26 January 2011

Turning up the Heat in Circa Two

After starring in the premiere production at BATS in 2008, and touring around the country in 2010, Kate Prior returns to Wellington with Heat. She takes some time to tell drama on the waterfront all about this intriguing show about a man, a woman and a penguin.

DOTW: What is the story of Heat?

KP: Heat focuses on a husband and wife, John and Stella Clark, (an atmospheric scientist and biologist respectively) who are wintering over in the Antarctic in a tiny hut on the remote Cape Crozier, almost 100kms east of Scott Base. Several years before this they lost a child, so this trip to Antarctica is on one hand a way to experience a world they have always dreamed about, to throw themselves into their work, and also perhaps a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and attempt to work through their grief.

Of course, something as psychologically draining as wintering over in Antarctica is only for the very hardy, and when the focus of Stella’s study - an Emperor Penguin - walks into the hut, many of these good intentions are thrown into disarray.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your character, Stella? Are there any particular challenges in playing this character?

KP: At the time we meet her in the play, Stella is still broken from the death of her son, Cam. But she is also very headstrong. She knows exactly what she wants and throws herself into her work.

It is because of this, that when an Emperor Penguin finds himself in the hut, Stella is absolutely transfixed. I focus on this, because the core challenge for me when I first approached this role was the notion of madness. You can’t really play madness. Or you can, but it soon becomes pretty boring. So I really try to focus on the real things, less on a concept of madness.

Wintering over in the Antarctic is in itself a huge psychological challenge – there are numerous stories of people losing their grip on reality, and each person who does winter over must take part in thorough psychological testing. Add to this the fact that Stella and John have lost a child several years before hand, AND the fact that there is this animalistic force taking over the hut, and it is not hard to imagine that your perception would skew slightly…

Yeah, so the challenge is to focus on things like love, desire, fascination, fear, rather than anything to do with being mad.
Kate Prior in Heat.
DOTW: Heat received critical acclaim when it premiered at BATS as part of the STAB Festival in 2008; what has it been like for you to journey with this show from then until now? Has the show changed at all since 2008?

KP: Extremely interesting to say the least! It has been a gift as an actor to work with one brilliant cast in 2008 and then re-rehearse with two more fantastic actors two years later. It’s a gift because you really have to not be precious about the work. No two actors are going to approach every single moment in the same way, so it has been a matter of being malleable and finding new stuff together. I really had to return to the work with an open mind.

It’s a hard one with this one, because there’s so many props etc, sometimes there really is one easy way to technically do something. The running gag in the rehearsal room was trying desperately not to say ‘Well Aaron used to…’

So yes, the show has changed in many ways since 2008. Simon and Byron brought their own unique energies that can’t help but change the tone and dynamic. Also I think there were many aspects we still wanted to find better solutions to in 2008, which perhaps a two-week season didn’t give us the opportunity to. So after a year of touring the show in 2010, first in July and then in October, we returned to re-rehearse the work for the Circa season with the awareness there were some script changes that needed to be made, and with a much better understanding of how the scenes work with an audience – the undoubted benefit of a show having more than one outing!

That said, no matter how comfortable we become with performing Heat, it does always feel like a runaway train.

Simon Vincent and Kate Prior
DOTW: You’ve toured with this show all over the country; how has it been received by other audiences?

KP: We’ve had some great responses from audiences. It’s always a bit of an unknown, taking a show out of the cosy theatre confines of Wellington. But I think audiences around the country have been really surprised and gripped by the piece, and they fall in love with Bob the penguin.

We especially enjoyed performing to audiences in Nelson. Perhaps because it was the final leg of the tour when we really started to have some fun, but also because Nelson is awesome. The audiences were great and were totally with us and the Suter Theatre was a really perfect space for the show. Heat is really played best in a relatively small space in which the claustrophobic nature of it can be keenly felt, hence why Circa Two is such a great space!

DOTW: What can Wellington audiences expect from the return season of Heat?

KP: Mess.

Byron Coll and Kate Prior.
DOTW: Finally, how do you really feel about penguins?

KP: Well they’re incredible creatures aren’t they? I’m talking specifically about Emperors here, but anyone who has watched good old March of the Penguins knows that their resilience and endurance where not only humans, but most other animals are so vulnerable, is fascinating. As is their need for each other - which illuminates ours. Which I suppose is why March of the Penguins is so strangely transfixing.

Now it sounds like this interview is for March of the Penguins… 

Heat opened in Circa Two on 25 January and runs until 19 February. To book tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

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