JENNIFER LAL

Oho Ake 2004

Reflections of the way life used to be I guess.  Sitting in my mother’s garage room and drinking one of my uncle’s beers from a visit from Australia in the middle of last year.  It makes you wonder when these things will be seen again. Thinking of Oho Ake is to cast my mind back 16 years, at a time when I can’t really remember what happened before we went into lockdown as a nation, let alone then.

What it has made me reflect on is the new of things.  New play, new friendships, new strength in collaboration, new confidence in voice.

I’d met Mīria through Hone and we would have long conversations about everything and anything usually over drinks at that great hotbed of creativity – The Pit Bar.

It was decided that The Gryphon Theatre (an amateur company’s theatre), would be the site for the show Mīria had written, Hone would direct it, Andrew Foster would design it, I’d be doing the lights and Jamie McCaskill and Jason Te Kare  would be the stars.

Natano Keni, Asalemo Tofete and Sam Selliman would make appearances but it was literally just the six of us that would make the show happen.

Andrew had an epic vision for the space which was bark and lampposts to the grid to represent the trees of the Malaysian jungle.  We had shifted the usual orientation of the theatre to get the greatest length achievable.  How we did this in a non professional theatre without crew and on a tight timeline I still can’t fathom…

Here is where it turns into the fractured fragments of visual memory and feelings and what follows is what still exists in my mind as visual imagery of the time.

FRAGMENT: Robrecht was the only person Andrew had co-opted into getting the poles up.  I remember it needed to go in before lights could go up as the whole grid needed to be re run electrically for our space shift.  The bark had been laid, the 13 poles had been spaced out and lain unfixed to the grid for Andrew to sign off.  I walked in to it as this drunken sway of wood and bark and said to Andrew – ‘leave it like that!’ It looked cooler, more organic than straight lines, more jungle… Design on the spot. Easier to get light shafts down and more omnipresent when it sat in the half light. Andrew was absolutely yes! We spent the rest of the morning creating the ‘jungle’ and forgot about the time constraints and were so happy to just play with the space.

FRAGMENT: A Stage Door, a wet day, a brief face. There’s a strong fleeting image of Mīria and I running out the Stage Door to meet a hooded figure, who I’d only met once or twice.  We’d come out of a tech and Sam Selliman handed some pages of Iban translation over and we ran back into the theatre where Mīria handed them to Jamie and Jason as new lines to learn. In a new language.

FRAGMENT: Opening Night shenanigans. We must have done Opening Night as the first full run of the show in all its glory, but there’s two moments I’ll never forget.  We’d finally moved ops from the production desk back to The Gryphon’s Op position and it was then and only then as we were about to open the doors that I realised I couldn’t see the stage from where the sound was cabled to be able to operate both the lights and sound. I remember quietly interrupting  Hone as he was trying to welcome people into this new space with this new play and telling him he’d have to operate the sound with his head stretched out the window and his finger on the button of a CD walkman. He nailed it.

The second was going backstage to see the boys and give them their half hour call. There’s Jamie and Jason in their military gears perched on chairs and their wee faces are just staring up at me. Jason needed to go to the toilet so badly and they were locked away from the toilets because of the way we’d designed the space and he hadn’t had a chance to go before the audience came in… The pain in his eyes. I can’t quite remember but I think I opened the Stage Door so he could take a leak outside in the dock.

FRAGMENT:  As we were in an amateur theatre we had to provide our FOH and I needed to coordinate with them.  Two handsome Samoan men in the forms of Asalemo Tofete and Natano Keni who were Mīria’s friends from Vic.  They were with us every night and it truly was the beginning of my beautiful friendships with them.

FRAGMENT:  Poroporoake at Scopa on Cuba St on the most beautiful sunny Wellington afternoon.  Hone had set Jason, Jamie and I to come for a Tawata all expenses paid lunch.  We were sitting in the open window and I get a call from Jamie who was having a shit day and he was in two minds cos he had the car and was worried about parking. I jumped out onto Cuba and stood as a road cone in a free car park till he arrived. Hone’s bought French Champagne, I said. I’ve never had French Champagne, he said.  We drank French Champagne in the sunshine together.

Reflections of pulling it off, making amazing work and looking after each other.  I won a lighting award for that show that year. I travelled to England with Asalemo and another of Mīria’s shows a few years later. I went to Natano’s wedding last year at which Mīria was a bridesmaid, Hone was an MC and Jamie sang at. I was sitting in the First Day of rehearsaI with Andrew when it was announced we’d be going to mass gatherings of less than 500 and we knew what was going to ensue. I wonder how we will do this all again.

Image Credits Matt Grace Photography


Oho Ake by Mīria George, World Premiere Season 13 October 2004, Gryphon Theatre, Wellington.

Jennifer Lal is a Wellington-based lighting designer who has been the recipient of many lighting design awards at the Wellington Theatre Awards.

Jennifer has most recently worked with Tikapa Productions, Auckland Theatre Company, Silo Theatre and Hāpai Productions’ on the Kia Mau Festival 2019 World Premiere Season of Pakaru the new play by Mitch Tawhi Thomas.