The Heat goes on

PLAY PIONEERS: Heat designer Marcus McShane and writer Lynda Chanwai-Earle.
PLAY PIONEERS: Heat designer Marcus McShane and writer Lynda Chanwai-Earle.

A WORLD-FIRST theatre production is coming to Auckland and bringing solar panels and wind turbines along for the ride.

Theatre company Ice Floe, the producer of the play Heat, is leading the world by transporting its set, props and power supply around New Zealand.

The result will be the first entirely sustainably-powered production tour.

Ice Floe, together with technology developers Ebbett Automation, has designed a 6.1 metre by 2.4 metre shipping container to house two wind turbines and four solar panels that will fold out to provide all their energy requirements while on the road.

The container will also be used as a box-office from which to sell tickets in smaller destinations.

Marcus McShane, the alternative energy designer for the show, said a theatre production normally consumed about 50,000 watts, but Heat would use only 800.

"I'm quite surprised no one has done it before," he says.

He has been involved with shows powered off the grid before and knows of fixed eco-theatres internationally, that consume on average 10,000 watts per show, but nothing like this.

"The material is the motivation behind everything we're doing," says Mr McShane.

"The themes of the play conceptually and morally demand it."

This may seem strange for a play that is about a love triangle between a man, woman and a penguin.

And writer Lynda Chanwai-Earle says the actor playing the penguin is "completely naked on stage except for body paint".

"But Heat is in total alignment with the Antarctic ethos and endorsed by Antarctic New Zealand," she says. "All the equipment and clothing you see on the stage is the genuine article, freighted up to us from Antarctica."

Carbon credits had been bought to offset the footprint left by flights and other transport, says Mr McShane.

Everyone involved has become immersed in the culture and plight of Antarctica, with documentary screenings after rehearsals and scientists being brought in to workshop with the cast.

Every detail of the show's design has been configured to use as little electricity as possible. High-efficiency LED lights have been constructed specifically for the stage, as have low-drain speakers and laptops for sound.

The show would not be lacking anything as a result of the conservation exercise, says Mr McShane. "It has to look beautiful and be efficient at the same time."

For the Auckland dates, the container-cum-power station will be situated in the Herald Theatre carpark, the best position to catch sunlight and publicity, says Mr McShane.

"Patrons and passers-by are welcome to come and check out how it all works," he says.

The play was met with critical acclaim when first performed at Wellington's BATS Theatre in 2008 and received the Chapman Tripp Award for Actor of the Year for the penguin role – despite it having no lines of dialogue.

Mr McShane says his involvement with the tour was "one of the weirdest ways to get a job ever", after he ignited a fierce online debate about the play's inaugural design. He says he was an immediate fan of the original concept, but had a couple of restless nights wondering whether it could be done better.

"Then when it turned out the show would be touring, the producers got in touch. I had no option but to put my money where my mouth was."

Heat is being performed at the Herald Theatre from July 12 to 17.

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