For the love of theater
Many Maui theatergoers are surprised to discover that nearly everyone in community theater is a volunteer. The follow-up question is always why anyone would donate hundreds of hours of their time annually. The best analogy I can offer is that very few surfers and golfers get paid, yet there are thousands of surfers and golfers on Maui.
Maui OnStage board member and actress Erin McCargar and her 10-year-old daughter, Emily, have been active in theater for the past 18 months. I asked Erin how she juggles single-mom duties and a full-time job at Monkeypod Kitchen with donating time to theater.
“Life is so full of the mundane tasks that have to be done, just to get us through the day, the week, the month.” she said. “It’s too easy as adults, especially as mothers, to put our own personal interests and hobbies aside and let ourselves get wrapped up in the needs of others. Pursuing my passions – dance, music and acting – helps me to recharge my batteries so that I can be better for the people that need me, both at home and at work. I want to be a role model for Emily. I don’t ever want her to think that life has an expiration date, or that something is too hard or too scary. She has watched me go through the roller-coaster ride of terror over upcoming auditions, the thrill of getting cast, the frustration of not picking up on a melody or a dance step right away, and the supreme satisfaction of totally nailing it on stage. She figures that if her fuddy-duddy mom can do it, surely she can, too.”
In addition, their busy schedule includes Emily’s activities, including regular performances with Maui OnStage and the Maui Academy of Performing Arts.
“We just figure out a way to make it work,” she shared. “Most of the time that means almost living at the theater for a few months. The hard part is when the shows close and we have to go back to our real home. It leaves a hole in our schedules and our hearts.”
Charlie Dungans has been volunteering his carpentry skills to local theater since his daughter Jessica was a performing arts student at Seabury Hall. In 2009, he met Maui OnStage production manager Steven Dascoulias while working on set design with Seabury drama instructor Todd Van Amburgh.
“I told Steven I was a volunteer carpenter and he said, ‘We sure could use some help,’ so I’ve been working here at the Iao (Theater) ever since,” said Dungans.
I asked why he volunteers so much of his time.
“Because it’s a lot of fun,” he laughed. “I love to hang around here – it’s the happiest place on Maui. Theater people are the best people in the world and I’d rather work here for free than get paid to work somewhere else.”
Maui competitive body builder Jim Oxborrow had always wanted to pursue acting but didn’t appear in his first production until his 40s, as Sabu in “The Producers.” The reigning “Mr. Maui” took third place in the heavyweight masters division in the Paradise Cup on Oahu last year, and he’s hoping to take home first this year at the November competition. I asked what drew him to live theater as a hobby.
“I love the creative aspect, and I love the rehearsal process,” said Oxborrow. “What got me was the professionalism. As a business owner, I really appreciated everyone’s hard work – showing up on time, the structure, the organization – and everyone is working for free. I thought it was going to be like high school, but everyone takes their role, be it cast or crew, very seriously.”
What started out as a hobby is now the driving force in Oxborrow’s life as he is currently producing and directing his first play, “House of Yes.”
“It’s definitely my foremost passion right now,” he said. “I enjoy seeing a different side of the process. The director in me says, ‘I’ve got to have that,’ but the producer says, ‘It’s too expensive.’ “
Dungans was enlisted by Dascoulias to take the stage in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 2009, where he performed alongside his daughter.
“It was the most fun I had had in 40 years,” he shared.
He went on to portray the vile Bob Ewell in “To Kill a Mockingbird” the following season, a role he calls his favorite.
“People said to me afterwards that they hated my character,” he said. “It was difficult to play this drunk that beats his children, plus all the racial slurs. It was a challenge.”
I asked whether there is a favorite set piece he’s built.
“I like making things with my hands, it’s what I do and how I am creative, so I’ve enjoyed building everything at the Iao and MAPA,” he said.
He offered a favorite carpentry story instead.
“There were so many costumes in ‘Cats,’ that the weight ripped the rack out of the wall 45 minutes before opening night,” shared Dungans. “I was in the house and a few people came running out from backstage screaming, ‘Charlie, we need your help.’ When I got into the dressing room I couldn’t even find the rod because it was buried under so many costumes, but I went to work with drilling and screwing, reinforced it, and we got it done just before the show started.”
I asked Erin McCargar what, if anything, is the reward for her theatrical labors.
“It’s fun,” she exclaimed. “There is a huge sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with being part of a show family that works tirelessly to create this beautiful piece of art that will touch the lives of complete strangers ever so briefly. The both of us have grown so much in the last 18 months. We have more confidence, we are more outgoing, we have learned so much, and Emily has become so much more independent.”
Like Dungans and McCargar, Oxborrow frequently volunteers time in addition to financial contributions to our local theater companies. I asked what his reward is.
“There is a sense of community,” he said. “It takes the community to put on a show. I try to do what I can. I’ve loaned out cars to visiting directors and painted sets, like on ’12 Angry Jurors’ last month. It’s all about being willing to jump in to help with whatever it is that needs to be done. Everyone in the Maui theater community are really nice people; I enjoy just being around them.”
“People always ask me why I bring food to rehearsals all the time,” said Dungans. “It seemed like the thing to do. It’s always better to give than receive, and it feels good.”
The 2016 Ku Mai Ka Hula competition begins this week with tonight’s “Demystifying the Kuahu.”
In “Unwritten Literature of Hawai’i,” Nathaniel B. Emerson stated, “In every halau stood the kuahu, or altar, as the visible temporary abode of the deity, whose presence was at once the inspiration of the performance and the luck-bringer of the enterprise – a rustic frame embowered in greenery.” In this special presentation, Maui kumu hula will share what the kuahu means to them and to their halau hula.
* “Demystifying the Kuahu” will be at 7:30 p.m. today in McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $15 (plus applicable fees). Ku Mai Ka Hula, featuring award-winning halau from Hawaii and the Mainland, will be from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater. Tickets are $25 (plus applicable fees). For more information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
ONO! (one night only) returns with a staged reading of “To Gillian on her 37th Birthday.”
* The performance will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. The free ONO! productions happen every second Monday of the month.