BATS Theatre, Wellington

07/11/2008 - 22/11/2008


Production Details

A woman, a man, and a penguin – theatre of the Antarctic

Sometimes extreme conditions push you to the extremes.

It’s 1999 and a husband and wife scientific team hunker down inside a tiny, tightly packed survival capsule on the Ross Ice Shelf, wintering over in the vast frozen Antarctic, accompanied by only web-cam, sporadic radio contact, the amazing Aurora Australis, and a colony of male penguins.

Struggling to maintain a failing relationship, Stella (Kate Prior) observes breeding patterns among Emperor penguins, while John (Aaron Cortesi) monitors climate change – until the untimely introduction of a third character (Brian Hotter) blows their fragile world apart. Life in the hut takes one dark turn after another, caught live on ‘cam’ in an explosive climax where only two of the three will come out alive, just in time to witness the first vivid streaks of light as it dawns on the beginning of the endless day.

Echoing the real restrictions of life in the Antarctic and in the dynamic spirit of a STAB show, Heat will use self-sustainable energy means – powered off-grid with lights, sound and electronics from low drain and/or renewable energy. The production will look, as the Antarctic stations are increasingly doing, to partnerships with companies developing sustainable, renewable power sources.

2008 is the first International Polar Year for 50 years, so once again scientists, policy makers and governments worldwide are focusing on the precious and fragile qualities of the polar worlds. Heat brings together this scientific contemplation with those uniquely human qualities we all have.

With a new script originally commissioned by Circa Theatre, music by recent CNZ Antarctic Fellow Gareth Farr and design features by Afterburner’s Marty Roberts, Heat opens a rare glimpse into the extraordinary isolated experience of being an Antarctic scientist, being a human pushed to the extremes, and of the sheer beauty of a winter in the Antarctic.

7 – 22 November, 7.30pm
Matinee 15 & 22 November 2.00pm
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce
Bookings: 04 802 4175 or
Cost: $20/13. $15 groups 6+

– – – – – – –
This production of Heat was commissioned by BATS Theatre for STAB 2008

The script was commissioned by Circa Theatre.
Both commissions were given with funding from Creative New Zealand.

Part of STAB 2008: commissioned by BATS Theatre with funding from Creative New Zealand. STAB originated in 1995 from BATS Theatre’s desire to initiate a commission that allowed theatre artists to experiment in a supportive environment. The STAB commission is an essential part of the BATS annual programme and can be accessed by all performance media: dance, theatre, opera, music, film, interactive media and magic! www.bats.co.nz Ice Floe Productions would like to thank Playmarket, New Zealand’s Playwrights’ Agency & Script Advisory Service, www.playmarket.org.nz ‘Heat by Lynda Chanwai Earle has been commissioned by Circa Theatre with a grant from Creative New Zealand, and received development assistance in a workshop partnership between Playmarket and Circa Theatre.’

Written by Lynda Chanwai-Earle
Directed by David O'Donnell

Sound designer and composer: Gareth Farr
Set designer: Brian King

Kate Prior as Stella
Aaron Cortesi as John
Brian Hotter as Bob
Barry Lakeman as Darren from Scott Base
James Davenport as the radio announcer

stage manager: Barry Lakeman
technical operator: Tamsin Lakeman
body make-up artist: Dianne Wheeler
construction: John Hodgkins, Rob Larsen and Nathan McKendry
production manager: Helena Coulton
publicist: Brianne Kerr
publicity photography: Stephen A'Court
graphic design: Dnation Creative
alternative energy: Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Marjorie McKee
producer and marketing manager: Marjorie McKee

alternatve energy system designed and installed by Graeme Ebbett of Ebbett Automation
technical consultation and construction by Don Blackmore

Challenging, exciting, engaging

Review by Helen Sims 15th Dec 2008

Heat is a play rooted in friction, passion and conflict, set in a cold and eerie climate. Yet it is also beautiful and lyrical, as well as intensely physical. This play of contrasts gripped me for its entire length.

Stella and John (played by Kate Prior and Aaron Cortesi respectively), are a husband and wife on separate scientific missions in Antarctica. He studies climate change, she is researching Emperor penguins. They are dropped off to a hut, remote from base, connected only by radio and a web cam. Although at first they are exhilarated, an uneasy tension pervades their relationship. It soon emerges that their application for research grants was prompted by more than scientific endeavour – they are escaping their guilt over the death of their son. Shut into a microcosmic world they can no longer avoid the emotions they tried to bury with their son.

Just as you begin to wonder exactly where the play is going to go in terms of the increasingly hostile relationship between Stella and John a third element is added – a penguin named ‘Bob’, who invades the hut after he is rejected by his group. Bob becomes the focal point of the suppressed feelings of Stella and John. She sees him as a replacement child, and at one point it would seem as a lover. John on the other hand regards the penguin with disgust, jealousy and finally as an object to compete with Stella over for affection.

Brian Hotter meets the challenge of playing an animal that has human emotion projected upon it superbly. He is strikingly penguin-like in his behaviour, but just as we begin to mentally accept the body-painted man as a penguin we are startled back into the realisation that the penguin is in fact a man. He becomes a strange and stunning catalyst for the huge emotional journey of the other two characters. The humour as well as despair that Bob injects into the situation is refreshing and riveting.

