By Jen Russo
When Rachel Deboer pulls out her completely undecipherable calendar, with curly-sued scribbles that cover every square inch of space on the page, I can’t help but giggle. “Don’t laugh at me,” she says meekly. “You can’t judge me by this.” Then she promptly finds an opening for a Monday noon lunch appointment and pencils me in, using her special brand of hieroglyphics.
She soon proved to me that her chaotic calendar is just a front. Deboer is a businesswomen, painter, theater producer, underground movement supporter, feminist, social commentator, actor, performance artist and mad scientist all wrapped up like a dynamo, spinning and working constantly. What’s more, she somehow showed up on time to our meeting while I was hopelessly late.
In the bright studio light at Akaku, The Ultraviolets–Deboer’s performance group–is preening with day-glo body paints, neon clothes and brightly colored props. At first glance, the costumes are garish and the painting imprecise. But when the studio goes dark, things come into perspective.
It’s fitting for a group that aims to be part burlesque, part comedy and part social change.
It’s also a large group with 13 members: Bryan Axtell, Adelle Lennox, Melissa Bruck, Jessica Friedberg, Trianna Crego, Manya Reinier, Jolie Strickland, Chelleigh Hoots, Chandra Krown, Nastassia Weit, Susanna Walczak-Pol, Christaline Wallace and Deboer herself.
“When the lights go down and the black light goes on, that is when the magic happens,” says Deboer. “I really like to make a lot of bridges and connections. Under the blacklight you can’t tell skin color. Every one is the same skin color. You can explore cultural themes without having a skin color in it.”
Deboer started body painting 14 years ago, and continues to develop the underground art form. In 2008, Deboer attended the World Bodypainting Festival and took third place in semi-pro world body painting. This July, the Ultraviolets will be one of just 15 groups invited to Austria to compete in the 15th Annual World Bodypainting Festival’s “World Flouro Awards.” There Deboer and her Next Level Theatre group (consisting of Melissa B. and Adelle BodyPaintGirl) will tell a story of color, dance and music on stage with fluorescent body paint in blacklight. Deboer will compete in the World Facepainting category as well.
The Europeans are ahead of the US when it comes to developing body painting as an art. The festival in Austria attracts thousands to the Bodypaint City, created during the seven-day event.
Body painting is high art in the rest of the world as well. People have been painting themselves in ritual, dance and fashion for centuries. “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the recent number one hit by Australia’s recording artist Gotye, shows Wouter “Wally” De BackerWouter getting painted head to toe.
Deboer definitely considers herself the underdog in the competition. But she looks forward to getting a crash course and then bringing her new knowledge back to Maui. Deboer says she’s completely committed to nourishing and authenticating the underground art scene on the island.
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Deboer first began developing her black light theater concept about five years ago. She called her production company Next Level Theatre. Her first production was “Birth of Tiki,” which she performed at the Source Interactive Festival in 2010. It explored Hawaiian cultural myths of creation. Next was the “E Na Aumakua,” which she performed for children and adults at the Celebration of the Arts held at the Ritz Carlton in April 2011. Deboer studied Hawaiian culture and history under a Kumu and absorbed all the stories elders would share to create her black light theater for all ages.
“I started with children’s theater,” she says. “I always want to do Hawaiian mythological theatre with black light for children. I wanted to give back to the island, that was my inspiration for creating the shows, my contribution. The style is a complete dichotomy from what I do with the Ultraviolets. It’s no coincidence the black light theatre really took off after I did the children’s Hawaiian mythological theatre.”
Clifford Nae‘ole, the Cultural Adviser at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, described the “E Na Aumakua” show as both avant garde and culturally significant. When the show went on, the crowd oohed and aaaahed at the glowing swimming sharks and turtles, while the live chanting and screenplay set the gripping storytelling scenes in place.
Under Deboer’s direction and production, The Ultraviolets take fluorescent theater in a completely unique direction by poking humorous fun at human relationships with something like peep show therapy. Deboer, who has 27 years in theater, a Bachelor of Arts in drama from the University of Florida, previous work in the Dream Theatre in LA and 11 years on Maui, wants to make her lasting impression on the island with silly, sexy, mind-bending black light burlesque.
“I really do want to change the world through art and comedy and sexy laughter and sexy goodness,” she says. “It’s my way of empowering women to be sexy by being funny. We are making light of relationships and the battle of the sexes. We are showcasing women by taking off our clothes but the underlying story line is evolutionary. I’m creating social commentary on how the brain works. Sex is the filter.”
