Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Care and Feeding of An Artistic Franchise

Most creative types are not content to rest after their first brush with success. Eager for new challenges, new ways to stretch their artistic muscles -- and, dare we say it -- new revenue streams, they create new projects for themselves.

Whether that means composing a new piece of music, writing a new book, directing a new film, or acting in a new role, their goal is to keep their artistic juices flowing. If all works well, the money will come in time. As Finding Joe (a new documentary about Joseph Campbell) explains, it's all about "following your bliss."

This week I had a chance to revisit the work of two gay men who have, without any doubt, found and followed their bliss. One specializes in crass gay romantic comedies, the other in a specialized form of cultural conservation. One has found an increasing number of outlets for his talent; the other has honed his craft and used it to build the foundation for a Bay area dance community.

Kumu hula Patrick Makuakane

Each man has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of his youth. What have they been up to lately?

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From the earliest civilizations to modern times, a good drum beat gets people moving. Throw in some music and color and an artistic vision begins to take shape.

Many primitive societies passed their tribal folklore from one generation down to another through an oral tradition that involved songs, chants, drums and was occasionally enhanced by ritual dance. For the past 25 years, San Francisco's Patrick Makuakane has been taking Hawaii's hula tradition and giving it new life in the most astonishing ways as part of his growing repertoire of "hula mua" (hula that evolves).

Hula dancers from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu
(Photo by: Lin Cariffe)

Makuakane's artistic vision continues to astonish audiences. The Hula Show 2011 opens with an eye-popping tribute to San Francisco that makes use of computer projections on a giant screen behind the dancers (as well as two smaller screens angling toward the first from stage right and stage left). Its six segments were:
  • Oli Aloha No Ka 'Ipuka Kula (A welcome chant for the Golden Gate)
  • Pa Mai Ka Makani 'O Ka Moa'e (The wind blows, a Moa'e breeze)
  • Malamalama 'O Kapalakiko (San Francisco is radiant)
  • Hanohano 'O Poliko (Potrero is glorious)
  • He Mele Papa'i (A song for the great crab)
  • Pa Mai Ka Makani 'O Ka Hu'e Pa'u (The wind blows, a Hu'e Pa'u breeze)
Hula dancers from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu
(Photo by: Lin Cariffe)

Whether chanting and dancing to visions of fog creeping over the Golden Gate Bridge, the downtown skyline rising to reveal a string of Victorian homes, or the quiet streets of Potrero Hill (where the headquarters for Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu are located), the show's opening sequence offered the kind of San Francisco experience that the staff at the Convention and Visitors Bureau fantasizes about.

Makuakane has always been a delightful host who, in addition to chanting, singing, and accompanying his dancers on gourd and ukulele, doesn't hesitate to mock himself. His description of watching a Hawaiian matriarch supervising the festivities for her "lazy gay" son's wedding/commitment ceremony aboard a dinner cruise around San Francisco Bay led to the creation of Shawna Alapa'i's droll hula solo set to the song "Somethin’ Stupid."

A female dancer from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu
(Photo by: Lin Cariffe)

Part of the evening included footage of the educational work done by Makuakane with his halau as they visit Hawaii and spend time with "Uncle Butch," learning about Hawaiian traditions and the importance of nature in their lives. Act II's Love and Happiness hula (celebrating Samoa's Taupou Princess) was a knockout -- the kind of choreography that makes Makuakane (who has received a lifetime achievement award from the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival) such a beloved figure in local dance culture.

Throughout the year, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu offers classes in beginner's and intermediate hula as Makuakane rehearses his company of 40 dancers for upcoming performance dates. His audiences, however, have been trained to expect the unexpected. Whether choreographing hula to authentic Hawaiian music, electronic music, opera, or sounds not normally associated with hula, Makuakane has continued to stretch his audience's tastes with a rare and rewarding artistic vision.

A male dancer from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu
(Photo by: Lin Cariffe)

The Hula Concert 2011 lived up to this musical tradition with a hula caliente celebrating the Mexican vaqueros who taught Hawaiians how to train horses. Following a joint effort last year with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, Makuakane choreographed three hulas to pieces of Turkish music (composed for whirling dervishes) as well as an Indian raga (Ramkali).