Brian King’s set design conveys the wide expanse of the frozen continent within the small space of BATS. The cramped and tightly packed cabin is nicely contrasted with the bare and icily lit landscape outside, with its only feature being an abstract block of ice. I enjoyed the playful, Brechtian way the characters ‘broke’ the walls and roof of the hut – it was a contradiction this play explored well through its script, characters, set, sound and lighting design. The line between fiction and reality is often at stake in theatre – it was great to see a play that confronted that so overtly.

As a STAB commission I questioned whether heat was particularly experimental. The play did not seem to meet its claims of sustainability – it seemed the original marketing of an environmentally sustainable production had changed simply to one that was “off grid”.

Heat may not be flawless, but it is challenging and exciting. It’s a thrill to see performances of this quality. O’Donnell and his team should be proud, and this emerged as one of the best and most engaging theatrical experiences I have had so far this year.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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From chipper to bleak

Review by Jackson Coe 19th Nov 2008

Heat is an adventurous and ultimately absorbing show, although I must admit that for some time I wondered where it was headed. It seemed to be a rather ordinary entry for the Stab Festival, but the moment Brian Hotter waddled onstage as Bob the penguin the show came together and I found myself excited and engaged by this production.

Written by Lynda Chanwai-Earle and directed by David O’Donnell, Heat is set in a hut on the lonely and isolated wastelands of Antarctica. A husband and wife, John and Stella, are on individual research missions, she investigating penguins and he studying climate change. Their confinement and isolation soon forces them to confront the loss of their young son and the show becomes a wild ride of rage, grief, denial and finally forgiveness.

The play’s actors all excel at what they do. Aaron Cortesi plays the fiery John with gusto, while Kate Prior as Stella gives a persuasive and compelling performance. While both performers are excellent, the real star of the play is Brian Hotter as the nude penguin Bob. Hotter’s performance is simply amazing, and observing him inject a visible psychology into an animal was just superb.

The set, designed by Brian King, seems to be a remarkably lifelike rendition of an Antarctic hut (I say seems because I have never been to one myself). Tucked into a corner and embraced by audience on two sides, it develops a physical intimacy across the course of the show which allows us access to the feelings of cabin fever experienced by the two characters. The exterior set components are more abstract, with a jagged glacier leading to a block of real ice, which works well but isn’t quite as fascinating as inside the cabin.

Some of the lighting is emitted directly from onstage sources such as small lamps and torches, contributing to the naturalism of the show. There are also some more standard pieces of lighting equipment which help create an almost spooky ambience. These are said to be powered by sustainable energy sources such as solar panels, which is an excellent and thought-provoking idea. However, some claims that the power sources may not be as efficient as we are lead to believe may diminish the show’s credibility in this area. (see here to debate the details)

Gareth Farr’s haunting soundscape is another of the show’s strengths. The hollowness of the Antarctic is beautifully invoked through what could be the distant cries of whales or animals. At first his compositions don’t seem to totally match the chipper dispositions of the characters, but by the end of the show they have grown to mirror their bleak emotions which helps us make sense of what they are going through internally.

Heat is a great play which takes some time to warm up, but come the ending it is clear that it is a worthy addition to this year’s Stab lineup.


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Heat generates own excitement

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Nov 2008

Heat, which is the second experimental STAB production for the year, is as exciting and intriguing as the first, Apollo 13. While it is the first off-grid theatre production in New Zealand with a generator, solar panels and windmill placed outside Bats Theatre and giving a foretaste of the Antarctic setting inside, the technology is swiftly forgotten as a gripping and moving tale of magical realism unfolds in a hut on Cape Crozier, north of Scott Base.

Unlike artists who have visited and been inspired by Antarctica, such as Graham Billing in his 1965 novel Forbush and the Penguins and more recently Gareth Farr and Paul Horan with Terra Incognita, Lynda Chanwai-Earle, who hasn’t been to the continent, uses it as a place where her protagonists eventually discover, in the words of a character from Kushner’s Angels in America, that it provides ‘Cold shelter for the shattered. No sorrow here, tears freeze.’

Her ‘shattered’ characters are a husband-and-wife team, both scientists; Stella studies the breeding patterns of Emperor penguins and John climate change. Their arrival, unpacking and adjusting to their new home is full of excitement and laughter.

But they cannot escape their past, the death of a child. Grief, says Stella, is hot, it burns. She becomes obsessed with a penguin that is rejected by the group that she is studying. She names him Bob and he slowly infiltrates their lives causing John to be jealous and Stella over-protective.

This odd triangle of tangled, over-heated emotions is played out in the cold winter darkness with tragic results. The playwright mixes humour (a webcam sends back to a New Zealand school sights the pair would rather not be seen) with powerfully written scenes of scalding emotional intensity. She once said in an interview about her plays that ‘even where there’s a death at the end there’s hope’ and this is realized as the rising sun ends the long winter darkness.

As with all David O’Donnell’s productions the play is impeccably cast. Aaron Cortesi and Kate Prior miss nothing in the roller-coaster ride of emotions their characters go through, playing the comedy and the tragedy with complete commitment. As Bob, Brian Hotter, who spends a lot of time on his knees and covered in black make-up, is superb: funny, touching, heart-breaking, and not for a second cutesy or Disneyish.

As with all O’Donnell productions the backstage support is also impeccable: Gareth Farr’s fine sound design and music is both realistic and evocative and Brian King’s detailed setting for the cramped and cluttered aluminium-framed hut is realistic, while the outside world is represented by a symbolic block of illuminated ice.

