Talk about thinking on your toes. When the newly formed Comedy Hui took the stage for the first time on Dec. 15 at Diamond's Ice Bar & Grill in Kihei, the six actors performed 25 improvisational theatre games in 90 minutes.
If you've ever watched the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" you know how challenging those games can be. A good example is "Genre Rama," where the audience names a location - say a beauty parlor; and the actors begin a dialogue that must shift smoothly every time a new genre is shouted out - so the "beauticians" might be talking in Western slang one moment, then dancing like Disney characters the next.
It's a fast-paced, complex kind of comedy - what Hui director and producer Amanda Taulere calls "the purest form of improv that you can do."
Rachel Deboer (from left), Tom Althouse, Corky Gardner, John Ziegler, Alexis Ziegler, Chino LaForge and producer/director Amanda Taulere.
Taulere guides her cast in the Groundlings style of improv, a technique she learned through years of study at the Groundlings School of Improvisation in Los Angeles. The famous school has trained the likes of Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri and more.
"The technique allows us to have a little bit of structure within the chaos of improv," Taulere says. "We do scenes based on audience suggestion, but we have an internal structure that we follow to create a polished scene with a beginning, middle and end. We create defined characters onstage and allow the characters to guide the actors through the scene."
The Hui's talented troupe of veteran actors - Tom Althouse, Rachel Deboer, John Ziegler, Alexis Ziegler, Corky Gardner and Chino LaForge - have embraced the professional challenge presented by this style of comedy.
Without costumes or sets, the actors must "create a picture for audiences based on nothing," Taulere says. "You can take them places you couldn't take them if you were limited with costumes and props It's so much about the audience in improv; they're a part of the cast, we feed off their energy, and their suggestions make it a co-creation."
Taulere spent eight years working and studying comedy in L.A., and her group Storebought Goods had a successful series of monthly shows at the Comedy Store off Sunset Strip.
When she moved to Maui in 2003, she was ready to leave it all behind and try something new. But the irresistible thrill of bringing what she calls "the light of laughter" to audiences continues to draw her back to comedy. She is currently working toward her degree in Entrepreneurial Studies from Hawaii Pacific University with the goal of someday opening her own comedy club on Maui.
The Comedy Hui is a gold mine of local talent. Althouse and Deboer are experienced improv artists (formerly with the Pono Players and InsPirates), while LaForge and Gardner do standup comedy.
"We're really a cohesive ensemble, it's all about having each others' back onstage," Taulere says. "No one is starring; everyone helps each other in whatever they're doing." They also strive to keep it clean, with no vulgar material or language.
Last month's debut brought a good turnout, a lot of laughs, and high hopes for the next monthly event: this time at Lulu's in Lahaina, from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22 (tickets are $15 at the door). The actors will travel to different areas of the island each month in order to give as many residents and visitors as possible a chance to check out the show.
The Comedy Hui is all about "enjoying life, playing and having fun," Taulere says. "Laughter is definitely a distraction from a lot of the difficulties happening on Maui and in the world right now."
Taulere will bring another comedic opportunity to Maui residents this month: a Song & Dance Improv Comedy Workshop from Jan. 25 to 29, taught by Groundlings graduate Patrick Bristow. Bristow was a regular in both the U.K. and U.S. versions of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and has also appeared on shows like "Friends," "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld." The workshop will be held in Kihei from 6 to 10 nightly, and is open to all levels. Space is limited. For more information, e-mail thecomedyhui@hotmail. com.
Oahu's Kumu Kahua Theater brings another meaningful tale to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater with "Voices from Okinawa." The play was written by Maui-born playwright Jon Shirota, whose father came to Maui from Okinawa in 1907 and went into business growing pineapple. The play is about an Okinawan-American named Kama Hutchins who teaches English to locals of all ages in Okinawa. When he encourages his students to share personal stories with the class, their tales reveal conflicted attitudes toward the American soldiers stationed on the island. The comedy/drama contains mature content. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 15 and 16. Tickets are $22.
Back to usher in the new year with thrills and jaw-dropping skills is the New Shanghai Circus. The popular circus returns to the MACC's Castle Theater for three shows, highlighting the centuries-old tradition of Chinese acrobatics with dancing and music, colorful costumes and sets, and those unbelievable acts of balance and precision. Showtimes are 4 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18; and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. Tickets are $12, $18 and $23.
Applicable fees are added to tickets for all MACC shows, available at the MACC box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
Alexander Academy of Performing Arts will hold auditions for "The Wizard of Oz" this weekend at Old Kula Community Center. On Saturday, 3- to 5-year-olds are invited to audition from 9 to 9:45 a.m.; beginning ballet students, 6- to 12-year-olds and boys from 2 to 3 p.m. On Sunday, beginning teens, intermediate dancers and adults may audition from 3 to 4 p.m.; advanced dancers from 4 to 5:30 p.m. All dancers should arrive early to register and warm up. The performance will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina, home of " 'Ulalena." For more information, contact director Danelle Watson, email@example.com.
Bare Essential Theater at the Historic Iao Theater is back, kicking off the new year with "Sylvia." The play, written by A.R. Gurney in 1995, is about a middle-aged married man named Greg who falls in love with another female - except the female is a dog (played by a human). Greg finds the dog in Central Park and brings her home, much to the distaste of his wife, Kate. The rivalry between Kate and Sylvia grows as Greg becomes more and more infatuated with his new canine friend. The free reading takes place at 6:30 p.m. Monday. For information about reading in the BET series, call Maui Onstage at 244-8680.
Maui playwright Pat Masumoto is getting ready for the next incarnation of "My Mama Monologues." The play debuted last Mother's Day at the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater and featured authentic "mama" stories from men, women and children. This year, Masumoto hopes to make the event even bigger and better, and she has extended the deadline to Jan. 14 for submittals of stories for "My Mama Monologues 2010." To submit a story or for more information, visit www.MyMamaMonologues.com.