Opening night is always exciting, but with The Actors’ Group’s season-opening production of "Duets" this evening, TAG is celebrating the official opening of its new theater as well.
TAG Artistic Director Brad Powell credits the group’s loyal and ever-growing subscriber base with making it all possible, and says the move means that the award-winning theater group will be around for another season.
Here’s the back story: This month, in a cliff-hanger last-minute turnaround almost like one of those old-time movie serials, TAG moved from Chinatown to Iwilei.
"We were at the point (last spring) where we didn’t even have enough money to pay two more months’ rent," Powell said in a late-night telephone call Aug. 19.
The basic problem was overhead. Ticket sales were good and there was strong support for TAG’s eclectic program — shows last season included a drama about hard-pressed Japanese peasants in early Showa Japan, an Ayn Rand mystery in which audience members determined the ending, a hilarious David Mamet political comedy, August Wilson’s "The Piano Lesson " and finally the brilliant interplay between Moses Goods III and the actor currently known as Q in "Topdog/Underdog."
The comic play, written by Peter Quilter and directed by David C. Farmer, debuts in a new venue. It depicts four sets of characters at four crucial moments: Jonathon and Wendy are on a blind date, hoping to get it right this time; Barrie is not really interested in women, but Janet sees that as no deterrent; Shelley and Bobby, drowning in cocktails, have decided to finalize their divorce on a Mexican holiday; Angela is marrying for the third time amid a barrage of bad omens, to the dismay of brother Toby.
Where: The TAG Theatre, Dole Cannery, 650 Iwilei St., Suite 101
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. today; continues 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 19
Cost: $12-$20 Fridays through Sundays; all tickets $10 on Thursdays
Info: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net
Note: Validated parking in the Dole Cannery/Regal Theatres parking garage
However, even though most of the shows did quite well in terms of ticket sales, the cost of being in Chinatown was more than TAG could afford in the long run. There’s a lot of talk around town about the need to "support the arts" but the city wasn’t giving their landlord any tax breaks for renting to an arts group.
"We just couldn’t afford to stay … even when they started to make concessions to keep us there, they couldn’t do enough to make it really feasible for us," Powell said.
A grant to do a student play-writing festival kept TAG alive through the summer and bought time to find a new home. The Actors’ Group found it at Dole Cannery and got an "excellent deal," Powell says, that will provide them with a home for the next three years.
Making the move was another challenge. TAG anticipated its move from Kakaako to Chinatown two years ago, held a fundraiser, and was able to put together "a good moving fund" to cover costs. This time around, there was almost no money on hand for the move to Iwilei.
Powell explained the situation in an e-mail to the group’s supporters and included a link for donations.
"Within three days we had (enough money) to make the move," he said. "That gave us all the courage that we needed. The money that we raised went very quickly, but we’ve got faith that what we’re doing is what people want."
"When people responded to (the moving fund appeal), most of them said, ‘We’ve got to keep you alive. You are giving us things that no other theater can give us,’" Powell said.
MOVING solved other problems TAG had encountered in Chinatown. The second-floor location up a steep flight of steps was problematic for many — most of whom had no idea that the building had an elevator. Convenient parking was another issue, particularly on First Fridays. Encounters with some of the street people in the area also kept people away.
The new theater is on the ground floor and has free, three-hour parking in a parking structure across the street. The parking structure elevators go to the ground floor, and from there it’s a short walk across the street to the theater.
The theater itself is also bigger and better, Powell says: "Where we had two bars of lights, we now have seven, so it gives us much more opportunity to do fun things with the lighting. We also have now much easier access, and so it’s much safer; it’s all wheelchair accessible."
As for "bigger," the original TAG theater in Kakaako had 35 seats. The Chinatown theater had 55. Powell says the new theater can accommodate 70.
Given TAG’s ticket sales over the past years, Powell doesn’t anticipate any trouble filling seats with "Duets" or future productions.
"It is funny," Powell said. "I came basically from directing and choreographing musicals most of my life, (and) I’ve now come into the area where I absolutely love all of these straight plays."