Heat is a strange, powerful and absorbing piece of theatre in a year of some extraordinary productions. Warmly recommended.


marcus mcshane November 13th, 2008

thanks!  debate it is certainly producing :)

ester November 13th, 2008

Hi Marcus,

To clarify any debate about the Celsias website and Nick Lewis: the Celsias website was set up two years ago (March 2006). Nick Lewis was the CEO of Celsias until the end of Oct 2008 and he built the blog into an internationally recognised website. Celsias was rated by Times London as one of the top 5 eco-websites in the world. Celsias is not an unmoderated public website, it is currently managed by the L.A. based editor, Leslie Berliant. 

Nick wrote in the “Heat” programme that nuclear power “is here to stay and even enjoying a renaissance” in some countries like France. This is a fact. Contentious as it may be, Nick is probably trying to excite healthy debate around this issue.

Seems to be working.

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Intensity on ice

Review by John Smythe 08th Nov 2008

It has taken a long time for this Heat to rise to the surface. Commissioned and workshopped by Circa Theatre six years ago as part of their 25th birthday celebrations, it was not produced by them, although it would have been ideal for Circa Two.* It came off the ice, so to speak, when BATS commissioned it as a STAB 08 production (along with Apollo 13).

Apart from Brian Hotter’s stunning performance as Bob the penguin, Heat‘s key experimental element (allowing "theatre artists to experiment in a supportive environment" being the cornerstone of the STAB commissions) is that it is powered completely ‘off-Grid’ by solar, wind and generator, to replicate the energy sources used in the kind of Antarctic huts the play is set in and around.

With minimal lighting beneath a huge black tarpaulin, Brian King’s cluttered aluminium-framed hut reeks of reality while an outdoor strip of snow and a glowing block of ice are more stylised. This is where Stella (Kate Prior) and John (Aaron Cortesi) winter over to conduct scientific research.

But what the play is really about is how they have put the heat of grief – the death of their child (from meningitis, it is implied) – on ice, how a penguin rejected by the group becomes something of an obsession for Stella and an object of jealousy for John, and how it all burns through to explode with a murderous intensity before resolution is achieved.

Abetted by Gareth Farr’s subcutaneous composition and soundscape, it is a huge emotional journey from lightness and joy to darkness and desperation and in to the early glow of a promising spring. Facilitated by director David O’Donnell, Prior and Cortesi navigate it all with great fidelity to every moment, be it passion-filled, relaxed and amiable or numbed.

And Hotter’s Bob, innocent and absolute in his wants and needs, is the catalyst for their full range of emotions as well as the comic relief, thanks to a beautifully rendered poker-cum-penguin-faced physicality, upon which we inevitably project our anthropomorphised empathy.

These are the aspects to focus on. I did find myself distracted, to no great benefit, by non-naturalistic elements like characters walking through the imaginary wall to the outside, being able to see in the apparent dark and looking high in the sky to the first sunrise, which surely would have been but a peek over the horizon that flooded the landscape in front of them with something wondrous to behold.

Certainly once you have an actor playing a penguin you have moved on from the rigours of naturalism. Even so, I’d have thought the concepts of claustrophobic closeness, the inability to escape and the stark difference between inside warmth and outside cold might have been more usefully exploited.

Mainly, I don’t want to be flipped into objective mode, critiquing the arts of theatrical presentation, when the play calls for strong emotional empathy for all three characters, what they are going through and how they subvert and, sometimes, support each other. But my companion tells me she was riveted throughout so maybe it’s just me.

Maybe Heat‘s contractions are the point: heat and cold; reality and fantasy; truth and artifice; intensity and indifference … Whichever way you look at it, it is a remarkable piece of theatre.
– – – – – – – – – –

* A media release from Circa, dated 2 December 2002, reads in part:
"The recipient of the 25th Birthday Commission is Lynda Chanwai-Earle for her play Heat, while Dave Armstrong has been awarded the Circa Creative New Zealand 2002 Commission for his play entitled The Tutor … Susan Wilson, Ross Jolly, Katherine McRae and Linda Wilson were the selection panel for these commissions.  Announcing the award Sue Wilson said "We value our New Zealand playwrights and hope these opportunities for new New Zealand work will assist in the long term development of New Zealand theatre.  Circa was delighted to receive twenty-two ideas from nineteen playwrights for these two current commissions and hope to see productions of both plays in 2004." The Tutor opened in Circa Two in November 2005, directed by Danny Mulheron and won the Outstanding New NZ Play award that year.


marcus mcshane November 14th, 2008

no sweat john.

   i probably shouldn't have responded anyway as i really don't want to get into a ridiculously technical and feeerrrrooooocccciously boring slanging match here either.  especially when i have less to lose than heat and the responses require less work of me.  the play is up and running, and it's good.   the wind/solar system is good too, i have never claimed that it wasn't.  i prefaced the original description of the system with "what appears to be" because i could only base my late-night-figurings on similar equipment that i know about.   I only had one nightime look at the heat generator and am perfectly willing to admit that i'm an idiot, and that it's a four-stroke, which rather throws my hippie gnashings and wailings about 2-stroke out the window.  Although they were quite fun gnashings.

