Christchurch-based poet Steve Thomas, executive producer of Arts on Tour New Zealand, explains why shows haven’t been able to come to Central Otago this year.

My story of the moment: Sunday, October 3, I was in the queue to board the interisland ferry at Picton, heading for Hamilton to deliver a van so Penny Ashton could start her tour of Austen Found, the undiscovered musicals of Jane Austen, when the phone rang.

It was Arts on Tour New Zealand (AOTNZ) general manager. Had I heard of the Hamilton lockdown?

Long story short, I turned round and high-tailed it back down Te Waipounamu.

Like a bull at a gate or a dog with a bone, I had not wanted to let this tour go.

Eighteen months of planning goes into each tour and venues were prepared within limits of 100 people, socially distanced and suitably dressed.

However, Penny and the crew were in Auckland and under restrictions. Eventually, her tour was completely cancelled.

The impact on all artists’ income has been significant.

In August, when the first lockdown was announced, we were surprised.

It caught us mid-tour with a six-piece guitar orchestra, Gitbox Rebellion, castaway on Stewart Island.

This misfortune was massaged by the legendary manaakitanga of Rakiura locals, who had a plentiful supply of cod fish and crays.

It is rumoured some of the musicians may never return to the mainland.

Then came the complete cancellation of My Mother the War Hero, a theatre show touring out from Wellington.

It was supposed to visit Hawea, Queenstown, Alexandra, Roxburgh and Cromwell in September and featured Kate Jason Smith’s true story of her mother’s award from the French government for bravery in World War 2.

Penny’s show was supposed to visit Cromwell, Alexandra and Arrowtown in October. It included the wonderful theatrical improviser Lori Dungey, of Lord of the Rings fame, and a musician currently working on a Netflix film, Jason Smith.

Another long story short, communities across New Zealand have lost 60 wonderful, highly entertaining, performance events.

Through careful budgeting we have been able to pay agreed fees to Gitbox Rebellion and 50% of fees to both tours, with the possibility of reviving the arrangements to tour Penny in 2023.

That being said, Menu 2022, AOTNZ’s carefully curated programme of touring artists for next year, is fully subscribed.

We have 220 events scheduled from Whangaroa in Northland to Stewart Island in the south, including visits to Hawea, Cromwell, Tarras, Arrowtown, Queenstown, Roxburgh and Alexandra.

We remain ever optimistic the show must go on.