People to watch this month: Denyce Ali’itasi Tuputausi Su’a, actor
She bought a notebook and stuck each provocation on a different page and in the coming months, she pulled out the book and asked people how their hearts were.
“You can go day to day and be very blasé about your interactions,” she says, “but when you have a provocation that is: how is your heart being in the world, then you really get to think about it.”
Scripted and performed by its cast, The Wholehearted tells stories about love, some of them dreamed up during the rehearsal process, some of them based on interviews.
“I remember getting goosebumps in that moment. I remember how lovely and brave and real it was.”
The seven actors have had to dig deep as part of the collaborative process. Su’a says there have been tears, but she has also found it joyful. “As a human, you tend to think, ‘I’m this and I’m that’, but when you sit down to think about it, you realise it’s not actually all roses. It’s about seeing that and going ‘It’s okay, it’s not going to be perfect all the time’.”
Su’a plays multiple characters: herself, a superhero, what she calls a “shamegirl”, and heightened versions of people she spoke to in those months when she carried around the notebook.
She found most people she spoke to gave their heart a character, when they spoke about it. “So it was, ‘Oh, my heart would say this and my heart would say that. My heart would say, you’re doing okay.’ Their heart was a buddy to them, a friend, like they were walking hand in hand.”
The 23-year-old, born in Dunedin and raised in Taihape and Whanganui, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and a teacher, moved to Auckland at age 12 and remembers the first time she saw a Massive show. She says she will never forget it. “I saw The Girls Show. It started with all the girls coming onto the stage, singing a song. I remember getting goosebumps in that moment. I remember how lovely and brave and real it was.”
In 2012, Su’a joined the company’s training programme, Massive Nui Ensemble, and this will be her first professional gig. In May, she graduates with a masters in drama from the University of Auckland, and later this year, as part of Massive’s emerging artists ensemble, she will travel to Scotland, where the company will perform a yet-to-be-devised piece called The Island.
Massive’s founder and artistic director Sam Scott calls Su’a a “powerhouse of a performer and theatre maker. She is that wonderful combination of grace and gutsiness — not all at once but it’s all in her and she can call on these different parts.”
Su’a plans to come back to New Zealand and “keep the momentum going” as a full-time actor. She says Massive, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, will always be home.
“Massive has this thing which is, y’know, why be mediocre if you can be amazing? You talk to any of the ensemble members and they will tell you the exact same thing: it’s about always working to be the best.”
The Wholehearted, Massive company at Mangere Arts Centre, March 18-24; Q Theatre, April 1-10. massivecompany.co.nz
Image: Denyce su’a (front) with castmates (clockwise from left) Bree peters, Thomas Eason, Villa Lemanu, Theo David, Kura Forrester and Patrick Tafa.
This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of Metro. Photo by Stephen Langdon.