Our society loves their blood, sex, and rock-and-roll, and the stories told in this year’s Maui Fringe Festival are no exception. The premiere of local playwright Wayne Moniz’s “Cane Fire: The Hanapepe Massacre” will kick off the festival on Friday night. Next up, the musically charged “Seeger” is a one-man multimedia show performed by Randy Noojin where he embodies famous folk singer Peter Seeger. Malcolm Grissom is returning to Maui Fringe Festival to premiere his production of “Stop Having Zombie Sex,” a sequel to his 2017 hit performance. Saturday, the newly formed OnStage Dance Company will perform for the first time, and winner of the 2017 festival, Kate Robards, is back with a new solo tale, “PolySHAMory.”
Michael Pulliam does the hard work of putting the festival together, but it is a labor of love for him. This festival gives room for theater to experiment and for audiences to see unique performances explored.
“The Fringe always evolves organically,” says Pulliam. “Great plays show up every September and we try to make room for them all. Themes are never sought out, but they emerge. If there is a theme this year it is: What does not kill me makes me stronger. ‘Cane Fire’ and ‘Seeger’ are paired because they both deal with workers rights and civil rights. ‘PolySHAMory’ and ‘Stop Having Zombie Sex’ deal with highly personal sexual journeys and how those individuals became stronger in the end or present. OnStage Dance Company is about creating something from nothing – for the community, by the community. All of these stories are shared through dance, music, words, video projections, and most of all, passion.”
Maui playwright and author Wayne Moniz set out to tell a Filipino story, and stumbled across this little-known history of a 1924 sugar worker strike that ended in tragedy in Kaua‘i. The project started out as a one-man play script for Virginia Sandell, but morphed into a bigger screenplay which she directs at this year’s festival.
“I have written about 14 or 15 plays, most of them produced here,” says Moniz. “I had never written about a Filipino as the main character or main focus so I decided, I am going to tell a Filipino story. I started going through some local Filipino history and I came across the Hanapepe Massacre. I did not know anything about this. I love it when I come across something I don’t know anything about because if I don’t know it, most of the population might not know it either.”
Moniz dug into the background of the story and found Pablo Manlapit, a labor organizer, law clerk, and activist from the Philippines who came to Hawaii and worked at the time. The Filipino workers were making $1 an hour and working 10-hour days; they wanted an 8-hour day and pay of $2. The plantations paid the different races of workers different amounts, the Filipinos getting paid the least.
“You know that work was rough,” says Moniz. “The Japanese had gone on strike earlier and they were successful. The Filipinos were on the bottom of the totem pole. Now that the sugarcane era is over we can look back on that time a little more objectively. The plantations pitted the different races of the workers against each other by putting them in separate camps instead of integrating them. So the Filipinos against the Japanese, the Japanese against the Portuguese, etc. Even to this day some of the remnants of that is still left from the sugar days.”
Manlapit helped organize the workers, and the strike was successful on other islands but escalated on Kaua‘i. Two strike breakers had been taken hostage.
“There are a lot of lies and intrigue and all of that kind of dirty underplay going on between the parties, the factions,” says Moniz. “The sugar barons sent some goons into, along with the police, to try to halt the pending strike. The rest of the islands had gone on strike with Pablo Manlapit and they were moving on to Kaua‘i, but the sugar planters had had enough. They moved in and tried to stop the strike. The workers didn’t have guns, just machetes. When the police came in they deputized a whole bunch of policemen, and they also brought in some sharpshooters. Again they played the races against each other, they brought in the other ethnic groups and gave them rifles. I think eventually they arrested over 100 people. The National Guard came in on that because the sugar planters had been standing by. It was all pre-arranged.”
Randy Noojin’s “Seeger” paints a different portrait of activism in 19th-century America chronicling the folk singer Pete Seeger as he plays a benefit concert to advocate the end of the US-Cuban trade embargo. Noojin saw Seeger perform at a benefit concert at 94-years-old, and it inspired this show.
“As a struggling artist, living in an expensive city where wages are stagnant and the cost of living keeps rising, I’m drawn to character subjects like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie because they were political artists writing and singing great songs for peace, living wages, and equality,” says Noojin. “I got into solo shows because fringe festivals all over the world require simplicity and there’s nothing simpler than solo. Also, it’s very empowering as an actor/writer/musician, to be able to provide a full evening of entertainment dedicated to illuminating an important American activist, through impersonation, songs, and projected images, with just a pool of light, a mic, an instrument, a projector, and a screen.”
