eden says the song she performed on The Voice UK will feature at her upcoming gig.

She says it would be a “crime” not to perform Megan Hilty’s ‘They Just Keep Moving The Line’ for a New Zealand audience.

“It’s going to be a very intimate setting, candlelight, the piano outside in the courtyard,” she says.

Since performing on the popular UK television show, Eden has been using her talents for the greater good.

She took part in the ‘This is who we are’ charity concert at the SkyCity Theatre in Auckland  to raise funds for the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

Recently, she was a guest judge at the Voice of China South Island regional finals in Christchurch.

“The emotion and performances were unreal and I was honoured to be a part of it,” she says.

“I was honoured to show my support for victims and families affected by those horrific attacks.”

Eden  will be accompanied by accomplished jazz pianist Jack Page at her June gig.

“Jack’s brilliant,” Eden says.

“We have brilliant chemistry, I’m very happy to have him on board, that’s for sure.”

An Evening with Eden is on 1 June in Picton. Photo: Supplied.

Eden will also perform a mix of contemporary and classic songs.

“Songs that I resonate with, that have stories,” she says.

“It’s nerve-wracking but exciting”.

Eden says she hopes Marlburians would come out and “support a local girl and her dreams.”

“I hope to see a lot of familiar faces there,” she says.

‘Evening with Eden Kavanagh’ is on 1 June at Escape to Picton.

Tickets are $25.

A return bus will be operating from the iSite in Blenheim for $15.