Marathon weekend of performing arts
In 1948, theater critic Robert Kemp reviewed several “semi-official” shows that had crashed the arts and cultural festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Kemp added a page-two supplement in his weekly column with the header “Round the Fringe.”
The name stuck and in the coming decades the festival evolved into the avant-garde Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Still a baby in comparison to the mega-festivals in Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S. Mainland, the eighth annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival will host eight productions this weekend at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.
Fringe performers write, produce and promote their passion projects, many times sinking savings or maxing out credit cards to participate. I asked three of the writer-producers why they choose the risky fringe format.
“Participating in fringe fests gives me the opportunity to follow goals. I want to travel to as many places as I can and I want to put my show and myself all over the map. The only risk is the unfortunate money aspect,” said Alison Logan, who travels from New Orleans to perform “Courted.”
“The amount of money to produce even a small cabaret like my own has obvious costs — flight, food, publicity and hidden surprises as well. My plan is to do at least one fringe a year in a new and exciting place. Someday, I hope to use my passport and perform ‘Courted’ at the Edinburgh Fringe,” Logan shared.
“In 2013, Maui Fringe was my first fringe experience,” said Qurrat Ann Kadwani, author of “INTRUSION.”
Kadwani took first place at the 2013 Maui Fringe with “They Call Me Q!,” and will return to present the world premiere of her latest solo show this weekend.
“The energy of the island and the audiences who came out was so amazing! When my friends ask me why I’m performing on Maui, I say ‘It’s Maui!’ Everyone understands — beautiful weather, beaches and the arts are flourishing,” added Kadwani.
“I love fringing. It represents the best of what theater can be about,” said David LeBarron, the Los Angeles-based author and cast member of “The Sex Life of Achilles.”
“The only real risk for me, other than the artistic ones I challenge myself with, are the financial constraints,” he continued. “Fringe ain’t cheap but it’s more cost-effective than traditional runs. At a fringe you get to do your art — a piece that has spoken to you or that has gnawed in your craw. Everyone involved in this show is honored to make a living in the arts. We know how this works. We make smart financial decisions so we can make awesome artistic ones.”
Local actress, singer and writer Lin McEwan will be making her fringe debut this year with “Vindication: Scenes from the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft.”
“I wrote ‘Vindication’ particularly for the Maui Fringe,” said McEwan. “I’d originally become interested in Mary Wollstonecraft while working on another script about her daughter, Mary Shelley, author of ‘Frankenstein.’ I still find Mary Shelley fascinating, but in writing about her, I learned that her mother was every bit as dynamic a character and writer. Her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ is a seminal work of social philosophy on par with those of (Jean-Jacques) Rousseau and (Francis) Bacon, and is still largely relevant today.
“I would be happy if this play inspired even one audience member to pick up that book,” McEwan concluded.
Opening this year’s festival is Laura Hedli with “too old to be this young.” Originally scheduled for the 2017 festival, a funny thing happened on her way to Maui.
“Less than 48 hours before I was supposed to get on a flight from San Francisco to Maui, I found myself on the way to the emergency room after my eardrum ruptured. I bowed out of the festival thanks to this minor medical fiasco. I was devastated. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of the 2018 Maui Fringe Theater Festival. So, here goes, the world premiere of ‘too old to be this young,’ take two,” Hedli mused.
Her play began in a classroom, where she studied with David Ford at San Francisco’s The Marsh.
“The San Francisco Chronicle has called David the ‘the dean of solo performance.’ And he truly is,” said Hedli. “The first class, I brought in a piece that I had written though never submitted to the New York Times. It was a moment out of my crazy final year in New York City. The essay talked about my romantic relationship with my coworker and working partnership with my boss, and was set, of all places, at my boss’ breakfast table. I was living with my boss as a ghostwriter on her book on men’s health, aging and impotence. Meanwhile, I was in a secret relationship with my coworker. I ended up losing my virginity to him at the ripe old age of 26,” she shared. “I read it sitting in a chair. When I finished, David said, ‘Good, now let’s get you on your feet.”
I asked Kadwani how her play came about.
“In 2012, I was impacted by the fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi,” she explained. “I wondered why this had made international news. I started reading and discovered that rape is a global problem that is steeped in misogyny, gender inequality and disrespect towards women in a variety of ways. In 2015, the structure of the play came to me and I started writing. This summer, I decided that it was time to finish the play. Two months later, the (Harvey) Weinstein story broke and I knew this was the right time to start performing ‘INTRUSION.’
Logan shared the genesis of her semi-autobiographical musical comedy as well.
“I realized that I’ve been through the ringer in love. Even if you’re a happily married person, you most likely went through hell to get to the happy. I am basking in my hell. ‘Courted’ is not semi-autobiographical — it is 100 percent true. The show is a comedy musical revue — think ‘Prairie Home Companion’ meets ‘Sex and the City’ meets “Blue Man Group,” said Logan.
“Ancient myth has informed my life and spirituality,” shared LeBarron. “Being a storyteller, I am always looking for stories, legends and fables that call to me. Being queer, the love between Achilles and Patroclus has always been moving to me. When people yell that gay America is a new concept, I think of the oldest love stories we have — Achilles, Sappho, Gilgamesh and many more. I knew I had to tell my Achilles.”
Additional productions include Amorah St. John’s one-act comedy, “When Trump Gets To Heaven.” When Donald Trump arrives at the pearly gates, he is met by almighty God, his guardian angel and a diverse array of jurors for his Judgment Day.
“I Love Myself: The Masturbation Musical,” a solo musical-comedy created and performed by Jaime Summers, premiered in the Players Theatre Festival in New York City.
“If you loved ‘Sex and the City’ or the ‘Vagina Monologues’ break through another taboo,” says Summers.
Maui’s award-winning Free Range Comedy (second place winners at 2016 Maui Fringe) returns this year and closes the festival on Sunday night with “Lawyers, Bombs and Death,” an interwoven four-sketch comedy show by Gabby Anderman and Chris Rose.
I asked the producer-performers why Maui residents should see these unknown fringe shows.
“Festivals are a way for artists to test their work. As one character says in ‘INTRUSION,’ ‘Theater is a mirror.’ Allow the audience to simultaneously see the action and themselves — so they can impact social change,” shared Kadwani.
“Audiences should embrace fringe theater because there is so much more heart and sweat and tears that go into these shows. ‘Courted’ is my baby. This show has made me a writer, a producer, a business woman,” said Logan.
“Seeing new theater is fun in a completely different way than seeing the awe of a Broadway tour. It’s like being in Picasso’s bedroom. You may catch a glimpse at the heart of creation — an artist having something to say,” added LeBarron.
“Fringe festivals are places where a dialogue between artists and audiences is encouraged. As artists we’re hungry for the feedback. Bert Lahr once said, ‘The audience laughed and they told me where the jokes were.’ So, come help me find the comedy of this thing. I’m always learning,” Hedli said.
“Theater exists not merely to entertain but to challenge, to inspire and to provoke. The best theater shakes its audience members out of complacency and continues to engage their minds long after the curtain falls,” shared McEwan.
* Editor’s note: Columnist Michael Pulliam is the coordinator for the Maui Fringe Theater Festival.
Also opening this weekend
The King Kekaulike Dramaaticans presents “Makin’ It” by Cynthia Mercatti, directed by Chris Kepler.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Jan. 19 through 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28 in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show.