Emily Dres Brand, left, Kathy Arakaki and Gregg Lizenberry performed a piece called "Overture" during a rehearsal at The ARTS at Marks Garage Monday night.

The monkey's back

By Jason Genegabus

WHEN mask-dance-theater company Monkey & the Waterfall returns to The ARTS at Marks Garage tomorrow night, passers-by on the surrounding Chinatown sidewalks could unwittingly find themselves part of the performance.

"Still On My Back," a follow-up to last year's "Monkey On My Back," will originate from within the unique performance space on Nuuanu Avenue. But with the audience facing a wall of windows and performers leaving the building to roam the street, each of the 10 performances this month is sure to be an experience in itself.

"It's totally exciting, especially on the weekend," said Yukie Shiroma, creator and director of "Still On My Back." Part of the thrill, she explains, is watching as "people are looking in, and the audience is in the dark. But they don't know that they're the backdrop to the action."

Shiroma and associate director Ben Moffat have worked together for more than a decade, exploring combinations of masks with dance and theater.

Ben Moffat, left, and Sami Akuna III rehearsed "Stand By Your Man" within a gauzy pillar.

"We've just barely scratched the surface," said Shiroma. "It's endless, this kind of work."

For "Still On My Back," they wanted to continue with the theme of addiction that the first performance piece had explored.

"We do a lot of things that are sort of like dream states, and I think audiences respond to that," Moffat said.

"We use a lot of metaphor in our work," explained Shiroma. "When we got into doing mask work, it was such a natural progression to work with obsessive characters. So we use the masks to get to the addictive characters ... it's not necessarily about the substance itself.

"We can usually keep (addictive behavior) under control most of the time, but I like to explore when it's out of control. And a lot of our work is going out of control with these masks to turn back and look at our human condition, our situation."

"Still On My Back" is what's called a site-specific production; everything is designed with the layout of The ARTS at Marks Garage in mind.

"I don't think I could take this show and put it on the Hawaii Theatre stage," said Shiroma. "It wouldn't work -- I need the pillar. I need the street. I need the slanted ceiling, the concrete floors."

Even a Dumpster across the street had been part of the production until it was unexpectedly moved away. "They towed it away last night," said Moffat as he motioned to its former location outside the window. "And I was going, 'Wait, that's our set!' "

After tweaking the seating arrangements, Moffat and Shiroma estimate that 100 people will be able to attend each performance. Also, be sure to visit The ARTS at Marks Garage during the day as well; "Still On My Back" mask, puppet and visual designer Michael Shiroma has a unique mask exhibition on display through the end of August.

"Monkey On My Back" sold out "virtually all" of its performances last year, so it's likely ticket sales will be brisk.

"People who enjoy this kind of experimental work, and especially mask work, they come to be swept away," Shiroma said. "They want to be transformed; they want to go off into absurdity and surrealism. They come with that in mind."

'Still On My Back'

On stage: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday and Aug. 29-31; also 9:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Aug. 30 and 31
Place: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Tickets: $12 in advance; $18 at the door
Call: 528-0506
Also: An exhibit of designer Michael Shiroma's masks is on display through the month. Admission to Marks Garage gallery is free from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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