Actor rises to challenge
Imagine singing, acting and dancing in a musical stage production while being almost completely blind.
That's the reality Ekta Kumar has to face as she prepares to perform with other Manukau Institute of Technology performing arts students in a theatre adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's short story His First Ball.
The story is set in the 1970s and follows factory worker Tuta Wharepapa who receives an unprecedented invitation to attend the Governor's ball.
It's packed with song, dance and narrative, all of which Kumar has taken in her stride.
The Papatoetoe resident was born with low vision and can only see things in her immediate surrounds.
But her disability hasn't dampened her love for performing.
"I love it, I just get this different feeling on stage," she says.
The 22-year-old plays a variety of characters in the production, all of which have required her to learn dance routines.
Dancing has been the most challenging thing because it's very physical, she says.
Kumar's had some extra practice and is confident leading up to opening night and looking forward to being on stage with her fellow classmates.
Choreographer Kat Walker says she has progressed remarkably despite being visually impaired.
"She's done really well. She's got a real fighting, overcoming spirit."
Walker says she makes sure there's always another performer on stage who can help Kumar into the right starting positions.
Kumar also needs to stand very close to Walker when she's learning and practising dance moves.
It's not the first time Walker has worked with someone with a disability - she's taught high needs students at Pakuranga College and children in Starship's psychiatric ward.
"You work around and through them," she says.
The MIT lecturer and street dancer says one of the greatest things about working on the production has been the creative input from the performers.
"Their talent is so unique," she says.
"I always get inspired when I watch them.
"The cast is so creative and I can bounce ideas off them."
Twelve students will be performing His First Ball at the Musgrove Studio in the Maidment Theatre in central Auckland.
The show opens tomorrow and runs until July 19.
Go to maidment.auckland.ac.nz for more information or to buy tickets.