Listen up Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland – Pride Gala has had a serious glow-up; and they were looking fine af on Saturday night.

Following the beautiful Te Takaranga Āniwaniwa dawn ceremony to both officially open the 2020 Auckland Pride Festival with a blessing from Adrian Noda (Ngāti Whātua) and to remember our ‘fallen rainbows’, OurGala was ready to let its hair down and celebrate not only its new-found diversity but accessibility in a showcase of queer artists from across the many genres of the performing arts.

Curated by award-winning creative artist Freya Finch, the youngest director that the Gala has seen to date, OurGala quite importantly set its sights on bringing the community together through accessibility, ensuring that ticket prices were not only reduced but tiered. Extending this across the Pride Festival itself, a staggering seventy-five percent of the shows will be free or a koha donation.

Nestled in the arms of Q Theatre, anticipation rippled through the air as the shadows were pierced by magenta lighting and haze; headliners Coven had arrived, and they came to slay, the South Auckland collective fluent in voguecabulary serving up diversity from the outset in a performance piece that left the audience giddy.

Hosted by House of Drag winner Hugo Grrrl, drag king and MC extraordinaire, in an outfit by Victoria Gridley that screamed pride in full pink and rainbow sequinned glory, OurGala promised to leave the audience ‘inspired, celebrated and even a little bit challenged’, by artists who came from all spaces of the rainbow spectrum.

The powerful and aesthetically wondrous Whaea & The Rumble moved the audience with their spoken word piece, Siobhan Leilani’s voice cutting through the pulsating beat to speak of the journey of the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori people, the group incorporating Te Reo and industrial indigenous rhythms to create something quite unique. In keeping with this thread, Storytime, featuring writer and artist Sam Te Kani (Ngāpuhi) reading an excerpt from his essay entitled ‘I Feel like a Used Condom, but I’m Still Alive’, discussed the idea of joy in a humorous and at times poignant fashion as the subject of religion as viewed by a young, Māori gay boy was brought to life with vivid ferocity.

Award-winning playwright and performance poet Nathan Joe’s ‘Love Poem from a Ho’ in turn then holding a spotlight to the honest confessions of a minority homosexual man’s night on the town in the heart of Christchurch. Both Te Kani and Joe are featured in the upcoming ‘same same but different’ LGBTQI+ Literary Festival, with Te Kani’s collection of short works entitled ‘The Good Boy and Other Stories’ due for release in September a must have for any discerning reader who enjoys a side order of erotic science-fiction.

Punctuating the acts throughout the show, were a troupe of queer clowns, whose predominantly mime-based antics teased the crowd and even quite delightfully made the intermission a spectacle in itself; but not before Bryony Skillington, Mistress of the Minge, deliciously tore off the roof with her rendition of Queen Latifah’s ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ from the hit musical Chicago.

Dazzling aerial acts performed with both hoop and silks to the soundtrack of Queen and Neo Noir & Krigaré elicited exaltations of amazement, while drag excellence was delivered in spades by Medulla Oblongata and Vanessa LaRoux, Elektra Shock (from Night of the Queers) and a Destiny’s Child medley featuring the goddess Bionica that brought the house to its knees.

Diversification was once again brought to the forefront as Rotigurl (Sarita Das, founding member of Bodyhaus) debuted their live music, a new genre in the form of Queer Bengali Dance-Rap birthed before one and all; ‘Fefeferringi’ a definitive highlight from the selection proffered. Auckland’s Disco Debutant Diva Ms. Wednesday Blaiselle soon laying down the gospel with her fabulous anthem ‘Everybody Interesting is Gay’.

With the evening drawing to a close, attendees had undoubtedly been tickled and tantalized, spellbound and sated, OurGala’s celebrated headliners Coven finishing off the night with another outstanding display of vogueing to the Purple Crush track ‘Really Go Hard’ dressed head to toe in Jimmy D;  Moe “Mistress” Laga and her house (which also includes the beautiful Gabriel “Princess” Halatoa who recently featured in this inspiring Spark video) unveiling a gigantic Transgender flag to a standing ovation.

We all bring something different to our jobs. And through life experience, the rainbow community develop stronger skills in the areas of resilience, intuition and empathy. Traits worth welcoming into the workplace.

Posted by Spark on Sunday, February 2, 2020

Festival producer Luke Wilson, Auckland Pride Director Max Tweedie and of course OurGala director Freya Finch should certainly take pride (pun well and truly intended) in what they have created, their inclusivity of the intersections paving the way for a future that is looking very bright indeed.

~Sarah Kidd