Performer Malcolm Grissom started in stand up comedy but decided he wanted to expand his repertoire for making people laugh. Fringe festivals are fertile ground for his expressive interactive shows. His play “Stop Having Zombie Sex” is a follow up to his 2017 fringe act, “Me, My Song and I.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love laughing and making others laugh,” says Grissom. “It’s a great way to connect with people. However, I wanted more. I wanted to make audiences laugh and potentially change some of their lives or at least give them a chance to explore emotions. This show is an autobiographical account of my struggles with love and sexual addiction and intimacy. When audiences see “Stop Having Zombie Sex”, I want people to have a sympathetic understanding of addiction. I want people to know that it is something that can happen to any of us. One of my motivations for writing and performing stories is to share love and introduce concepts that may be foreign to some. I will always use comedy in my storytelling because humor, comedy, and laughter are parts of my spirit. They make me who I am. It’s one of my God-given gifts, and I do it well.”
First place winner of the 2017 Fringe Festival, Kate Robards, is back at Maui Fringe from New York. She is excited to be in front of Maui audiences again and looking forward to being in the tropics.
“This is my third time performing in Maui,” says Robards. “This show is a big departure from anything else I’ve ever written. Maui audiences have wildly supported all of my other works and I’ve left with awards and true friends and champions. Honestly, the volunteers and audience members I’ve met in Maui have supported me and encouraged me from afar since my first show there. The love is so real. It reminds me of the love I experienced growing up in my small hometown. Plus, Maui is paradise. It’s like living in a screensaver. I currently live in New York city where it’s 31 degrees and I’m wearing everything I own, and I have several space heaters on that will occasionally blow a fuse. Chance to perform in paradise? Yes, please!”
She calls her play a sexcapade of exploration and self-discovery. Her character, Kate, looks for love from many places and faces, embarking on a journey into polyamory assisted by a poly-therapist and the ethos of the book “The Ethical Slut,” by Janet Hardy, a guide to sustainable polyamorous relationships.
“The play is about my marriage that was a sort of Cinderella story but it turned into a nightmare,” says Robards.”All good plays or novels or stories that deal with life truthfully are seriocomic, meaning they combine the serious and the comic. The truth is funny. There’s the old rule that pain plus time equals comedy. And I wrote this play when the feelings were still really raw. Even though time has passed, I can still easily access those emotions. It’s always surprising to me the moments in my show where I hear both laughs and visible gasps or audible tears. And sometimes they all happen in the same scene because every audience is having their own reacting. That’s what I love about theater and solo shows. There’s an intimacy. It’s not just me in the play, the audience members are the other characters because their reactions and responses affect me. I’m an empathetic person and performing is such a visceral experience. I can’t wait to share this show with Maui, especially since I know there will be many audience members who’ve seen what I now realize is a trilogy of solo plays.”
The Maui Fringe Festival starts Friday and runs through Sunday, where audiences will have a number of opportunities to see these shows at the historic Iao Theatre.
“What I am most looking forward to, and what I always look forward to, is presenting the type of cutting edge original theater rarely seen on Maui,” says Pulliam. “We have three previous award-winners returning and two world premieres. I’m excited to witness such gifted writers, actors, and performers gracing the Iao stage as one artist’s community for this one marathon weekend. I too have never seen these plays, I’ve only read their words. All in attendance will be experiencing the stories for the first time.”
For more information or to purchase tickets go to MauiOnstage.com.
Maui Fringe Festival Schedule
Friday, Jan. 18
5pm Opening night party (VIP pass holders only)
6:15 “Cane Fire: The Hanapepe Massacre” by Wayne Moniz
7:30 “Seeger” by Randy Noojin
8:45 “Stop Having Zombie Sex” by Malcolm Grissom
Saturday, Jan. 19
1pm “Cane Fire: The Hanapepe Massacre”
2:15 OnStage Dance Company
3:30 “PolySHAMory” by Kate Robards
6:15 OnStage Dance Company
8:45 “Stop Having Zombie Sex”
Sunday, Jan. 20
2:15 “Cane Fire: The Hanapepe Massacre”
3:30 OnStage Dance Company
4:45 “Stop Having Zombie Sex”
7:30 Fringe Awards celebration (VIP pass holders only)