In conversation with Akash Heer – Life Of Pi

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This April, the West End and Broadway hit show LIFE OF PI comes to Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and returning home to Wolverhampton as one of the team of puppeteers it takes to bring to life Richard Parker, the Royal Bengal tiger. 

Akash: “I was born in Anglesey in North Wales and left there in 1993 when I was quite young. We moved to Wolverhampton, where I have my friends and family, so I look forward to coming back and performing at the Grand Theatre.” 

“When I got the part, puppeteering the head of the tiger, I was excited but also shocked because I’m an actor. Movement was an important part of my training, but everything I’ve done has been acting. I auditioned for some of the characters in Life of Pi and took part in a movement workshop and then they invited me back for a puppetry audition. I was quite surprised but they really liked my movement. The audition was so much fun. To see the passion they all had for this production made it more exciting. Normally you have audition nerves but I was just honoured to be in this space and to learn different techniques. I would leave the auditions revved up and wanting to continue. The energy in the room was electric. When I got the part I was over the moon.”

“I think about what my tiger would be like if they were human. I even have a Spotify playlist for my tiger. Music is such a huge part of me and I like to create music that fits my character. They’ve given us the structure, but they are continuously open for us to explore and discover. Once you’ve got the format down, you’re open to explore.”

“Bringing the tiger to life needs three different bodies but you sync and connect with breath. When the breath beats through to the heart and the hind only then do I feel truly connected. You feel you have connected to two other souls and you are in charge of this beast. You walk forward, you pause, you react, you attack and when everything syncs up it’s such an exhilarating feeling.”

“Each team has a different tiger. Yes, we have the same scenes, intentions and objectives, but each tiger is different. I’m a tiger that’s more dominant, more ferocious. You’ll have another tiger that is more cautious and observant. I’m so excited to see how my tiger develops over a month, three months and a year. They encourage us to explore and it is liberating to know you can add more flavour to your tiger.”

“In our first week of rehearsals I went with my actor’s cap on and I had to work on connecting with the puppet so the puppet was more dominant than me. I am a 6ft 1 guy and when I’m on stage you see me. I have learned so much about not overstepping the line: the puppet is the dominant figure and the three puppeteers are part of it. It’s such an empowering experience. When you allow yourself to be open and to surrender to the puppet, it can take over your emotions. It makes me feel strong, grounded and emotional – I feel like a tiger.”

Tickets for LIFE OF PI at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from 23 – 27 April are on sale now at grandtheatre.co.uk. 

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