Maui Time

Talking story with Michael Pulliam about the Maui Fringe Theatre Festival

The Maui Fringe Festival will light up Wailuku this weekend with a three-day exhibition of unique performing arts shows. Brought to life by local playwrights, writers, actors and directors as well as visiting ones, these little plays with big ideas give audiences a taste of creativity that doesn’t normally have an outlet. Michael Pulliam curates and guides the production as the Maui Fringe Festival director, and he took a moment to talk with us about this year’s festival.

MAUITIME: Describe that moment and feeling when you decided to organize a Fringe Festival on Maui.

MICHAEL PULLIAM: I’m a writer first and I came to Maui for a sabbatical and found no reason to go home. A friend came to visit and asked what I was going to do on Maui. I said I was thinking about starting a Maui Fringe. He told me that this might be the best idea I’ve ever had.

MT: Thank goodness for nosy friends. How long have you been putting the Maui Fringe Festival together?

MP: I’ve been managing the Fringe since it started in 2011. I pitched it to the Maui OnStage board of directors in 2010, and my greatest champion has been Alexis Dascoulias. The plan has always been if Maui doesn’t want Fringe we’ll stop. So far, it has grown in popularity each year.

MT: How do you find inspiration each year?

MP: I’m always inspired by the shock of the new–that is what Fringe is. I just love creating a home for new artists and when combined with the paradise of Maui, it seemed like a perfect fit.

MT: Give us a heads up on some of the highlights for 2017.

MP: I love bringing eclectic art to Maui. We have an R-rated puppet show this year and a one-woman show that deals with gold-digging. They’re all unique and if not for Fringe, most of these shows would not be able to find venues on Maui.

MT: So how do you find R-rated puppet shows?

MP: My favorite part of putting together a Fringe is finding young writers and performers on the internet. There is a worldwide network of independent playwrights touring and bringing fresh new ideas to more than 100 Fringe fests globally every weekend, every year, for 70 years. Sometimes all I have to do is ask, “do you want to come to Maui?” Finding out-of-town shows is easier than finding local shows. The vast Fringe network of shows that can travel in a suitcase is endless. Yet, there are many Fringe suitors and there are at least two festivals happening somewhere every week‎. I guess I always hope the romance of Maui will sway the choice of producers.

MT: With so many acts available, how do you choose what acts get into the Maui Fringe Festival?

MP: I don’t choose the shows. We try to take every show. Because I also love the biz side of show biz, I get concerned if I think some plays might not do well financially. A few have passed on the Maui Fringe. I like to be honest and share with the producers what is realistic.

MT: Have you written any screenplays yourself for a Fringe Festival?

MP: I performed in the 1996 Chicago Fringe and managed a 1998 San Francisco Fringe location. I love to write, but I also like to provide a play space for artists who fall outside the box. I love the example of Orson Welles. If the Roosevelt federal government hadn’t provided grants for him to reinvent MacBeth in Haiti, there would never have been a War of the Worlds or Citizen Kane.

MT: Tell us a bit more about some of the shows in this years festival. Have you seen them all?

MP: Every show is unique and we hope to explore every genre. Game of Thrones: The Musical will make you think of Avenue Q. Old Girls Looking Hot is a socially conscious dramatic musical. Ain’t That Rich is a one-woman tour-de-force that will resonate with our feelings of this inauguration. FADO is an illusion through aerial dance that embraces a Portuguese musical tradition. The festival is a stew of ideas and uncompromised visions.

MT: What’s the best way to sample this stew?

MP: In my opinion, you have to see at least three or four Fringe shows. It’s like Sundance. Why go all the way to Utah and only catch one movie?

MT: What do you hope attendees come away with after being at the festival?

MP: My hope with every Fringe is that the people of Maui embrace unknown theater just like indy film. It’s the same, but it’s live theater. Many Fringe performers on Maui have since gone on to film and TV roles. Who doesn’t like to be the friend that discovered a new wine, introduced the family to a new restaurant, posted that great new song, that is Fringe.

MAUI FRINGE FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

FRIDAY, JAN. 20

7pm Small Town Lawyer by Anthony Pignataro (disclosure: Pignataro is MauiTime‘s editor). A small town lawyer struggles with direction in his life. Directed by Angela Thompson, starring Kevin Hazelton, Vinnie Linares, and Felicia Chernicki-Wulf. (Listen to an HPR interview with Anthony Pignataro on Small Town Lawyer here)

8pm Ain’t That Rich by Kate Robards. A one-woman show about gold-digging, by a visiting artist from New York.

9:15pm Old Girls Looking Hot by Sharyn Stone, the 2011 Maui Fringe winner. Music by Fulton Tashombe, starring Joyce Romero, Barbara Sedano with her Minion grandson, Ethan, Scott Newman and John Williams. Directed by Paul Janes-Brown.

SATURDAY, JAN. 21

1pm Old Girls Looking Hot

3:30pm Game of Thrones: The Musical by Really Spicy Opera. This R-rated HBO parody hails from the Minnesota Fringe. It explores wildly inappropriate comedy involving puppets. Featuring Caitlin Collins, Basil Considine, Elizabeth Eschen, Joe Kastner and Angela Walberg.

4:45pm Ain’t That Rich

6:30pm FADO by Maui Aerial Arts. An all-female cast featuring Heather Booth, Amy Erickson, Clover Love and Lani Thur-Fine explore processes of grief and healing through a dazzling aerial performance.

7:15pm Small Town Lawyer

8pm Game of Thrones: The Musical

9:15pm Me, My Song and I by Malcolm Grissom. Grissom gives a memorable and intense performance in this personal narrative named Critics Choice in the Atlanta Fringe Festival.

SUNDAY, JAN. 22

1pm Small Town Lawyer

2pm Ain’t That Rich

3:15pm Old Girls Looking Hot

4:30pm Me, My Song and I

6pm Game of Thrones: The Musical

7:15pm Dream by Francis Tau`a. A dramedy about a couple exploring what happens to a marriage when Alzheimer’s hits. Featuring Tau`a, Tina Kailiponi and Marsi Smith. Directed by Hoku Pavao.

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The Maui Fringe Theater Festival runs Friday, January 20 through Sunday, January 22 at the Historic Iao Theater. General admission tickets are $10 per performance (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event call 808-242-6969 or order online at Mauionstage.com