Back in July, I ran into Roslyn Catracchia, director of worship and performing arts at a local church who happens to be Portuguese and Hungarian, just like me. (That combo is a rarity, trust me.)
She also happens to be the musical director for the biennial Gridiron Show, a full-on production at Diamond Head Theatre put on by the Hawai‘i press corp to raise money for internships for journalism students.
I hadn’t been in the cast of this show since 2008 — and I was just in a video skit, not even on stage. I tried to return the year after but got sidelined because of an ankle fracture sustained while training for the marathon. (That’ll teach me to run in one of those!)
I had often debated about returning, but the time commitment and stress was just too much, and, for the past few years, I actually never considered doing it again.
The same day I ran into Roslyn, I get a Facebook message from her.
“Cat! Gridiron!! I miss you!! Whatchu tink??? Maybe maybe??!! Come on, so much fun!!”
And she wasn’t the only one, either.
Robbie Dingeman, editor of HONOLULU Magazine and longtime artistic director of the show, had encouraged me to attend a couple of ratings sessions. A few other friends, not in media anymore but still in the show, prodded me to return. And my husband, who had never even heard of the Gridiron, insisted I go back, if not just so he could get tickets to see the show.
So I did.
But it wasn’t an easy decision.
I had just started an intensive 18-month leadership program and took on the role of editing the new Hawai‘i Farm Bureau magazine. I had a lot on my plate. Taking on a show — which meant several rehearsals a week and all-day sessions on the weekends — seemed like a lot more than I could handle.
So I decided to start small. I wasn’t cast in too many numbers and I didn’t want to overcommit myself.
Turns out, though, I only missed a few rehearsals due to my other commitments and managed, somehow, to get all of my work done, keep the house fairly clean, and walk the dogs every single day.
It can work!
A bit about Gridiron: this incarnation of the show, which was revived in 1998, raises money for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Hawai‘i Chapter to fund student internships. “Gridiron” refers to the griddle used to roast; it has nothing to do with football — unless we’re mocking the UH football team.
The show, which closed on Saturday, features songs and skits ripped from the headlines, full of political satire and huge Broadway-style chorus numbers that mock everything from Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s P-card spending at a local hostess bar to Native Hawaiians protesting the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea. (Nothing is sacred with the Gridiron.)
In 1998, a dozen cast members appeared in the first performance at the Waikiki Terrace Hotel, raising money to partially fund seven $2,700 internships at Honolulu media outlets. The following year, the show moved to the slightly bigger venue — the Tropics Showroom — at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And in 2000, Gridiron relocated to the 475-seat Diamond Head Theatre with a cast of 15, adding wigs, costumes, choreography and props, turning this into a bonafide production. By 2007, the show would sell out in a matter of weeks. In 2013, tickets were gone in hours.
To say this show is a hot ticket isn’t an overstatement. This year’s four-day run was sold out in less than three hours.
I had forgotten what I had loved about Gridiron. It’s not the chance to get on stage and make an ass of myself — though I thoroughly enjoy that. And it has nothing to do with fulfilling some lifelong dream of singing and dancing in front of a crowd of people who actually bought tickets to be there.
I just love the people.
The dozens of cast and crew members — ranging from TV anchors to prop designers to microphone technicians to makeup artists — are all pros at what they do, even if it’s not always what they do for a living. They’re efficient, hard-working, reliable and, most importantly, fun to be around. I’ve never laughed so much — or had my hair stroked so much — than when I’m around these people.
And it’s all for a good cause, too.
As a former journalism instructor at a local community college, I’ve had students earn these internships and gain invaluable experience — plus a paycheck! — at various news outlets. And some of my closet friends and former coworkers were past SPJ interns. The value of this program is immeasurable. And imagine — I support it by dressing up as a construction worker or UH Rainbow Dancer! That’s pretty cool.
And there’s something special about being part of a production like this.
For starters, it’s nice to be around other media types — we all geek out on current events! — especially when you’re a lonely freelance writer holed up at home all day. And it’s a completely different environment, the theater, than anything else. You’re playing dress up and pretend all night. (Unless you’re an angry commuter. That hit close to home.)
And then there’s the fun stuff the audience never gets to see. Like how veteran performer Cathy Foy photobombs practically every shot you take. (We’ve hashtagged her the #foybomb.) Or how Hydroflasks aren’t always filled with water. Or how much dancing goes on in the wings of the stage. Or how awesome the food was, particularly the home-cooked Mediterranean spread by Lynette Lo Tom. Or how you can have a conversation about eyelash glue and getting pregnant all in one dressing room.
I can’t explain it.
Big shout-out to the cast and crew, who made my return to the Gridion so memorable and fun, I’m already thinking about the 2017 show. And a special nod to my cave mates — Ashley, Malika, Olena, Vicki, Robbie, Esme, Terri, Jen, Moani, Shannon and Colette — for keeping the laughs going in-between numbers. Fun times, indeed!