  I wanted to talk to whoever designed the system because they could tell me the actual specifications, but marjorie's already done that now.

  if Heat's stated aim was never originally to be sustainable, but simply to not be plugged into the wall, (ie: off-grid) then i withdraw all my sustainability-rants, as they become out-of-context.

  i really don't want to make any more work for anyone involved.


John Smythe November 14th, 2008

Please note Marcus McShane's comment beginning "excellent!" and 'posted 13 Nov 2008, 03:47 PM' - see above - has only just been liberated from the spam trap, where it was mistakely detained, I have no idea why - apologies (we're working on it).

By the way, there are lots of new news items as of last night - see the Feature Box for links or click on 'News'.

Ernest Scribbler November 14th, 2008

And here I was waiting for a good old-fashioned playground scrap! :-(

Curse you all for your intelligence and maturity...

John Smythe November 13th, 2008

I'm delighted this got sorted out publicly - it's all too easy for such (mis)information to gain ready traction around the network in casual conversation (a.k.a. gossip) without being effectively challenged.  Accolades all round - to Marcus for initiating it and to the production team who so clearly brought light to those dark and festering places.

marcus mcshane November 13th, 2008

thank you lynda,
                                  I adore Brian and his designs too.  You're quite right, he is a hero.  His set for this play is also excellent, especially now i understand that he came onboard quite late in the production.

 I like your play too!  I can't believe circa never produced it when it was originally commissioned. 

  My criticism is quite fierce I'm afraid, and perhaps it is so because it touches upon something i care about.  late on a grumpy night is never a good time to produce dispassionate argument, so passionate it was.

 But it is only directed towards one conceptual area of this production.  I hope everyone in Heat understands that.  I've put myself out here, and i've worked with nearly everyone involved in heat, so i'm not hiding behind a false name and casting accusations wildly.  I have too much respect for the people involved for that.   However i failed to get any useful answers from anyone i talked to on opening night, and to not broach the subject publicly began to seem cowardly.  Better that than whinging behind people's backs, when it was troubling me.

  Although i've grumped and moaned I hope the grumping and moaning is taken constructively.  It's never any fun to be criticised, so i know that might be hard to do.

  I've replied to marjore's post already, and i'm glad she took the time to reply to me, especially in an area that's outside her field of expertise and so must have taken considerable research.

  keep writing so well lynda,

Lynda Chanwai-Earle November 13th, 2008

Hi Marcus

Ours is a new endeavour and change is often hard to achieve in the context of fierce criticism. Thank you for your suggestions and feedback regarding the alternative energy powering Heat. You wondered who designed it. Our programme and the plaque clearly state that Graeme Ebbett designed the alternative energy installation that powers the play - not Brian King.

Brian King (bless him) designed the set within the theatre. Given the very challenging boundaries he faced (minimal power usage) he's our hero and an artistic genius in our estimation.

Graeme Ebbett, Director 0f Ebbett Automation Ltd, member of SEANZ (Sustainable Electricity Association NZ) and the Porirua/Mana energy auditor for the Sustainable Energy Trust is very happy to chat about various errors you made regarding our alternative energy system, but I think Marjorie has covered most of them. Graeme, as did many wonderful sponsors, donated much of his invaluable time and energy towards the production. For this we are very grateful.

We hope you will attend the public forum this weekend, we look forward to some healthy, constructive debate.

I'll be talking about the writing of Heat.

Warm regards Lynda

marcus mcshane November 13th, 2008


  thank you marjorie for this research and the reply to me :)  I know this must have taken you some time.

  firstly, you've spotted a typing mistake of mine (this is why you edit things the morning after rather than posting them, doh!)  I know that there are 4 solar panels, and i've made my original calculations based on 4 58w solar panels, not one.  I'm sorry, and i have written "a 58w" not "Four 58w" as i intended.   marine solar panels of that size tend to be 58w peak capacity, and i like marine ones because they produce less power, but are designed to survive salt spray, wind, and a very harsh environment.  in a domestic-use situation a marine solar array might keep producing for fifteen years, whereas a non-marine one tends to need it's photovoltaic cells replaced every few years.  there's so much variation between equipment though that it's hard to really judge.  110w is an excellent output.  I'd like to know what make these panels are.

  I would be seriously amazed if that turbine produces 200w.  It's the same size as and looks rather like a 60w turbine.  i've played with 200w daewoo turbines, and their blade span is nearly two meters.  that one's blades have perhaps a quarter that surface area.  still, if the manufacturer says it can make 200w, i'll believe them. 

  I tried to ask all of these questions on opening night, but couldn't find anyone who knew anything about it, and i wasn't about to try and shinny up the generator pole in a suit to try and read the specifications after two glasses of wine.  (that's more of a 6-glass-of-wine adventure).

 So i based it on what i know from using similar equipment.   The fact that no-one i could find knew anything about the alternative energy system confused me further.  Obviously it's plenty to charge the deepcycle batteries, which is the main thing either way.  4x 58w solar panels and a 60w turbine would happily charge two deep cycle batteries over the course of a day.

  I already withdrew the "poorly-sited" call the morning after the post when i had a think about the other places you could put the array.  it kind of has to be there, even though it's not the best place.  otherwise it's on the pavement (which means the council beats you with paperwork) or on the roof of bats (which means the council beats you with paperwork, engineers beat you with paperwork, and then you need a crane too...)   yes, it's in the only place it can be, unfortunately.

