T-Shirt Theatre rebuilds after Farrington cave-in

Apr. 4, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
T-Shirt Theatre students perform in "Untold Stories" at the Kaimuki High School. (Courtesy photo)

T-Shirt Theatre students perform in “Untold Stories” at the Kaimuki High School. (Courtesy photo)

BY STEFANIE NAKASONE / snakasone@staradvertiser.com

When the roof of Farrington High School’s auditorium caved in, George Kon’s immediate reaction was one of relief that no one got hurt.

“Just seven days before, it was packed. We were just finishing up our fall show,” recalled Kon, artistic director and co-founder of the school’s T-Shirt Theatre, which called the auditorium home for nearly 30 years. “It was just circumstance. Apparently the construction was so faulty, it could’ve gone any time.”


Presented by T-Shirt Theatre

Where: Kaimuki High School Auditorium, 2705 Kaimuki Ave.
When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Cost: Free
Info: (808) 220-5003, rehearseforlife.com

The roof fell in 2012, on a Friday afternoon in November. After the initial shock, a more practical question arose: Where would T-Shirt Theatre — a group made up of students from Farrington as well as nearby middle schools — go?

T-Shirt Theatre hasn’t stopped performing, though a new home for the troupe, the rebuilt auditorium, won’t be completed until 2015.

The kids from Kalihi present the original compilation “Untold Stories” on Sunday and Thursday at Kaimuki High’s auditorium, more than five miles across town.

Kon and his group of 25 young actors are grateful for Kaimuki’s assistance with providing a performance space. Nonetheless, the reality is they haven’t been able to draw the sizable audiences they did while at their home base.

“What they miss most is being able to perform for Farrington,” said Kon, noting that the school set aside class time for students to see performances. “We even had a special T-Shirt Theatre bell schedule.”

That’s why the group started a guerrilla public relations campaign, in place for the current production.

Students are using their technology savvy to promote the play through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as through video shorts and fliers. They’ve also spread the word through personal interaction, telling friends and family, and asking teachers to offer extra credit to students who see the play.

“I’m trying to spread the word in Kaimuki because I work at the Kaimuki McDonald’s, so I’m telling everyone,” said sophomore Justina Moore, 17, who’s helping with the PR effort.

“UNTOLD STORIES” are just that, a collection of 20 scenes written by the students that while short, at two to three minutes each, are nonetheless entertaining and powerful. The play starts off with a musical number that features interjections of rap that highlight several of the stories.

Some stories are works of fiction while others, like Moore’s, are all too real.

Moore’s piece titled “Daddy” tells her heartbreaking story of the last time she saw her father, who was struggling with alcoholism. When she was

5 years old, her father, in a drunken rage, tried to attack her mother. Neighbors called the police, and he was arrested, then deported back to the Marshall Islands. Moore has had little contact with him since.

“I just remember the violence,” said Moore. “But when my mom told me the whole story again, I realized she protected my sister. She was holding my sister in her arms the whole time. I thought that was a really brave, heroic thing.

“I loved him,” Moore says honestly. “But I didn’t realize how bad of a person he could have been. … It still bothers me today but it makes me stronger,” she added, crediting her mother for being an inspiration.

FOR HIS scene, “Gaydar,” junior Michael Macaraeg, 17, created a story inspired by the gay jokes that get tossed around among male adolescents. In the story, Macaraeg plays a gay teen who decides to come out to his friends and father. The boy’s father can’t accept this, but he is able to lean on one of his friends.

For Macaraeg, T-Shirt Theatre is like a second family, a place where he and his peers can be themselves and be creative.

“It really helped me a lot,” he said. “This is a place where you can express as much as you want. In the real world I’m awkward … but here I can fit in. Being in T-Shirt Theatre is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

It is also a place for students to learn and prepare for the real world.

The theatre’s motto is “Rehearse for Life.”

Nothing embodies that message more than the scene “Rehearse,” based on director Primo Asis’ experience as a student.

One day while working at his after-school job, Asis noticed his co-worker was having a bad day, lamenting, “I hate this, I hate that, nobody understands,” he recalled.

Asis, a member of T-Shirt Theatre’s inaugural group in 1985 who had portrayed counselor-like characters several times, noticed his co-worker’s rants were similar to ones he’d heard in the plays. So he used lines from the play to calm his co-worker down.

“It actually helped him get out of his mood,” said Asis, one of several former T-Shirt Theatre members who have come back to help. That group includes 2000 Farrington graduate Jonah Moananu, also known as Big Mox, a semifinalist on the third season of “American Idol.”

This year’s T-Shirt Theatre group includes four seniors. While Kon says it’s “a shame” they won’t get to finish their careers at Farrington’s auditorium, it’s likely most of the current company — half of them are freshman — will still be around.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Kon said.

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