Kerry McBride - Dominion Post
Holding the full attention of a live audience is an onerous task at the best of times, but when it is just you on the stage for more than two hours, you must pull off something truly special.
That is the challenge that has faced Te Kohe Tuhaka as he takes on the title role in the Taki Rua production Michael James Manaia.
Now two nights into the eight- show run, Tuhaka has settled in to his performance, trying to find something new to bring to the stage each night.
"When I was preparing, every day it was guaranteed that around two o'clock my brain would just turn to mush and it felt like life was seeping out of my ears because there was so much to take on.
"But now that we are open, the journey and development towards finding new breath in the piece itself is starting to come together."
Manaia tells the story of a New Zealand man forced to find his own voice again upon his return from the Vietnam War, after what he experienced on the warfields left him reeling against the culture, history and memories of his previous life.
Finally sharing the story of Michael James is a relief for Tuhaka, who has been intensively preparing for the show's season since last November.
"I think it's one of those things that I have been waiting on for such a long time now. After all the preparations, last year's workshops and rehearsals and so on, it's so good to finally be standing on that stage."
The show, which was first performed more than 20 years ago at the Downstage Theatre, explores Manaia's universal struggle to reconnect with his family despite the grief and violence of his war experience.
The solo show is a different type of challenge for Tuhaka, who has performed throughout New Zealand since his graduation from Toi Whakaari in 2004. "I just had to find an understanding and find those links between the character and myself. But I've never considered Michael James Manaia to be a play, I've always considered it to be a piece of writing and a series of memories for the man. So the best way I approached it was to know as much as I could about the time and the era through research. I gave myself the time and space to allow the story to be told through me.
"I look at Manaia as a type of energy that I need to allow to come through in my own physicality."
The show is on at Downstage Theatre until March 4, before hitting the road for seasons in Palmerston North, Gisborne and Auckland.
But with six more shows to prepare for, Tuhaka is yet to dedicate his mind to the road ahead. "Every night you just bring what you can to the performance and give it your all. It's just you up there, so it is on your shoulders to make it as good as you can."
- Michael James Manaia is at Downstage Theatre until March 4.