The History Of The Actors’ Group (TAG)

Part 2 – Prophecy

In retrospect, as Eric Nemoto sat alone in the theater, the end of TAG looked imminent. He took time to process through the various stages of emotion and grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – but did so in a  rather quick fashion (it might have been an hour). Deciding that his work of over four years was worth making at least one phone call, Eric called Mike Mazzola (see inset photo), who invited him over for dinner (pasta and wine), during which Mike uttered the statements that would eventually turn to be prophetic, “You don’t know this right now, but this actually is the best thing that could have ever happened, Eric. Don’t worry, we’ll make TAG bigger and even better.” In the years 1998 through 1999, Mike demonstrated that he wall willing to put maximum effort and action behind his words. He and Eric, along with Dorothy Stamp and Sam Polson (two periodic participants with TAG in both scene study and Dave’s plays are recruited back by Eric) start to rebuild TAG. An initial acting workshop coordinated by Mazzola, presented by veteran Hollywood actor Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica), was a great first step in keeping its current band of actors together and participating in creative opportunities. After that, Mike produced “An Actors Showcase,” a compilation of scenes that were selected and performed by the participating actors (Eric, Mike, Dorothy, Sam, and about four more who had joined the group). This particular production is significant in retrospect because it was the very first time that Brad Powell (who would later become TAG’s artistic director) was to ever associate with TAG. In wanting to prep the showcase for its audience, Mazzola asked Powell (who was then known to all as Mike Powell’s dad) to come and direct the group. With Powell’s help, the showcase premiered to a packed house and was very successful. Both events were immensely successful. Hatch’s acting class drew about 20 actors, and the showcase played on one night to a packed Yellow Brick Studio house (36 maximum seating).

Richard Hatch’s Acting Class (Left) & TAG’s Showcase Of Scenes (Right) Help Usher In A New Era

The Significance Of The Workshop And The Showcase: When expressed years later, it might seem that events with such stated attendees (20 for one and 36 for another) was nothing special. But it must be viewed against what TAG typically drew for its innovative plays. As mentioned previously, those were the days when a double digit audience was a good night. The absolute success of both the workshop and showcase that Mike Mazzola produced was received by the group like a shot of adrenaline, especially after it had sunk to, arguably, its lowest point ever. These proved to be incredible morale boosters to a new TAG, led by a new core group.

After these events, Eric then wrote, “The Committee Responsible For Exposing The Reverend Terry Jamestown,” which Mike produced and Jon Brekke directed. “The Committee,” a comedy drama, went on to fill the seats at Yellow Brick and provided even greater momentum for the group. It provided TAG, truly, with its greatest audience attendees, which included a double showing on the production’s last day which brought 45 to an early matinee show and 55 to the last show at night. This one day total of a 100 is still the TAG one day record. To view the video of the play as recorded during one of those shows on the final day, see the page about The Committee Responsible For Exposing The Reverend Terry Jamestown, in the Movies In Development section of this website, and scroll down.

“The Committee” – Eric Nemoto & Dorothy Stamp Lead An Ensemble Cast In TAG’s First Hit

“The Committee Responsible For Exposing The Reverend Terry Jamestown” is also famous for being the first TAG production with an established set. Prior to this production, TAG was essentially known as a black box theater (the vision of Dave Winston Barge) for which the entire set was painted black and the black boxes itself had been constructed by actor Shannon Mauck. Dressing the set to simulate the offices of a psychologist, Mike went around town and found carpeting, paintings, a sofa, chairs, side tables, and a work desk, from various sources including second hand stores such as Goodwill, which was not lost on reviewer John Berger (see review to follow). It started a trend that continues today, that of TAG devoting time to proper set design.

“The Committee” – The Set Might Have Been Cheesy, But It Revolutionized TAG

The success of “The Committee” led Jon Brekke to produce “An Entity Without Material Reality,” a dramatic rendering of his poetry. The project evolved from a simple poetry reading that would be filmed continuously, to actors instructed to act out their readings in the form of characters reacting emotionally, to incorporating wardrobe and avant-garde face paintings, with everything filmed in relation to each poem being a scene unto itself, and then edited altogether. It actually resulted in the departure of Sam Polson from TAG for a brief period of time due to his frustration that what he thought was a simple poetry reading evolved into him having to devote much more creative time that he had not anticipated nor signed up for. While not produced specifically as a TAG production, “Entity” is still considered part of the historical evolution of TAG in that everyone who appeared in the production were essentially the core group at the time. The meaning of the title is that it is the definition of the word, “Soul.” The filmed version can be seen in its entirety on the History Of Collaboration (between Eric Nemoto and Jon Brekke) page.

The Title Screen Of The Filmed Version Of “Entity”

“Entity” was followed by Eric Nemoto’s “Trees,” which he wrote in two days, and which was directed by Mike Mazzola, which was inspired by the exploits at the time of Julia Butterfly Hill, for which Eric had heard an interview with Hill on the radio as he traveled to work one day. Hill had lived in a 200-foot, approximately 1000-year-old California redwood tree for 738 days between December 10, 1997, and December 18, 1999. Hill had lived in the tree, affectionately known as Luna, to prevent Pacific Lumber Company loggers from cutting it down. She ultimately reached an agreement with the lumber company to save the tree. Dorothy Stamp starred as Carol Ann Dooley, the character based on Julia Butterfly Hill. 

The Complete Filmed Version Of “Trees,” Starring Dorothy Stamp, Directed By Mike Mazzola

“Trees” became famous for three things: 1) the great acting by lead actress Dorothy Stamp; 2) the amazing set design created by Mike, which featured a wooden platform (constructed primarily by actor Willy Curran) surrounded by dozens of Douglas Fir trees (which Mike collected by visiting homes discarding their Christmas 1998 trees); and 3) Mike garnering the group’s first featured article in Honolulu Magazine.

The March 1999 Issue Of Honolulu Magazine Featured TAG’s First Magazine Article On “Trees”

Mike Mazzola’s active leadership of TAG would cease after “Trees,” but his impact would be profound. He had either been the guiding light or was an integral participant in five consecutive activities – The Hatch acting workshop, the actors showcase, “The Committee,” “Entity,” and “Trees” – that served to keep TAG going when it needed it the most. In essence, Mike accomplished exactly what he said he would do, not only helping to keep TAG alive, but making it bigger and better than it ever was before. His tenure could be described as “Prophesies made, prophesies kept.”

In retrospect, Mike Mazzola’s leadership and contributions to TAG was brief, but arguably, the most important of all. For had he not agree to help Eric Nemoto at its most critical of junctions, TAG would likely have never continued, and rather than evolve into one of Hawaii’s best community theaters, it would have been forgotten altogether. For this, Mike Mazzola is forever enshrined in TAG lore and is bestowed the title of being the savior of TAG. Effectively he served as the vital bridge in between Dave Winston Barge, TAG’s first artistic director, and Brad Powell, TAG’s transformational artistic director. For this, TAG forever owes him a depth of gratitude.
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