Nothing turns heads on Wakefield Quay like a naked bald man painted black with his genitals covered by nothing but a terakihi.
And that is just the way Bob the emperor penguin likes it.
"It was confronting, to say the least, when I first started," said actor Byron Coll who plays Bob. "But now I'm used to it. In the first few seconds on stage you feel the effect on the audience."
That effect is usually a gasp but one that quickly subsides.
Stage manager Chelsea Adams said most people forget Coll is actually human until the end when he stands up and smiles.
"They love Bob."
Bob is one of three characters that feature in the Antarctic drama Heat which opens in the Nelson Arts Festival tonight.
It takes 1 1/2 hours for Coll to get into character. It used to take three. The production team applies non-toxic, water-based paint to every part of his body. The more controversial areas he does himself – in the mirror.
"It's so weird bending over and doing my bum and then getting a hair dryer."
He admitted sometimes he caught himself staring back and thought: "What am I doing?"
But the dedication paid off.
"It's rewarding when you see the audience get a bit wowed by it."
Heat tells the story of love between a woman, a man and a penguin. It is set in 1999 when a husband and wife scientific team hunker down inside a tiny, tightly packed survival capsule on the Ross Ice Shelf. They are accompanied only by a web-cam, sporadic radio contact, the aurora australis and a colony of male penguins.
"There is this great tension that goes on between us," said Coll. "It is a great dynamic."
The set is modelled on an actual Antarctic hut and is powered entirely by solar panels and wind turbines.
It is the most physical work Coll has been involved in and he suffers for his craft, spending the entire show on his knees, craning his neck to express the thoughts of a penguin, which has no voice.
"I don't get a whole lot of breaks but it does help you get into character."
Heat runs tonight and tomorrow at 7pm at the Suter Theatre.
- The Nelson Mail
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