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Rewriting the script

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Marcus Johnson (from left), Joy Renée and Sal Godinez film “Some Like It Hot: An Evening with Joy, Marcus, and Sal” at the ProArts Playhouse as part of the ProArts Online virtual theater series. MICHAEL ENOVIJAS photo

Like countless other theaters worldwide, the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei went dark eight months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it didn’t stay dark for very long.

In March, when Hawaii issued its stay-at-home order, the theater halted its production of Ray Cooney’s comedic play, “Out of Order,” mid-run. When it became apparent that conventional performances would not be possible for some time, ProArts devised a Plan B: an online “Quarantainment” series featuring a mixed bag of performances for housebound audiences.

The series was a big hit — and it set the stage for what came next.

Last month, ProArts debuted ProArts Online, a new virtual series that brings entertainers of all stripes — actors, musicians, dancers, poets, singers and comics — to the ProArts stage. The audience-less, COVID-safe performances are filmed in the theater and subsequently released online, video-on-demand-style.

Lin McEwan is the executive director of ProArts, Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. BRETT WULFSON photo

“Our artists have been overjoyed to be performing and designing again, even under all of the copious restrictions and precautions we have to take to ensure safety,” said Lin McEwan, executive director of ProArts, Inc., the nonprofit that runs the ProArts Playhouse. “We all miss live audiences, of course. But there is also something to exploring a different side of performing that you don’t get to do in traditional theater. Leaning into the medium of film. Finding fun camera angles to get a perspective you couldn’t share with a live audience. And yet still maintaining the magic of theater itself.”

Here’s how it works: Viewers purchase their tickets via the ProArts website and receive an email confirmation receipt. On the day the show is released, they will receive a separate email with a link, access code and detailed viewing instructions. After that? Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Four shows are now available: internationally acclaimed composer and cellist Georgy Gusev’s “Cello Drive” (viewable through Nov. 28); Maui comedian Chino LaForge’s “Chino LaForge: Back in the 808” (viewable through Dec. 4); Joie Yasha Taylor’s “Creation: Improvisations on Jazz, Dance, and Aerial Arts” (viewable through Dec. 11); and “Some Like It Hot: An Evening with Joy, Marcus, and Sal” featuring Sal Godinez, Marcus Johnson and Joy Renée (viewable through Dec. 18).

And that’s just the beginning. ProArts will release more shows in the weeks to come, including performances by Mark Beltzman, Laura Cole, Jerry Eiting, Vinnie Linares, Tim Morris, Makamae Murray and others.

For those craving live theater, these virtual productions will fill the void.

No audience? No problem. Comedian Chino LaForge delivers plenty of belly laughs in his virtual show, “Chino LaForge: Back in the 808,” which was filmed sans audience at the ProArts Playhouse. Photo courtesy ProArts, Inc.

“People seem surprised at what we’ve been able to do on a shoestring budget, with minimal personnel and in spite of so many obstacles, some figurative, some literal,” McEwan said. “And we’ve done so in large part thanks to the ample talents of our production crew, most significantly the astounding editing work of (ProArts, Inc.) board member Ally Shore.”

Like ProArts, other local theater groups, such as the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Maui OnStage and Theatre Theatre Maui, have found creative ways to adapt and retool — a testament to the passion and dedication of Maui’s performing arts community.

“They are as determined, dedicated and innovative as they are talented,” McEwan said. “Our artists both on stage and behind the scenes have brought so much passion to these projects and they do so even though they are being told that what they do, the arts, are commonly deemed ‘non-essential.’ But I think if most of us look at the time we’ve spent in quarantine or apart from vulnerable family members, we’d find that the arts are what get us through. Books, movies, music, paintings — they keep us connected to our humanity even when we must stay distanced from those we love.”

To learn more about ProArts Online, to purchase tickets for upcoming shows or to inquire about donor or sponsorship opportunities, visit ProArtsMaui.com or call 463-6550.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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