Life on the Fringe
One of the biggest catch-22s in entertainment is: How do you make it? Perhaps actress Lana Turner was actually discovered sitting at the soda counter of Schwab’s Drug Store in Hollywood, but I doubt it. To get an agent, you have to be cast; to get in the union, you have to be cast; to be cast, you have to have an agent and preferably be in a union, too. It’s not that different for writers: No one wants to buy a script from someone they’ve never heard of. Some producing tricks involve casting a big star to be in a green playwright’s project, but most agents do not want their big star to take that risk. One of the few ways of trying to make it is by throwing caution into the wind and producing your own showcase, in the hope that someone, somewhere, be it agent or producer, will say, “I like you.”
At the Chicago Improv Festival in 1999, I briefly met two young actors who were producing their own showcases and crossing their fingers. One was Amy Pohler and the other was Seth Meyer; both were cast on “Saturday Night Live” the following season. The Maui Fringe Theater Festival is in no way the equal of a major metropolis performing arts festival, but it is an avenue for first-time playwrights and untested works to see the light of day. One past Maui Fringe winner, Qurrat Kadwani, has gone on to tour her production, “They Call Me Q!,” all over the United States and Canada.
For those completely unfamiliar with fringe theater, it is best described as theater in the raw. Only the barest of essentials are necessary, and the focus is entirely on the words and the performance. It can be an exciting endeavor for the performers and the audience, but it is risky for both groups as well. Depending on individual taste, some might find these highly personal productions painfully boring, while the person seated next to you is deeply moved. On many occasions, I have seen a spouse or friend practically dragged to support a fringe project. Often the individual who didn’t want to go loved it, while the person who was excited to attend hated it.
The essence of a fringe festival is sharing. Ten or so productions share dressing rooms, set storage, space in the program, production costs and ticket revenue. It can be frustrating, but the sharing also applies to the risk, making it possible for many to produce a passion project for the very first time. This year’s weekendlong marathon of performing arts will include Adaptations Dance Theater, “War Stories,” “The Maple Street Militia,” Kathak performing artist, Antara Bhardwaj, Maui Improv, plus additional comedic, dramatic and musical showcase performances. Judging this year’s festival is Vanessa Wolf, entertainment columnist for Maui Now, Vinnie Linares, president of the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Larry John, television producer and host of “The Tub,” and local actor and Director Rick Scheideman. The quartet will honor the top three productions with cash awards, as well has one performer with the Hoku Award for best individual performance.
The festival opens Friday, Jan. 31, with “War Stories” by Anthony Pignataro, which deals with two World War II vets, one American (Derek Nakagawa) and one Japanese (Jason Takaki), who meet by chance in the Honolulu International Airport terminal in 1965. Soon idle chat gives way to swapping stories and long-concealed secrets.
“The Maple Street Militia” by Teresa Salyer is an original one-act play about four senior citizens riding out the horrors of Hurricane Katrina from their home. When two looters arrive, and with no help on the scene, they must fend for themselves to survive. Salyer, a Cincinnati area playwright, has enlisted local editor and director, Naia Newlight, who has assembled a local cast, which includes Paul Janes Brown, Charlie Dungans, Joel Agnew and J.Marc Mance.
From San Francisco comes “Tale of Kathaka” by Antara Bhardwaj. Kathak is a storytelling classical dance from northern India. Characterized by percussive footwork, lightning pirouettes and dramatic storytelling, kathak brings to life the history, culture and philosophies of ancient and modern India, intricately woven in a highly mathematical musical system. This production takes you from ancient Sanskrit shlokas, to modern kathak yoga, and presents a traditional gat bhao, or story, where she plays five different characters, illuminating an ancient tale of greed, lust, distraction, loss and hope.
Adaptations Dance Theater, Maui’s professional, contemporary dance company, will be performing its first ever full-length presentation, with never-before-seen pieces on Saturday, Feb. 1. Its members include Hallie Hunt Armato (San Francisco Conservatory of Dance), Vanessa Cerrito (the American Dance Theater), Nicole Humphrey (Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet), Amelia Nelson (Ballet Hawaii, American Ballet Theater) and Nicole D. Yezzi, who has worked with several companies and garnered the Best Choreography and Best Dance Troupe awards at the 2009 Orlando International Fringe Festival and Best Dance Show at the 2011 Orlando Fringe.
Also on Feb. 1, local artist, poet and writer Pat Masumoto presents “A Menapachi’s Thanksgiving,” which grew out of a workshop taught by last year’s Fringe Festival winner, Kadwani, and was live-streamed at a New York City performing arts event in the fall.
Virginia Sandell will also perform an original monologue titled, “My Two Joe’s,” and local actor and comedian Chris Rose will present a humorous monologue about nonconformity. The day of theater concludes with Fringe Cabaret, a late-night revue featuring the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, the cast of “La Cage aux Folles” and Maui Improv. This will be the debut performance of Maui’s newest comedy troupe, founded by Mike Burton and Mark Beltzman, who have performed together in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. At Fringe Cabaret, they will create a 12-minute improvised play.
The fourth annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival begins Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 2 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. General admission tickets are $10 per show (plus applicable fees) with $20 Sunday all-show passes available. Day passes are ordered by phone only and include admission to three performances and the closing-night awards party. For more information about the Maui Fringe Theater Festival, call 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com.
A second Dave Chappelle performance has been added at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Comedy Central ranks Chappelle No. 43 on its “100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time” list, and “Chappelle’s Show” has become the best-selling TV series of all time. This performance will contain strong language and adult themes. Showtime is 10 p.m. Feb. 5 in the MACC’s Castle Theater. General admission tickets are $55 (plus applicable fees).
On Feb. 6, catch the “Bad Boys of Dance,” whose mission is to push the boundaries of dance to deliver the most exciting shows in the world, featuring athletic jumps, endless turns and individuality. Performance is 7:30 p.m. in Castle Theater. Tickets range from $12 to $42 (plus applicable fees).
Also that weekend is Kumu Kahua Theatre’s production of “Flowers of Hawai’i,” a new work of 10 humorous playets by local humorist and Baldwin High alumnus Lee Cataluna. Performances take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 7 and 8, in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. General admission tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees).
* For tickets, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order at www.mauiarts.org.