  All this dosen't change a bar of what i'm saying.  I wanted to talk to whoever designed the wind/solar array because I agree that it's a fine and working system, and anyone who can put that together should also know that the flip side of using such systems is that the devices they power need to be efficient and appropriate.  It's great to have a set of oars, but they don't work if you don't stick them in the dang water...

  Whee!  Another clumsy metaphor!


  If the generator is actually a four stroke, not the two stroke that it appeared to be upon examination, then that's great.  at 6kva on a 4-stroke you're now (let's see...) only creating between about ten and forty times more emissions than you would if you were plugged into the grid.


  the inverter sine/wave point.  You only have a sine wave problem because you're running a sound system that's meant to be run off 240v domestic power.  the inverter replicates those sine waves as well as changing the voltage.  This dosen't change anything I'm saying.  use a 12v system and you'll have vastly greater efficiency, less heat, no inverter and no sine wave problem.  this is another aspect of the point i'm trying to make, thank you. 


  That point being:

 It is great that most of the show runs on solar and wind.  But it could ALL run on solar and wind very easily.  Looking at the figures you've given me it could all run with just the installation you have, sans generator.  Perhaps a little more storage capacity is neccissary, but your generation capacity is obviously already sufficient if you can drive the bose 802's and two sub's through an inverter with it.

  Then it would be in line with the way the show's being promoted.  I'm still in shock that it's not.  when you have a concept like this, you sit down and work out loadings and requirements first, rather than just plugging things in.  I would expect a list of rough loadings and estimated generation/storage capacities would have been a part of the initial stab pitch.  it's less than an hour's work to make the calculations, and then you'll know what equipment you can use, and soon you'll know what it can cost.


  the Heat programme does state that conservation and sustainability are a part of the forum.  I'm not going to come to this, as i really don't want to get into some sort of war here.  i LOVE the concept behind Heat, and i really enjoyed all other aspects of the play.  I know that a lot of hard work has gone into it.  Otherwise i wouldn't have been kept awake for two nights wondering why this aspect wasn't done properly.  I wouldn't have got up in the middle of the night to sit down at the computer and have my rant.  If Heat was a mediocre production i would have simply sighed and forgotten about it. 


  The example of the generator powered queenstown show is not meant to be me saying "i did this first".  I certainly didn't.  Paul O'Brien mentioned to me today a generator-powered show he worked on at least ten years before that.  He also put his face in his hands out of sheer dismay when i mentioned that the Heat house lights are incandescent and that the FOH set exterior lighing is selecon 500w fresnels, run off a dimmer pack.

  The inefficient dimmer pack you're using is what causes the interference with the sound, and is therefore what means that you can't run lights and sound off the same power supply.  The dimmer pack is only neccissary because you're running massively inefficient old theatre lights and incandescent house lights.  Use more efficient 12v lighting and a cheap sine wave dimmer, and you won't have sound/lighting interference, and so you will be able to run them off the same (sustainable) source.

 There have been dozens and dozens of shows off-grid.  you'll find it hard to figure out when the first one was because it's so common that no-one's bothered mentioning it.  It's nothing special.  Which is why the "a first for new zealand theatre" claim in the bats foyer confused me.  i'd like to know whose theatre memories you were trawling.  Not those of any lighting designers, obviously.


 Are you quite sure sustainable theatre wasn't part of the Heat concept originally?  Because it really really looks like it was.  I'd like to ask Steph and the bats team if that was how it was pitched to them.

  I did come with expectations, and i came really excited about the show, wanting to see how it had been done.  And I found it hadn't been done at all.  When it could have been, quite easily.  There is both laziness in the design and hypocrisy in it too therefore, certainly in how the actuality of the show relates to the way it has been marketed .

 You can't set out to do something like this and then give up late in the game and plug it into a generator because of a lack of forethought.  A generator was not a part of the original concept according to your publicity.

  Yes, anatarctic huts do use generators.  When they have to.  You don't have to.

  As the Heat concept seems from all the publicity out there to be focussed on the "eco-theatre" angle I don't really see this as any vindication of the generator's use here.  To quote the bats website again:  "Heat will be totally self-sustainable, powered off-grid with lights, sound and electronics all powered as far as possible from low drain and/or renewable energy".  It's not.  Far from it.

  That seems pretty clear.


  Thanks Marjorie.  Strangely, once i got that original rant off my chest it stopped bothering me so much.  I've said my bit, and i'll defend it, but i'm not out to damage the show in any way, merely to draw attention to a major conceptual failure. 

  There are so many hard-working people out there with the skills to make this show happen according to it's stated concept that it's deeply frustrating to see it bungled.  that's all.


Gareth Farr November 13th, 2008

I will be talking about music and my 2005 visit to Antarctica at the HEAT forum on the 15th - not alternative energy.

Marjorie McKee November 12th, 2008

You're passionate Marcus, and though I'd love to engage with that there are a few factual errors which may be more helpful to sort.

The 4 solar panels are 110 watts each, not 58 watts all up. 

The wind turbine is 200W not 50W.

It doesn’t have the best site, you’re quite right.  It’s the best site we could achieve within the restrictions of resource consent, safety, proximity, and available land.  If you watch it, though, you’ll see it go, and  – even with limited spinning and even on its own - it charges the two deep cycle batteries which power most of the production very well.  It’s a particularly efficient system.

The turbine and the solar panels between them charge the batteries fully between performances.  In fact, because the show only runs for 2 hours, but solar or wind are available 24 hours, the wind turbine is turned off much of the time to avoid overcharging the batteries.

