Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 11, 2001

The Cruel Theatre cast features Taurie Kinoshita, front;
from back left, Eric Dixon Burns, Nicole Tessier, Ermie
Calimpong, Matthew Albright, Christy Hauptman, Thomas
Isao-Morinaka and Ben Lukey.

Cool cruel world

Audience choices, actors
improv skills decide if this
story lives or dies

By John Berger

A basic rule when reviewing theater is to observe but avoid participating in the performance. So much for the rules! Taurie Kinoshita and Cruel Theatre present "Material Witness" as a fully interactive one-on-one experience and that means setting convention aside and participating in order to keep the production moving.

The productions take place at the American Dream bar. To separate the participants from regular bar patrons, theater-goers are handed special shirts to wear, along with a piece of paper that explained the scenario.

Christy Hauptman, left, and Taurie Kinoshita await
their audience at the Kickstand Cafe.

I was Alex Mayer, the pilot/owner of a Honolulu flight school. The daughter of a friend asked me to meet her at the bar. She had a problem and needed my help.

Her problem was a lot worse than it would have been if she had called me that morning. It involved kidnapping, rape-for-hire, attempted murder and several other felonies. What could I do?

I realized I could play it three ways. I could try guessing how a real person like Mayer would react, or I could be myself and address her problem logically as if it were real, or I could try playing a character and test my partner's skill by throwing out some odd lines or situations of my own.

I spend a lot of time listening to people so I started responding as if the actor was a friend in trouble. As her tale become more complicated, I started borrowing ideas and attitude from Harvey Keitel's character in "Pulp Fiction." It was more fun than I expected.

Cruel Theatre rules

There are no rules, except:

>> You must wear your costume item (so your actor can identify you).
>> No physical contact except consensual hugs or handshakes.
>> The actor may ask you to leave the bar.
>> The performance may involve exposure to cigarette smoke.

My other half in the scenario -- Christy Hauptman -- was appealing and convincing as a woman under pressure. There were a couple of times though when I felt the story was losing momentum. It was, like, OK, where do we go now?

Hauptman experienced the same thing.

"I got worried about that -- I think I'm losing him, I think I'm losing him," she said as we talked about it two days later.

"We practice for every situation we can think of but everything comes out new each time anyway so there's a lot of thinking on your feet."

"I tell them as long as they stay in character and keep adding to everything the audience does you can't go wrong," Kinoshita added.

Hauptman plays an assault victim seeking help
from audience member Eric Denton.

Kinoshita founded the group as a vehicle for unconventional interactive theater. The current production uses five primary actors who work one-on-one with audience members. Two others play secondary roles. Kinoshita says each of the five plays a different character with a different problem.

"I try to match up people at the box office (because) everyone's story is different, every actor and audience member is different, and so there are a lot of variables to consider. When you try to describe what we're doing it completely blows most people's perceptions of what theater and performance is."

"Material Witness" is Hauptman's first Cruel Theatre project. She had done conventional theater in high school and at the University of Hawai'i but wasn't sure what she was in for when Kinoshita recruited her.

Matthew Albright plays an AIDS victim breaking
the news to his audience, Holly Ming.

"I was used to standing on stage here with the audience out there. Taurie had to teach me from the bottom up. It was a semester's worth of performance theory condensed into an hour-and-a-half, if that. Then we just had to work with it. They'd throw a situation out and we'd respond to it."

"From an acting perspective, this is probably the hardest kind of theater I'll ever do but I'd recommend it. You get trained in everything, and instead of doing a show once a night you're probably running it three or four times in a night. You have to keep your energy up the whole time. It's hard but it's kinda cool because you have to keep it fresh and new for the next person and it's all new and unexpected each time."

And, for anyone with an active imagination, or an interest in role playing or more conventional acting, "Material Witness" is a great opportunity to experiment.

And that includes reviewers who are usually on the other side!

On stage

What: "Material Witness," presented by Cruel Theatre
When: 7 to 10 p.m. today through Sunday; performances begin every 30 minutes and run about an hour. The last performance starts at 10
Where: American Dream Bar, 1201 Kona St., corner of Kona and Pensacola
Tickets: $12 ($7 for students)
Call: 523-1004

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