Wonderheads

‘Mask imagineers’ bring out-of-this-world love story ‘Loon’ to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center

Andrew Phoenix photo

Two years ago, I stumbled upon the Wonderheads while surfing the internet. I was instantly interested in their work and thought Maui audiences would enjoy them as well. The theatrical trio of Kate Braidwood, Andrew Phoenix and Emily Windler will be bringing their well-traveled and popular piece “Loon” to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center next week, and I asked Phoenix, the director of “Loon,” how the Wonderheads came about.

“Everyone involved with Wonderheads studied at a school in Northern California called Dell’Arte International,” he said. “It is a physical theater training program that specializes in all kinds of physical performance. Kate and I came to know each other at Dell’Arte. We got to talking and discovered that we had a mutual passion for mask work, as well as the desire to create work that was like a living cartoon. Kate had begun making some large, full-face character masks for a show she wanted to create about aging, and asked if I wanted to be involved. We then moved to San Francisco and created our first show called ‘Grim and Fischer’ about a feisty granny that battles it out with the Grim Reaper.”

The highly artistic masks are works of art on their own, and I wanted to know how they are created and how long the process takes.

“The mask-making process always starts with a clay sculpture,” Phoenix said. “Once we have an idea of the character we want in the show, Kate meticulously sculpts a face of that character, making sure that it has a variety of expressions within it so that it is capable of a broad emotional range when it is used in performance. When people see our shows, they’re often surprised by how much the mask seems to change expression — it’s quite magical — and Kate’s sculpting is a large part of that magic. Once it is sculpted, she creates a silicone negative of the mask. She then papier mache’s into the negative mold, creating the positive mask. Then she sands, paints, adds hair and other features like glasses, etc. The final part is finding the right padding and straps to make sure the mask properly fits on the actor’s head for a performance. The whole process takes anywhere from 50 to 80 hours.”

I asked Phoenix if the Wonderheads are influenced by silent film.

Dance West performers from Beaverton, Ore., will participate in the Common Ground Dance Festival this weekend at the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Blaine Truitt photo

“We are most definitely inspired by silent films and European clown performance,” he said. “We’re also very inspired by cartoons and animation. In particular we love Pixar films, claymation and European animation like ‘Triplets of Belleville.’ We’ve often been called ‘live-action Pixar’ because we share a similar style and tone, which is a great compliment. And of course we also all grew up on and love Jim Henson and the Muppets.”

With the trio being avant-garde performers, I wondered if there was any uncertainty that their work would be well received when they first began touring.

“We weren’t sure exactly what we had on our hands when we created our first show and obviously wondered if anyone would like it, but when we took it on tour the reaction was insanely positive and we took that and ran with it,” Phoenix said. “In the beginning, we really just set out to create the kind of theater that we ourselves wanted to see. We didn’t have a plan other than to mash our various talents and passions together and see what came from it, so it was a grand uncertain experiment. What we found is that the nonverbal full-face mask style evokes such a sense of wonder and engagement in audience members that it is unlike most other theater forms. The audience always swears that the masks change expressions and are shocked that what is essentially a static sculpture can have such an emotional range.”

* San Francisco’s acclaimed “mask imagineers,” the Wonderheads, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org. The show is recommended for ages 10 and older.

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“I chose this script for a few reasons,” said director Chris Kepler, regarding the upcoming stage version of “Pillow Talk” at King Kekaulike High School. “First is that it read very funny, and I knew that after ‘Go Ask Alice’ it would be important to give our actors and audience something light that the whole family could attend and laugh at together. Rock Hudson and Doris Day charmed so many, and we’re hoping that leads audiences to us. And, as much as I love contemporary shows, a view into the past is a real gift to students.”

Kepler is the drama instructor at the high school, and he’s always had a knack for finding alternative plays for his growing theater department. “Pillow Talk” tells the story of Jan Marrow (Nash Ventura), an interior decorator, and Brad Allen (Vince Sotoza), a womanizing bachelor composer, who share a telephone party line.

“The concept that to make a call you might have to actually wait for someone else to get off the phone is a concept not many of the students grasped prior to rehearsals,” Kepler shared. “To today’s youth, a party line is something they might find outside a rave, or in a group chat on Facebook. None of them had seen the film. Most of them thought the script was very funny and appreciated the romantic conflict and liked the fact, of course, that the story revolved around phones.”

* King Kekaulike Drama presents the Maui premiere of “Pillow Talk,” adapted by Christopher Sergel and based on the Rock Hudson and Doris Day film, directed by Chris Kepler. Performances will be at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays this week through Feb. 5 in the cafetorium on the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students, with half-priced tickets on Sunday, and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show.

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Seabury Hall’s Common Ground Dance Festival is “going national,” shares festival director David Ward. That’s due to the inclusion of two prominent dance groups from the West Coast, Dance West of Beaverton, Ore., and the Bay Area’s Fusion Dance.

“It’s been a dream of mine for years,” says Ward, “to bring youth groups together on a common ground to share our art and build networks. They value not only the exposure but the chance for students to meet and dance with other students from around the island.”

Additional participants in the second annual festival include Halau Kamaluokaleihulu, Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, Alexander Academy of Performing Arts, Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Maui Bboy Alex “Kid Karma” Hutaff-Bautista and Zenshin Daiko, along with the dancers of Seabury Hall.

“Everyone had such a great experience our first year,” adds Ward. “One of the highlights for me last year backstage was seeing the kids huddled in the wings watching with such enthusiasm other kids perform. For kids to see the diversity of material and the quality of expertise on this small island, it’s inspirational.”

* Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents the Common Ground Dance Festival, a collective of Maui’s youth-based movement arts programs in concert with the Seabury dance program. Performances will be at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at the school campus in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. For more information, www.visit seaburyhall.org.

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Congratulations to the Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2017 award winners. Kate Robards’ one-woman show, “Ain’t That Rich,” took best in festival, “Small Town Lawyer” by Anthony Pignataro placed second, and Sharyn Stone’s “Old Girls Looking Hot” finished third.

Malcolm Grissom received the Hoku Award for best performance of the festival with his one-man show, “Me, My Song and I,” and in addition, “Ain’t That Rich,” was chosen by the public for the Audience Choice Award.

The eighth Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2018 will take place Jan. 19 to 21 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku, and original one-act plays can be submitted in September.

ALSO THIS WEEK

Actor and Comedian Bill Engvall (“Blue Collar Comedy Tour”) will be in appear in Lahaina for one night only.

* The performance will be at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina. Tickets are $59.99 or $69.99, with $124.99 VIP tickets available that include seating in the first five rows, a meet-and-greet and photo opportunity, a VIP autographed pass and a DVD. For more information, call 856-7900 or visit www.mauitheatre.com. This event is appropriate for all ages.

UPCOMING

Humorist David Sedaris, author of “Naked,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” and “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is returning to the MACC for an evening of comedic readings followed by a Q&A session and book signing.

* The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in Castle Theater. Tickets range from $32 to $62 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org.

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