Actor Hweiling Ow is performing in Renee Liang’s one-hander, Under The Same Moon, as part of the Lantern Festival and the Auckland Fringe. After setting her the challenge of playing ten characters, including the women from three generations of one family, Renee asks Hweiling how she does it.
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So what made you say yes to doing one of my plays?
I was literally excited about the idea of a one woman's play.
What started you out as an actor, and what do you get out of it?
Acting never crossed my mind until I was in my 20s. I was one of those kids who never got picked at school, and no one in my family were creatively inclined that way. So I was/am walking into unknown territory. Like a Dr Who companion.
I do remember being at a prefect camp. And as part of an activity, we picked a partner, and wrote what we thought their future occupation was, and we carried around on our forehead, asking different people questions for clues, trying to guess what it might be. The guy I paired up with wrote 'actor' for me. I remember at that time, I was really surprised by that.
The defining moment for me was an acting teacher I had, Keren Le-Claire. It was the most bizarre experience - bordering feeling part of a cult - with being introduced to method acting. But, there was a strange force pulling me towards it. Like a moth to a light. The cult of acting.
I love the freedom of connecting with people on an emotional level, un-judged - sharing a moment. And then, it’s gone - left with only the memory.
What do you enjoy about theatre as opposed to filmmaking?
I love them both. In different ways. Like coffee and sushi. In fact, I wish there was a cafe/sushi bar. Also, feeling naked in front of so many people without literally getting naked - and the immediate feedback we get from them.
You're starting to write as well. What topics and genres interest you?
Vaginas. Hahaha. And people's stories. Sci-fi. Horror. The triumphs of people’s lives. The grotesque ugly side of humans. The ironic society - I'm still feeling my way through.
Tell me about your working relationship with Theresa, the director.
The first thing I did was bare all my insecurities. That helped me discard my assumption of what a director might expect from an actor, and me just trying to cover it up.
Theresa's been amazing. Through the process, it feels more and more like she's a coach - advising on things I should and should not do. ie - I work extremely hard every day, trying to bring it for the play. She noticed my brain burning out, so she insisted that I take a brain break from the play. I wanted to keep working, but she was right about it. It’s been a collaborative experience in terms of solving some parts of the play and how we are going to present it.
Is this the hardest play you've ever done...why?
Short answer - Yup. I'm on stage - for a whole hour - and I am the only person there. So - there are no room for any cheats. And if there is a 'hiccup', I'm the only one who can fix it. I have to bring it for all the characters at all times of the play.
Are you referencing some of your own life in creating the characters and story?
I watched A LOT of Hong Kong movies growing up. There is some awesome stuff that they make. And there are some family members that echo some of the characters' traits (I have 35 first cousins,12 uncles and aunties). And Hollywood movies. Otherwise, I look at what the character is saying - and from there play with the character’s voice and movement.
What were some of the challenges you and Theresa encountered in making this play?
Getting the whole play. lol. Also, telling a story that is interesting. I want to thank Ella Becroft for coming along with her feedback. We changed a lot of things after she watched the first 1/3rd of the play. I set up a mirror in my living room and practised character changes a lot after rehearsals at home. The three sisters were my initial concern. I had to make them different enough so the audience knew which sister they were seeing. I was also practising which scenes were coming up next. The initial part of the play goes from Porpor to the grandkids, back to Porpor and then to another scene. Theresa made the awesome move of having sound help me remember which scene I am in. And like with anything, the more I do it, the better I am with it.
Any techniques you've found useful for changing quickly from character to character?
Practise practise practise.
You've described the 60 minute one-hander as a marathon you run every night. How do you prepare?
I used to be a middle distance runner. I compare this to being an athlete getting ready for a race. I make sure I get enough sleep, eat right and stay relaxed.
So how has the season gone in Wellington, and are you looking forward to Auckland?
It’s been amazing. Lots of awesome feedback. This is my first ever show in Wellington, and I love the Wellington crowd. The people here are lovely and supportive. I am so looking forward to Auckland - putting on a show for my friends and family.
What are you working on next?
I jump straight into producing AFK: The Webseries. Its an amazing webseries about a group of people who suddenly find themselves having to work together - kind of like The Breakfast Club meets Lord of The Rings meets Battle Royale. It’s been on hold for a bit, chipping away slowly in the background. We had a successful Kickstarter campaign and we're looking to film in April/May.