The History Of The Actors’ Group (TAG)

Part 1 – Early Origins

Compiling the history of any organization can be a great challenge, particularly when the core group is small and it used every ounce of its energy to keep alive. So is the case with TAG. As it evolved from a creative curmudgeon to become one of Hawaii's finest community theaters, all TAG could do was focus on its next production, for it had little time for anything else. Hence, its history has been cobbled together utilizing memory, dog-eared old files, and recovered video footage that is often times way past its prime if not damaged. Nonetheless, these have been utilized to create the history of TAG - The Actors' Group, told in a series of posts that chronicle periods of time unique to TAG's development.

The End Of The Honolulu Film Actors Workshop (1993-1994)

In the fall of 1993 one of Hawaii’s best acting teachers, Dick Kindelon, the former casting director for the original “Hawaii 5-0,” retires after teaching his acting course, “The Honolulu Film Actors Workshop,” for well over 10 years. One of Kindelon’s most ardent students, Eric Nemoto (see inset photo), organizes members of the class to continue meeting for scene study sessions, and Kindelon gives Nemoto his three boxes of movie scripts to use. The very first meeting is held in the study room of the Special Student Services building at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is attended by two people, with Nemoto being one of them (the other being Jerry Hile, who would provide the group a great service by chronicling Kindelon’s scripts into overview sheets for easy review). Regardless, the two participate in scene study sessions (“To keep the faith,” Nemoto says), but the concept of continuing classes admittedly does not look good. Nemoto tells himself he’ll give it one more week. The following week over a dozen people show and Nemoto realizes that the idea of actors meeting for weekly sessions has a chance. During one of its first meetings of the group, Nemoto, with the consent of all present, tells everyone that they will be called the “The Actors Group” or “TAG.” When asked why, Nemoto responds, “Because the acronym “TAG” could be “catchy” and eventually it will be known by all. It is decided that everyone will contribute monthly dues to pay for the room rental and to also use as a stipend for invited acting teachers to hold monthly workshops for the group. Dues are set at $30 for four weekly sessions. Scene study ensues utilizing a video camera supplied by Hile for playback and actors critique each other (basically the same format used by Kindelon).

What’s In A Name – Eric Nemoto’s Choice Of The Moment Will Come To Last A Lifetime

TAG as a scene study group continues at the university and draws a consistent following with the usual attendees numbering 10 to 12. TAG sessions are held on Wednesday nights beginning at 7:00 pm and often extend to well past 10:00 pm. Some of the monthly workshops conducted by invited acting coaches include Dick Kindelon (who gives the first ever workshop), Garrison True (multiple times), and Dave Winston Barge, who would later go on to play a significant role in the evolution of TAG as a performance group. As it is the nature of most evolving organizations, members eventually decide that the group should become more organized. They decide that Leigh Ann Kinghorn will serve as president, Leilani Langhoff as vice president, and Eric Nemoto will handle the books as its treasurer. Nemoto files all the papers to create the group as an organization and establishes its checking account.

The Move To Yellow Brick Studio (1994-1995)

TAG members Kinghorn and Langhoff later meet up with local filmmaker Jon Brekke and film editor Mike Powell, who tell them that they have an available space where TAG can work out of for an hourly price. They (Kinghorn and Langhoff) both agree that the move is beneficial and Kinghorn convinces Nemoto to move the group’s meeting place to Brekke’s and Powell’s locale. It is the bottom floor of a building in Kaka`ako that houses their offices. This space, called by Powell and Brekke, “The Yellow Brick Studio,” becomes TAG’s enclave for their acting sessions and monthly workshops featuring invited acting teachers. TAG sessions become a very popular acting activity for local artists and at its height draws over 30 actors each week. Among the acting teachers who provide monthly workshops at the new venue include Dave Winston Barge, Genie Joseph, Kimo Kahoano, Paul Gleason, Richard MacPherson, and Keone Young. Leilani Langhoff proves to be the main organizer of these workshops.

