Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, June 15, 2001

"Beneath a Dragon" cast, left to right, Van Fujishige, Brent
Parker and Christopher ILO as (Nathrack)


Interactive theater
provides stress relief

By Scott Vogel

Brett Joubert likes to call his brand of stagecraft "environmental theater," a style of outdoor playmaking that intentionally blurs the distinction between reality and illusion, encouraging the audience to interact with the characters and thus affect the play's outcome. This injects a note of unpredictability into the proceedings, but Joubert is used to flirting with chaos. In fact, that's why he ended up producing environmental theater in Honolulu in the first place.

Just 2-1/2 short years ago, before anyone had ever heard of a dot-com collapse or an Internet meltdown, Joubert was toiling away in a successful Manhattan Web venture, his commitment to cyber-success equaled only by the stress levels the job produced. But then one day the narrative of his life was altered by a complete stranger, and one who would forever affect the outcome of his own personal play.

This man was a doctor who, after a routine physical examination, discovered that Joubert's blood pressure was at a dangerously high level. ("We're talking stroke-range," recalls Joubert.) Diagnosing him with essential hypertension, the doctor begged his patient to reconsider the lifestyle he was living -- the long commute and even longer hours -- before it killed him.

Van Fujishige, center, as a disinterested Romney Black,
is scolded by D. David Lee, left, and Matt Lau in
"Beneath a Dragon."

To his everlasting credit, what the 37-year-old Joubert did next was something Willy Loman, and indeed most dramatis personae, never do -- he actually heeded the advice of his doctor. Deciding to "hit the reset button and start over," Joubert set sail for our own reportedly tranquil shores, dedicating himself to his first love, live theater, and forming his own company, Theatricus.

As Honolulu is not exactly a hotbed of experimental theater, Joubert encountered a certain amount of resistance to his project in the beginning, though nothing that's boosted his blood pressure to its previous heights. And starting this weekend, locals will be able to get a look at his intriguing first offering, "Beneath a Dragon's Wing," a "combination of live theater and Fantasy Island" that premieres tomorrow at Dole Playground Park.

Only they won't be just looking, if Joubert has his way. "The audience won't change the direct outcome of the play but can definitely affect how the outcome is achieved." Patrons, who are encouraged to dress in a style that might be characterized as video-game-medieval, are expected to question what they see, as well as get up and move around, a shifting of focus that tends to produce a different experience for each patron and therefore a different overall impression.

"A party of people can leave with varied opinions of what they've seen. In the past, I've seen couples leave a production each supporting a different side of the character's storyline." It's the sort of thing that could make for lively debate in the car ride home, not to mention a livelier theater community.

But to a certain extent, the success of Joubert's experiment depends on how many locals are interested in this story of swords and sorcery, fierce dragon lords and brave knights. (The Joubert-created cast of characters includes the Cong Manii, a tribe of elfish characters for whom he's written a 50-word dictionary on the Theatricus Web site.)

Nevertheless, if the "Dragon's Wing" audition is any indication, interest is higher than you might think. More than 50 people responded to Joubert's casting call, out of which 15 actors were finally chosen for this tale of Romney Black, a young man whose theft of a valued relic sparks an international incident.

"I deliberately said that experience was not necessary. What is necessary, I said, is that you come to this thing with energy, creativity and guts."

Guts to engage in swordplay with rank amateurs? "The guts to trust in some guy from the mainland you've never met before, and to trust in yourself."

Beneath a Dragon's Wing

On stage: 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 24
Place: Dole Playground Park, Magellan Avenue
Cost: Free
Call: 734-8237

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