The two deep cycle batteries power not only a number of 240v pieces of equipment but a 12v system.  That overall setup powers
-  all the sound (as well as two subs there are a mackie and a mic and various small speakers as well as the BATS Boses)
-  all the control equipment
-  the camera for the audiovisuals,
-   our rechargeable batteries, and
-  most of the lights where they aren’t discrete LEDs, torches or similar

Most of our show runs on solar and wind.

The generator powers the few large theatre lights, separately from the sound to avoid interference between the two, and at a low level.  It is a 4-stroke 6kva, not a 2-stroke 4kva.

There is, as you point out, an inverter in the system.  This is in place to give the clean sine waves the sound needs.  Its power wastage aspects, such as they are, come second to that.

The forum is not a Q and A session on alternative energy and conservation.  It is, as you will see from the newsletter on the window at BATS, a forum to share experiences of the Antarctic, penguins, wintering over, as well as energy issues, and questions and thoughts provoked by the production.

And though you’re right, “Heat” is not 100% sustainable theatre or based completely on renewable resources - publicity buzz, between the various sources of impetus, overstated it - that was never its centre.

What it is, is theatre which creates within our own cosy comfortable resource-rich city environment a moment which lays out some of the costs of survival in extremes. 

It is the world of the Antarctic hut.

That’s how they live there.

With solar, wind, and yes, generator power. That's the reality of survival in the Antarctic. Then when the play was set, and still now.  It would be skirting the issue not to include the generator.

The more the ozone hole widens the more they go down there and study that, among other areas, and the more the generators fire.

And maybe that’s an irony in itself which is worth the stating.  Even if not everyone sees it on first glance.

I do have one big apology to make.  In trawling the net and the resources of an extensive network of theatre memories we didn’t come across your production in Queenstown.  I apologise.  We had no intention of mis-stating the “first”.  We believed it was true that we were the first to power with solar, wind and generator backup.  If you did it too that’s great.  (And we apologise.)  May more do likewise.

 “Heat” is the tension of survival and extremes, and a very specific world.  What the people who have actually forged the production aimed to create was powerful and passionate theatre which would limit its power resources in exactly the same way the protagonists did and still create theatre without compromise.

There is neither laziness not hypocrisy in the production.

It’s very hard work and the aim was and is burningly sincere.

Just not the aim you picked up from the publicity.

I look forward to seeing you at the forum if you come

Ernest Scribbler November 12th, 2008

Wow...Marcus...post of the year, I'm thinking. So many issues raised.

Will serious questions be asked about the STAB funding that went into the show?
Can the show continue operating and publicising itself as it has with these allegations surfacing?
Can anyone challenge or refute Marcus' analysis, or is he on the money?

I await developments with bated breath.

marcus mcshane November 11th, 2008

Hi Don,
              I was actually curious about who designed/installed the wind and solar system.  I like the bike!  Fine idea.  kept wanting to ride it myself afterwards.

  on another point, in the light of the cold-afternoon-after-the-3am-rant i'd like to point out that I really enjoyed the play, and that I've mocked someone else's bad grammer while using incorrect grammer myself.



Don Blackmore November 11th, 2008

Hey Marcus,

Happy to have a chat sometime, however I didn't do the electrical supply, lighting design or the publicity material.

My area was the video distribution system, to backstage and the bicycle, and the bicycle dynamo video processing system.

Don Blackmore

marcus mcshane November 11th, 2008

I enjoyed enormously the opening night of Heat, but it left me, as a designer, with some fairly big questions.  I work a lot in architectural and marine environments, and often in found spaces that require extremely low power usage.  Heat is a gorgeous play, but it also deals conceptually with some very topical and important issues. 

Let’s begin.  I don’t wish to attack Brian King here personally, he’s a wonderful set designer and a delightful person, but he seems so out of his depth in this area that I have to wonder exactly why he’s doing it.

Heat claims to be sustainable.  It’s not.  In many ways this production is anti-sustainable and somewhat hypocritical.

“Echoing the real restrictions of life in the Antarctic, Heat will be totally self-sustainable and off-grid with lights, sound and electronics all powered as far as possible by low drain and/or renewable energy” (Source: Publicity material from www.bats.co.nz )

The play itself is deeply concerned with conservation.  One of the opening passages has Kate Prior’s character Stella speaking beautifully about how the environment she is studying in is melting and vanishing.  Yet almost no new thought has gone into how this concept relates to this show, which I presumed was the hub of a STAB pitch in the first place.  It’s a very good show, but nothing about this means it should be in STAB.

The lighting and electronics are far from sustainable.  They are ageing inefficient examples of poor 80’s engineering, the same stock-standard Bats equipment used in all Bats shows.  And the Antarctic-themed house lighting is actually considerably less efficient than even the standard bats house lighting.

The “off-grid” power for light and sound is provided by what appears to be 4 58 watt solar panels, a 60 watt marine wind generator, (I’ve checked the wind generator twice and never seen it actually generating anything.  but how often do you get a non-windy day here?) and a 4000 watt 2-stroke petrol generator.  The wind and solar component are enough, if well-situated and linked to appropriate storage systems, to power the lighting and electronics of a mid-sized yacht (40-ft odd)  Double that, and if some thought is actually used, you could run this show off it.