The Original Yellow Brick Studio – Where TAG Would Move To And Grow

The Birth Of The Actors Ensemble (1995-1997)

While TAG sessions became very popular, for the few who are coordinating it, it became somewhat of an administrative burden. Kinghorn and Langhoff, wanting to grow and expand their own acting credentials made a decision to move to Los Angeles. Nemoto acknowledged this and so began contemplating plans for how the group will continue after they leave. But then, literally at their “going away” party, one of the invited guests, Dave Winston Barge (see inset photo), who had been a periodic monthly TAG acting coach, says it’s too bad that they’re leaving because he thought they would want to be part of creating and producing original plays, something he has had much experience in doing. Winston Barge, an actor/dancer/director from New York and California, trained in drama therapy, convinces Leigh Ann and Leilani to stay, and along with Nemoto and others, transitions the group from being primarily an acting class to an acting ensemble that produces its own original productions based on story concepts that evolve through improvisational exercises. Dave Winston Barge thus became TAG’s first artistic director and called the actors he will come to direct, “The Actors Ensemble,” and the first core group includes Eric Nemoto, Leigh Ann Kinghorn, Leilani Langhoff, Lena Kaneshiro, Shannon Mauck, Beverly Kai, Bernadette Garcia, Jennifer Kang, Mark Brekke, and Audrey Stanzler. He directs them in “Dances For Two,” a showcase of scenes that debuts as TAG’s first ever play. Dave eventually arranges with Brad Smith, to have “Dances For Two” filmed and shown on Olelo, Hawaii’s community TV station. So members of the cast spend a day filming their scenes in the Olelo studios and the production is eventually aired on community television. 

The Filmed Version Of Dances For Two, The Very First Stage Production Produced By TAG

It should be noted that actors Jennifer Kang and Mark Brekke were not able to be a part of the filmed version of Dances For Two. Kang had done a monologue in the stage version so her absence did not affect other members of the cast. But Brekke had performed in a scene with Stanzler. This meant that Stanzler then transitioned to doing a monologue, along with actor William Hughes (whose name is misspelled in the film credits), who was added to the cast.

TAG goes back to weekly acting sessions as Winston Barge takes time to decide the group’s next play. The group stop their sessions when Winston Barge decides on “The Neighborhood,” an extension of one of the storylines developed in “Dances,” with half of the original group continuing (Kinghorn, Nemoto, Kai, Mauck, Kaneshiro) and two new members joining up, talented Renee Mullen (who would later become Renee Brown and relocate with her husband, Michael, to Japan, where she focused on filmmaking), and the aforementioned William Hughes. Of those that would leave, Leilani Langhoff moves to Guam with her family and her absence is dearly felt. As with all of Winston Barge’s plays, the group basically starts out with just a notion, and proceeds to develop the ensuing script and the play with each rehearsal. “The Neighborhood” varies from “Dance” in the sense that it is the first true “full story” play, in other words, an entire story told with central characters that make up a single storyline that runs through the entire play (whereas “Dances” was a series of separate short scenes, some of which ties back to one another). Of particular note, “The Neighborhood” features an accidental development that is eventually incorporated into the play. On preview night, before just a couple of attendees, Leigh Ann Kinghorn, playing a character whose marital frustrations cause her to push her wheel-chair bound husband, played by Eric Nemoto, across the stage in a fit of anger, pushes way too hard. Nemoto, anticipating that he will be pushed off the stage, locks the chair’s wheels, but the momentum makes the chair fall over backwards and he with it to the stage floor. Of course, this presents a problem for the play to continue. His character is weak and crippled. How is he able to get back into the chair for the next scene? Fortunately, Shannon Mauck, playing a nurse who is scheduled for a scene with Nemoto after Kinghorn’s character has left, is advised off stage by Kinghorn of the catastrophe (while Nemoto remains prostrate on the stage praying that Mauck will do what he eventually in fact does). Mauck shrugs (“No problem”), comes on stage, and in a few short moves, pulls Nemoto back on the chair and the play continues. Winston Barge, totally impressed by the group’s ability to solve its challenges on the fly, asks the group (particularly Nemoto, who averted getting seriously injured), “Can we keep it?” The group, realizing he is serious, decides to keep the scene, and Kinghorn, Nemoto, and Mauck rehearse the wheelchair accident until they have it down solid. “The Neighborhood” opens with audiences particularly enjoying its most riveting scene that began totally as an accident.