Makuakane (who has always shown a fascination for new stage technology) never fails to dazzle his audiences.  His sense of showmanship is on a par with major productions in Las Vegas; his choreography (for which he has earned several Isadora Duncan Dance Awards) has won critical acclaim from New York to Hilo.

The Hula Show 2011 featured stunning video projections that made the audience feel as if they were living in the lens of a National Geographic photographer's camera. As in past years, Lihau Hannahs Paik and Kellen Paik flew in from Hawaii to accompany many of the dances on bass, guitar, and ukulele. The Kapalakiko Hawaiian Band performed before the show and during intermission in the grand foyer of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.

A male dancer from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (Photo by: Lin Cariffe)

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My first exposure to Q. Allan Brocka's work came at the 2004 Frameline Film Festival, where his first soft porn beefcake comedy feature won the award for Best Feature Film. Although Eating Out was followed by a curious drama entitled Boy Culture, since then Brocka's output has been focused on two lucrative artistic franchises.
With Eating Out: Drama Camp being released on DVD this month, I sat down to watch a screener and was certainly not disappointed. Brocka has developed a niche audience whose tastes he understands well. His films deliver a heaping helping of gay farce, snappy one-liners, and musclebound hunks who, at the very least, are talented exhibitionists.

Whether dealing with the coming out process or the risks of Internet dating, Brocka keeps the action fast and funny. Any filmmaker who keeps Mink Stole working deserves bonus points in my book.

Poster art for Eating Out: Drama Camp

Obviously sensing an opportunity created by the success of Glee, Brocka uses Eating Out: Drama Camp to stage a scene from Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, with a transgender actor playing Kate and spoofs the emerging genre of "spontaneous musical moment video" with the following rendition of "Drama Queen."

Brocka's cast of characters in Eating Out: Drama Camp includes:
  • Casey (Daniel Skelton), a young gay blond who moved to Los Angeles to find true love and ended up staying with his aunt Helen.
  • Zack (Chris Salvatore), Casey's big, hunky and slightly dumb boyfriend.
  • Aunt Helen (Mink Stole), Casey's extremely gay-friendly Aunt, who has her hands full with a much younger stud.
  • Andy (Joel Rush), Helen's tattooed, musclebound boy toy, who can't get enough of his "Grandma Cougar."
Aunt Helen (Mink Stole) with her boy toy, Andy (Joel Rush)
  • Jason (Garikayi Mutambirwa), an aspiring straight film director who is close friends with Casey and Zack. When the movie begins, he is filming them in a gay porno version of Alfred Hitchcock's famous shower scene from Psycho that they plan to submit as an audition tape for drama camp.
  • Genevieve (Marikah Cunningham), an aspiring actress and total bitch.
  • Tifani (Rebekah Kochan), an aspiring actress who boasts about having "a very loose throat."
  • Dick Dickey (Drew Droege), a raging queen who runs a summer drama camp.
Drew Droege as "Dick Dickey"
  • Benji (Aaron Milo), a hunky young actor attending Dick Dickey's drama camp who prefers to sleep in the nude (once Benji realizes that Casey and Zack are in a relationship, he tries to convince everyone that he's straight).
  • Penny (Lilach Mendelovich), the camp nerd who is given all kinds of embarrassing chores to perform by Dick Dickey but also comes up with a less than brilliant use for poison oak.
  • Lilly (Harmony Santana), an aspiring actress who is transitioning from male to female.
  • Beau (Ronnie Kroell) a young actor who claims to be straight.
  • Matty (Rob Westin), a bespectacled young man who gets caught having sex behind a tree.
  • Conor (Steven Daigle), the big strapping hulk who forces himself on Dick Dickey. 
Matty (Rob Westin) checks out Roger (Jesse Archer)

There's no shortage of laughs or eye candy in Eating Out: Drama Camp. If you're looking for some silliness to lift your spirits, it's a perfect tonic for the holidays. Here's the trailer:

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