In the last day or two some of the Heat publicity seems to have changed.  Now Heat is touting their off-gridness as “a first for new Zealand theatre”.  Not so either.  I’ve designed two shows this year myself that were completely off the national grid.  It’s nothing special.  I designed an off-grid generator-powered production of 12th night near Queenstown in 2001 that had an average audience of 700 per night.  Generators are simply what you use when your access to the national grid is insufficient to support your requirements.  And generators are noisy, wasteful, and expensive.  Not clever.  Or interesting either.

Approximately 70 percent of New Zealand’s power is currently sustainable and carbon neutral.  The statistic was actually better a few years ago, but blame Huntly and Mighty River Power for that.  Even so, the coal that we do burn has economies of scale on it’s side, and also has it’s emissions thoroughly filtered.  With a little less ignorance about power usage we could be entirely sustainable under our current generating capacity.  

So, anyway, the touted off-grid ”first for New Zealand theatre” seems a simple lie, and a curiously meaningless one as well.  A lie that serves to demonstrate some of the ignorance involved in this design.

Heat’s generator is also a 2-stroke, one of the most nastily polluting engines ever designed.  2-strokes burn raw oil along with their petrol, but are very powerful for their size, hence their popularity.  2-stroke engines in (only some!) cheap scooters, in motor-mowers, and in chainsaws account for more carbon emissions globally than all world aircraft usage put together.  2-stroke engines are on their way to being illegal in the EU and the USA.  Well.  In two years it’s hopefully going to be illegal to manufacture them anyway.  Maybe...

A 2-stroke 2000w (50cc) scooter produces an insane 94.6 gms per kilometer of carbon.  A yucky 12 cylinder 7-series gas-guzzling petrol BMW (5000cc) produces only 319 gms per kilometer by comparison, despite weighing over forty times as much and having an engine 100 times as large.    (Statistics: Planetary Engineering Group and www.envirofit.org  2003)

A generator, especially this one, is many times worse than being on-grid.  It produces unfiltered high emissions on a par with simply burning a pile of rubber tyres next to the theatre each night.  On a rough calculation, the greenhouse emissions caused by running the show lighting off this generator will be between fifty and two hundred times higher than running exactly the same poor-efficiency lights on the national grid.  The 4-fold difference in this calculation is seasonal, dependent on hydro-lake levels and NZ’s emergency dependence on dirty old coal.  Which is clean-as-a-bean compared to 2-stroke.  I’d like to know how this means that Bats are, quote: “Doing their bit to reduce, re-use, recycle and help kick the carbon habit”  (Source: Stab media release 2008)

Heat is then, as a production, contributing both directly and strongly to global warming and therefore to the destruction of the Antarctic environment which the play itself so well celebrates.
Ironic, yes?

This is not an empty rant.  Sustainability and efficiency are things I care deeply about and that I have been working on for the last fifteen years.  I find the laziness and lack of forethought inherent in the way the sustainability of this production has been both mismanaged and deeply misrepresented a little offensive.

Imagine you were a strict Vegetarian and came to a Vegetarian event to find that the food is not only not Vegetarian, but that it consists entirely of cheap battery pork and chicken wings.  Which are for some reason labelled as vegetarian.

Imagine you also discover that none of the organizers are vegetarian or even quite sure what “Vegetarian” means.  And that they don’t really care either.  They just found “Vegetarian” a catchy word.  And you’ll have some idea of how I feel.  This is a very clumsy metaphor, yes, but I’m angry now.  Gosh darn it.


The most annoying thing about Heat is that a truly sustainable-energy design is easy to achieve.  And you don’t even need to know the in-and-outs of it.  You just need to call an electrical engineer and talk with them for five minutes to figure out where you’re wasting your power, and then get them to balance that out with your generating and storage capacity.  Heat (and the theatre it sat in) could have been totally powered by wind and solar with a little thought, and with perhaps two phone calls.

FOR EXAMPLE:  (please ignore the next section if specific details bore you.  Yawn)


An identical lighting effect to the two front-of-house fresnels lighting the set exterior (which consume 500 watts of power each) could have been achieved with Phillips new generation halogen lamps fitted in a selecon aureol 12v profile at a total power consumption of 45 watts.  The Phillips lamps cost $6.25 each.  The 12v fittings can be hired for around a dollar a day, or probably borrowed from Te Papa (who have hundreds of them) in exchange for a simple thank-you.  And they’re manufactured in New Zealand.  Which also avoids any shipping-related emissions.

If we choose to light it instead with Cyan/yellow/magenta balanced LED fittings we can produce pure light with no waste heat at all, and in any colour we wish without gels.  This would require a modest budget though.  Perhaps five hundred dollars.  And then our power usage will be around 20 watts for this effect.

So:  1000watts (Free. Oh. Except for the generator hire and fuel for two weeks)

Or: 90watts @  ($13.50)

Or: 20watts @  ($500)  

The only true high power consumption device needed for the entire show would be the Sub used to produce Gareth Farr’s gorgeous helicopter effect at the open and close of the play.  And this will require a peak load of around 600w.  Other times, it would require almost nothing.  A deep cycle battery can deal with varied peak loading, so this isn’t a problem.  But the sound system could have been just as effective and far more efficient if a 12v stereo system had been used.  Which are both cheaper than 240v systems and which would have also given around six directional channels to mix through, rather than two.  Therefore arctic winds could have been blowing over the audience from behind, whilst ahead of us in the warm confines of the hut, Aaron got himself bitch-slapped by a nude-Brian-Hotteresque penguin.

