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GRRRL power kicking life back into Hamilton’s creative communities

Lauren Mann and Kat Waswo pose in front of a mural.

Lauren Mann (left) and Kat Waswo (right) are bringing GRRRL power back to Hamilton with arts festival, GRRRL FEST, in March. 

Kat Waswo and Lauren Mann have firsthand experience of what it’s like to be women in the entertainment industry. The two Hamilton women who have recently completed a Bachelor of Communication at Wintec, have been performers for many years and both agree that “women aren’t recognised or respected in the industry”. 

When friend Gwyn Barrie came up with the idea for GRRRL FEST, a music and arts festival with a kaupapa of inclusion for women and gender non-binary artists, Waswo jumped at the opportunity to be involved.  

GRRRL FEST came about as a response to a lack of female and gender non-binary representation in Hamilton’s music scene, and has grown to encompass visual arts, performance and a maker’s market. 

According to Waswo, GRRRL FEST “is inspired by the 90s feminist movement Riot Grrrl that came out of the punk scene. The festival is Gwyn’s brainchild, and it was born out of the realisation that women still aren't getting on the bills for shows – they're still being disrespected and harassed”. 

Happening from 5-7 March in downtown Hamilton, GRRRL FEST is being celebrated to align with International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March. The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘#ChoosetoChallenge’. Waswo says this is an “uncannily amazing hashtag considering what’s happening with this profound number of women coming forward about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry both here and overseas”. 

With her event management experience and the skills developed during her Communication degree, Waswo is a dynamo behind the scenes doing everything from marketing, graphic design and production.  

“The things I’ve learned from my comms degree have given me the experience to help establish everything and to help promote it.” 

Seizing the opportunity to work with classmate Mann, a dancer and performer with years of stage and event experience, Waswo and the GRRRL FEST organisers devised the idea of a ‘Variety Cabaret’ that Mann will be directing. 

Mann, who is the Communications Manager at Creative Waikato, got right on board with the kaupapa of GRRRL FEST. 

"Being a woman in this industry means you are constantly finding yourself in situations where you’re having to prove to male gatekeepers your capability in doing your job.” 

When met with questions from skeptics about GRRRL FEST, both women have staunch stances. 

“I often get asked ‘Why? Why do women need this? Why does a women’s specific event need to happen?’ People don’t understand the struggle of women in this industry,” says Waswo. 

"There’s a massive pool of phenomenal female talent here, and Hamilton needs Grrrlfest to happen” adds Mann. 

“It’s a requirement, a necessity. We’re not saying that no men can attend. Men should join in. Everyone, men included, should support and advocate for this kaupapa.” 

Another facet of GRRRL FEST’s kaupapa is to bring some livelihood back to Hamilton’s music scene. 

“Hamilton’s music industry has really suffered over the past 10 or so years. The retention rates for youth here are so low. Heaps of music venues have closed down and the music scene here is so small and niche but not in a good way. People start out in the music scene here and then they move to Auckland or Wellington because there’s more opportunity for them there,” says Waswo. 

Mann adds that “Hamilton’s growing and there’s opportunity for positive change here. We have the ability to make an active choice to rally behind the entire spectrum of our creative community, and consciously create platforms and environments that foster and celebrate creative freedom and expression. Those who choose to ignore that will be left behind”. 

The presence of an already burgeoning creative community is what the GRRRL FEST organisers are hoping will make their festival thrive.  

“Our kaupapa is to create these platforms for talented youth and artists and to create pride for Hamilton and our creative industries,” says Waswo. 

GRRRL FEST isn’t the only arts events with a conscience that are happening that weekend. From a femme and non-binary themed Pecha Kucha event, to the Boon Street Art Festival with a theme of ‘Mana Wāhine’, Mann says “you’ll be kicking yourself not to be in Hamilton that weekend”. 

“It’s an exclusively Kirikiriroa event – we want to grow some respect for our industry here. Hamilton is actually rad. We want to uplift the reputation of Hamilton and foster a more inclusive and diverse arts community.” 

More about GRRRL FEST 

GRRRL FEST is a three-day multimedia festival for the creative arts, shining the spotlight on female and non-gender-conforming artists and creative talent. The first festival of its kind in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, the female-led event is providing stages, spaces and places throughout the city with the aim of creating more pride for local youth and its creative communities.  

There are six main festival events, with 18 musical acts, over a dozen visual artists and several performing artists. Visit the GRRRL FEST website for event details.  

Want to get involved? 

GRRRL FEST have closed artist applications but are looking for stallholders for the Maker’s Market, and for festival crew and volunteers. Take a look at the GRRRL FEST Instagram and Facebook pages, or get in touch via the GRRRL FEST website.  

Interested in studying a Bachelor of Communication? Find out more here.

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