With black light on and the lights off, the Ultraviolets come to life as they work the camera for our cover shoot. Hips adulating, legs up, lips open and masks on. Think of Deboer as a mad scientist who creates fembots that gives us a taste of the show.
Each castmember gets involved, from making props and their costumes to collaboration of situational skits based on various relationship experiences. They joke about how much of their show comes from Ace Hardware. Each girl or guy gets to be part of the creation of the performance, and as director Deboer encourages their suggestions and contributions and helps them turn ideas into theater.
She says she believes women are warriors of the heart. Her own burlesque show has guided her to her own self awareness about sexuality and relationships, and she talks openly about her romances on the island and how that has shaped her art.
“There is a disconnect between men and women, but through comedy and theater we can break through that,” she says. “We are putting ourselves out there in a sexually funny way. You can’t worry about being judged in life, that is where you run into trouble. You have to be yourself.”
The Ultraviolets will come alive at the Iao Theatre this Friday, June 1 during the Blacklight Venetian Masquerade Ball at the close of First Friday in Wailuku (doors open at 8:30pm). Paul Gotel of DivaDeva is co producing the event with Next Level Theatre, and spinning till the wee hours. Rachel G will open the show with a body art display, and following the Ultraviolets will be a Fashion Show by Jenny Jenson’s Island Nouveaux. The show runs on the same night as other underground artists create a surreal scene at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s ArT=MiXX.
The underground arts on Maui is heavy on interactive art, music, visual design, fashion, food, costume, DJs, music and theatrics. It will be in full effect under the stars at the MACC, where Deboer’s colleagues will create a parallel universe of adventurous music, fashion, food and fun.
“I couldn’t wait to tell my friend Trevor [Arnholt] about this show, and it turns out he will be doing a show at the MACC that same night,” says Deboer. “The amazing thing is we are all proving this doesn’t have to develop in big cities. It’s happening here. There are so many different types of theater, taking cues from events like Burning Man, creating fringe theater, doing things with the 20-something club folks. We are celebrating it all. I’m encouraging people to do both events: ArT=MiXX starts at 7pm.”
The opening of the Systemic Abstraction art show by S. A. Jones at the MACC’s Shaeffer Gallery kicks off ArT=MiXX, where 12 projection screens will flicker to life as the sun goes down. You can paint in light on the Maui Makers digital graffiti wall, or experience Gabriel Mott’s Colorbox first hand.
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Mott’s interactive art exhibit has four projectors using a hacked XBox Kinect. Colors and shapes will throb and react on four screens as you move inside the box. The Colorbox gets its turn with Azuray Swimwear bikini models later where it becomes part of the fashion show.
“This is a first,” says Mott. “The Colorbox has always been a freestyle experience inviting anyone inside to create the projections. I’m thrilled by the challenge of creating a set piece that still embraces live interactivity.”
A massive projection screen (22 feet across) showing “Splitface Motherboard,” a work by Trevor Arnholt, will also be on display. This will be followed by a live VJ set from Randy Mills and a collaborative projection dance piece by Doug Deboer (Rachel’s ex-husband–Rachel says they’re still good friends) and Jessica Dungans that creates light and color out of organic oils and waters and dyes.
“We’re creating an interactive video playground,” says Arnholt, the event producer. “The experience is visually stimulating, very contemporary, very cutting edge. This is an art experience you’re not going to experience many places on the island, let alone Hawaii. And it’s free!”
All the artists brought their creativity to February’s Source Interactive Festival, where part of the underground art scene incubates around a three-day camp at the YMCA’s Camp Keanae. Hundreds of participants brave the muddy grounds in costumes, expanding their own comprehension of art, theatrics and music through interpretation of other campers.
Event attendees create their own mini-culture environments. Everybody does some kind of art, capturing creativity and exchanging it on higher levels. At Source, Rachel Deboer’s Circus Tent was a hub of arresting activity, bands, DJs, catapulting items (literally, there was a full-size catapult that kept flinging things in front of the circus tent), as well as her signature theatrics, body paint and costume.
But now, Deboer is packing up her circus tent to head to Austria with members Melissa Bruck and Adelle Lennox while still surging with electric current for her upcoming show at the Iao Theatre. The show is critical to her, not the least for bringing in funds to pay for her Austria trip. Deboer also has an ongoing fundraiser (indiegogo.com/austria2012) where you can donate to the team’s mission to get to Austria and get some perks in return.
“Everyone loves the backlight, it’s so simple and fun,” says Deboer. “I want people to come to the Ultraviolets show and come away thinking about women and sex differently. More empowered and more relaxed in whatever interpretation you can make for your own life.”
Cover design by Darris Hurst
Photo by Sean M. Hower