MACC takes hit for ‘Thunder from Down Under’ exposure

Liquor panel issues $250 fine; Board Chairman Haynes says it won’t happen again

“Thunder from Down Under,” an all-male revue show based in Las Vegas, is widely known for its male dancers who, according to its website, are “showing off chiseled bodies, seductive dance routines, cheeky humor and boy-next-door charm.” Thunder from Down Under photo

WAILUKU — The Maui Arts & Cultural Center has retained its liquor license after pleading no contest to two violations that involved entertainers from the show “Thunder from Down Under,” who exposed portions of the cleft of their buttocks or genitals and performed acts that simulated sexual intercourse.

The ruling by the county’s Liquor Control Adjudication Board Thursday came in response to the all-male revue show in June, in which one performer removed his pants and simulated sex with a female patron onstage in front of more than 800 people at the Castle Theater.

The board issued a letter of reprimand for the first charge and a $250 fine for the second. The fine will be suspended as long as the MACC does not commit the same violation within one year.

The center had faced up to a $2,000 fine, revocation of its liquor license or suspension of the right to use its license.

“We’re clearly in violation of this and I’m embarrassed to be here in front of you to say this,” Jimmy Haynes, chairman of the MACC’s board of directors, said to the adjudication board. “We will have a long discussion at the board about how this will not happen again. I thank you for your interest and concern about this. We take this very seriously.”

Jimmy Haynes (from right), chairman of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Board of Directors, sits alongside Paul Mancini, board member and legal counsel, during the nonprofit's hearing with the county Liquor Control Adjudication Board on Thursday. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The June 8 show was being inspected by liquor control officers Cielo Molina and Robert Shiigi, Deputy Prosecutor Peter Hanano said. He said MACC Food and Beverage Manager Luana Argel introduced herself to the officers and escorted them around the center.

The show had more than 800 attendees and 64 employees, including volunteers, managers, entertainers and security personnel, Hanano said.

When the officers inspected the theater, they saw a male performer bring a woman from the audience onto the stage with him, Hanano said. He said the performer was shirtless and wearing unbuttoned dark-colored pants that exposed his turquoise thong.

While onstage, the performer restrained the woman’s hands over her head and appeared to kiss her as she sat on a chair, Hanano said. He said the performer then grabbed her hand and slid it down his chest to his crotch area.

The performer then stood the woman up, spun her around and laid her back on the stage, Hanano said. He said the performer then removed his pants, leaving him dressed only in his thong.

“The male performer then proceeded to lay on top of the female patron, rubbing his body on hers simulating sexual intercourse,” Hanano said.

A few seconds later the stage lights went off, and when they turned back on the two were standing, Hanano said. He said the performer kissed the woman on the cheek and they both acknowledged the cheering audience.

The other violation witnessed by the officers involved four male performers dancing and stripping their pants off onstage, leaving only their “G-string thong underwear,” Hanano said. He said the underwear “clearly exposed the cleft of their buttocks.”

“Whether or not this event was consistent with the goals and objectives of the mission of the MACC — we don’t get involved with that,” Hanano said. “What we’re here for is because the Castle Theater was part of the service area . . . and therefore under the (liquor) rules. If we’re going to apply the rules evenhandedly, it is a violation. It would be no different if it was at a bar or restaurant and if they put on that kind of performance — we would do an investigation.”

Photos posted on Facebook show the men pulling their thongs down to expose their buttocks to the audience, with many audience members filming the performance. Hanano said a video of the performance was available to adjudication members.

Paul Mancini, legal counsel for the MACC, acknowledged that hosting the show was a mistake, but called the issue more complex due to previous understandings with the county Liquor Control Department.

Mancini said the Castle Theater has never served, sold or permitted the consumption of liquor since it opened in 1994. However, in 2011 or 2012 the MACC worked with the liquor department to expand its license to the theater as well as the Schaefer International Gallery and the McCoy Studio Theater.

Mancini said there was an understanding that the MACC would work with the department on how to make the rules more appropriate for it because they “didn’t work very well.” He said the rules would have been similar to Maui Theatre in Lahaina, which hosts the shows “‘Ulalena” and “Burn’n Love.”

“This was not, and never was, an area where liquor was regulated,” he said. “I’m not trying to say that the rules weren’t being enforced or shouldn’t have been enforced. That’s not my point. It’s unusual to have a case like this where liquor is not regulated, but we’re regulating activity.”

Hanano said that if the Castle Theater had not been part of the licensed area, it would not have triggered the liquor laws. He said whether or not liquor was served or consumed in the theater is a separate matter.

“We’re not here to dictate to the MACC or anybody else what kind of entertainment they want to have as long as it doesn’t violate the rules of the liquor commission,” he said.

Donald Fujii, chairman of the adjudication board, questioned MACC officials as to whether the show provided any “arts or cultural services to the community.”

The mission statement on the nonprofit’s website reads: “The MACC is a gathering place where the community can celebrate creativity through personal and shared experiences of the arts. Our programs seek to engage and inspire all ages, nurturing excellence through the arts.”

Mancini said that the MACC has a broad list of programs and entertainment is a “small part of the mission.”

“I think if it was thought of in a more thorough way, I don’t think you would have the same programming decision you have here,” he said. “It was looked at and it wasn’t looked at adequately.”

Mancini said response from the show was “a bit unexpected” and has become an issue in the community. He said he “could not believe” how many phone calls the center has received in light of the violations.

“It’s complex because you try to deal with entertainment that fits into the community and fits well,” he said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes people see the dark side in it.”

Haynes said the center did its due diligence in researching the show and found it received “no kickback” from performances on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. He said they also checked with five “respectable venues” on the Mainland where it showed without issue.

“Thunder from Down Under,” which is based in Las Vegas and also has a touring company, is widely known for its male dancers who, according to its website, are “showing off chiseled bodies, seductive dance routines, cheeky humor and boy-next-door charm.”

Similar shows by a different company have been performed on Maui in the past.

The size and cost of the MACC’s facilities require it to host large, revenue-generating events, Mancini said. He said the nonprofit survives off donations, government support and “begging throughout the year.”

“It’s a huge facility and it’s a very costly facility,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to make the economic cycle work without having entertainment. Our problem is much more expensive than most nonprofits.”

Haynes said retaining its liquor license was “very important” to finances, considering the number of free events and community shows the center hosts. The center no longer has a liquor license for the two theaters and gallery, but is keeping its general license for the courtyard areas.

“We have to be creative and have performances that can provide some money and funding to subsidize those things,” he said of the community events. “It’s a delicate balancing act that we’re performing here. We have multiple amount of events here that we make no money on — actually lose money on — but that’s in our mission and we have to provide that and we feel it is integral to the community to do that.”

Haynes said he did not know when the board would meet to address the violations.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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