These first plays are a reflection of Winston Barge’s vision, talent, and persistence. So confident is he in the process, that after determining each performer’s schedule, committing to a play date, and determining the general theme and title of the play, Winston Barge has flyers printed up which he then advises everyone to post around town announcing this new TAG play without a single word of the ensuing script being penned as yet. Winston Barge’s process has TAG plays created by actors participating in improvisational exercises, being assigned a character, writing dialogue as these characters which eventually he organizes into a script, which is then used by all to rehearse. TAG plays follow a usual six week rehearsal schedule and always open as planned. These plays are certainly original, often Avant-garde, and some would say very surreal. The audiences, however, are very small, and often there are more actors on stage than there are people in the seats. In the years of 1996 and 1997, Winston Barge continues his leadership of the group and produces “Letters To Cleo” and “Trapped.” “Letters To Cleo” brings Dorothy Stamp and Dorothy Mane to the group and gains TAG its first bit of notoriety as it is featured in a special television report (arranged by Lena Kaneshiro) on the local station, KHNL, and is referred to as “The theatre where you can literally reach out and almost touch the actors.”

Lena Kaneshiro Arranges The First Ever Media Coverage Of TAG

“Trapped” brings Sam Polson (see inset photo) – a former journalist, Air Force veteran, and experienced actor from Washington D.C. – to the group. His inclusion is significant in that he is the first actor to join the group with a significant background in theatre, having previously acted on stage in many productions. His experience goes on to lend a steady hand to the mostly novice stage performers who made up the group at the time. On Winston Barge’s insistence, the first “risers” are constructed for the tiny studio and the play area changed from the Diamond Head Wall to the Makai wall. Yellow Brick’s seating is incredibly intimate, with 30 small seats being the maximum capacity. Despite the availability, audiences continue to be very sparse. A “big house” is when the audience count hits double digits. Around 1997-1998, is when Winston Barge starts to express a desire to change his life’s path and advised all that he’d be stepping aside for a little while. He had long contemplated the opportunity to take a year off and travel and see the world and confided to the group that he felt he was reaching that time. So with Winston Barge taking a bit of a hiatus, the group returned to hosting acting sessions. Eventually, however, Winston Barge returned for one final play, again carved from improvisational exercises, called “On The Verge,” which brought to the ensemble Mike Mazzola, a frequent scene study participant, who would become another major player in the development of TAG in the future. “On The Verge” also was the first play reviewed by Advertiser theatre critic Joe Rozmiarek, who gave a very positive review of the play and first coined the phrase that TAG was like “penicillin mold,” in that it is a theater group that just seems to appear out of nowhere.

TAG’s First Play Review – Joe Rozmiarek’s Article Introduces TAG To Hawaii Newspaper Readers

After “On The Verge,” Dave Winston Barge made good on his desire to travel the world. He left the group and Hawaii, and with his departure other active members – Leigh Ann Kinghorn, Lena Kaneshiro, and Dorothy Mane – elected to pursue other creative interests as well. This left TAG founder Eric Nemoto literally as the only member of TAG remaining. On that fateful night when he sat alone in the Yellow Brick Studio risers, he contemplated that maybe the short but exciting journey of TAG was already coming to an unfortunate end.

Back to Top
Enter your Infotext or Widgets here...