12v sound systems designed for car audio are built for efficiency whilst being powerful.  Efficiency is not a concern for 240v systems.  They’re plugged into the wall.  12v automotive electrical generation systems however are weak, so if they’re going to be powerful, car audio systems must also be very efficient.

Huge amounts of waste heat are also produced in the conversion of 12v (wind and solar generation capacity) to 240v (domestic) through a 12/240v inverter.

Yet the poor efficiency 240v Bose 802 sound system which is the standard Bats system was used.  And according to Brian King this system was actually powered by the basic 12v storage system that the wind/solar array charges, which was then changed to 240v (through an inverter), probably losing around half of it’s power in the process.  So if you multiply one inefficiency by another inefficiency what do you get?

Inefficiency squared.

As the play itself notes, the second law of thermodynamics is that “Entropy always increases”.  Entropy is physics terminology for heat, which is wasteful disorganized energy.  And this production of Heat, in it’s inefficiency, produces a heck of a lot of entropy.

Good name.



This production is pretty poor in energy efficiency terms.  If the greens still had a voice after the last election the people who designed this show could be in trouble.

I have provided only two examples, I could go on and on and on and bore us all even more.  Heck.  I’m bored of myself by now.  Next time you have a free hour, please ask me for a brief run-down of the various other enviro-crimes Heat have committed in this STAB production.  I’m tired of poking holes in the show now.  It simply makes me a little sad.

My true point is that the entire show and also the theatre that it sits in could have easily run off-grid sustainably, inexpensively and successfully, with a little planning.  And if anyone involved cared.


The Heat programme lists Don Blackmore as their technical consultant.  I’d like to meet this man.  I have several moderately important questions to ask him.  (NB:  Don made the FOH bicycle/monitor combination, which is excellent, and quite fun.  well.  It's fun if pedalling is your idea of fun.  I'm weird that way)


The Heat programme also states: (under the heading of alternative energy)

France already generates more than 75 percent of it’s energy from uranium, and nuclear units generate one fifth of US electricity demand.  Nuclear power is here to stay, and is even enjoying a renaissance”  (appropriate emotion:  Happy!)

What?  Let me contrast this with other statistics:

17 million people were directly contaminated by Chernobyl.  Which has caused 300,000 deaths due to radiation sickness alone in the last 14 years since the accident.  Not including associated cancers.  Over 100,000 people in the Ukraine are still living today as severely handicapped citizens because of radiation poisoning. (source: Chernobyl.com.ua)  (*Greenpeace estimates these statistics as being around 3 times higher, but I’ve used the more conservative Ukrainian figures.)

The cost of Chernobyl simply in terms of Ukrainian land with a radioactive half-life (so un-inhabitable, unless you wish your children to die before they're five) is such that if the land were saleable, sale of it could purchase sufficient solar and wind farms to power all of the former Soviet Union.  Not just the Ukraine.

Not including medical costs.  Or grief.

Chernobyl is just one accident.  The largest accident currently.  And then take into account nuclear waste with a 50,000 year half-life, uranium transportation dangers, etc, etc.

Yup.  This seems fine and sustainable.  A renaissance indeed.

Who wrote this piece in the programme?  Apparently Nick Lewis, CEO of www.celsias.com.  Yet when I checked, the CEO of celsias.com is actually a Matthew Wright.  See: http://www.celsias.com/about-us/

This is a person who according to their brief profile loves to “work in the capital and drive to the ski-fields at weekends”.  Very sustainable.  And who only joined the website 159 days ago, and yet is the CEO. 

Celsias seems to be an unmoderated public website.  While I like the carbon-trading idea behind the website, membership in it is hardly any qualification as an expert.

Also.  Ahem.  And this is a personal gripe of mine.  The people who designed the website have some problems with basic spelling and grammar.  In particular scroll down to:  “Join the Celsias team”.


And at first I thought the spelling of Celsias was  clever.


Nearly there!  Sorry.

Bats are marketing Heat as follows:

“Echoing the real life restrictions of life in the Antarctic and in the dynamic spirit of a STAB show, Heat will use self-sustainable energy means powered off-grid with lights, sound and electronics from low drain and/or renewable energy.  The production will look, as the Antarctic stations are increasingly doing, to partnerships with companies developing sustainable renewable power sources” (STAB media release, source: ecobob.co.nz )

“Heat starts this Friday, and has been selling itself on an unusual point:  Eco Theatre!”
(Source:  www.wellington.gen.nz )

“Bats takes a STAB at sustainability”
(source: theatreview.co.nz, STAB media release)

Heat is also promoting a Q and A session on alternative energy and conservation after their November the 15th matinee. 

I’d like to know what gives Heat the right to conduct such a session.  Or to make such advertising claims?  I may to come to the show again on the 15th and ask this in person.

Because I find these claims both hypocritical and a little offensive.

And also endemic of a culture which often does not understand or care about the things to which it pays lip-service.

In some sadness,
Marcus McShane.
(Lighting designer.)  (Bicycle designer.)  (Journalist.)  (Sailor.) 

John Smythe November 8th, 2008

In my rush to get to the Readings at the Buffs via a polling station I forgot to mention Gareth Farr’s subcutaneous composition and soundscape, which abetted the huge emotional journey to great effect. It's now stitched into the review.

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