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Tess Cartwright: BE all you can BE

By Staff | Oct 13, 2011

Tess Cartwright’s “The Garden of BE” was recently staged at Iao Theatre.

WAILUKU – Joyous. That’s how Tess Cartwright, former caricature artist, head of Whalers Realty’s vacation rental business and now playwright, looked at her 70th birthday party a few weeks ago on a YouTube video. For Tess was also celebrating on the very same day the debut of her new joyful musical fantasy, “The Garden of BE,” at the amazingly restored Iao Theatre.

The first encounter with Tess came years ago at a reception, where she wore at her waist some kind of orange thingy creature made of recycled plastic from an old detergent bottle. She gifted me the curious thing, and it was promptly hung in less than a place of honor in our garage. One day it disappeared. Could it turn out to be the equivalent of losing a Picasso drawing because it wasn’t appreciated?

A decade later, creatures like that one starred in a well-choreographed musical in the making for 15 years that ended a two-week run Oct. 2 in front of packed houses.

The story of BE began in 1994, when Tess took over a 2,000-square-foot unused commercial space at Kahana Gateway to give free art lessons to children. Seeking art materials, Tess spotted a laundry nearby and soon was fashioning empty plastic bleach and detergent bottles into colorful characters. Trash into art!

One of her first creations was Bud Burrid, cut free from the plastic and embellished with red, yellow and black permanent markers to draw eyes, beak and tongue. The plastic was reborn.

One day, Tess wrote, “I lifted a clear plastic water bottle to take a drink and saw the sparkling convolutions of a flower in the bottom of the bottle. The image seemed to speak to me, saying, ‘I will be your garden.’ I lifted the scissors from by desk and began to cut. That magical moment propelled me into the unlimited possibilities that may be released from ordinary household plastics.” The idea for a musical was born. First came a plot, lyrics, getting her brother to use a synthesizer to record music, a second rendering on a synthesizer by a professional and then three years ago a presentation to Alexis Dascoulias of Iao Theatre. The dynamic, well-credentialed Alexis bought in.

Maui music teacher Joseph DeRose joined to write new music and become musical director. Members of the Maui Pops orchestra recorded the 18-instrument score at Baldwin High School. Iao Theatre’s Steven Dascoulias would direct. Some 20 very colorful plastic characters – some elaborate – were created, auditions were held and two dozen singers and dancers won parts.

The play opened, and a Maui News critic wrote he was “bedazzled.”

What “The Garden of BE” is all about is subject to interpretation, not possible in a short space. Although everyone’s takeaway may be different, the message is one of joy. Essentially, the play is about God and the survival of the planet.

Tess, a spiritual person, said God loves all things, including the rocks and plants. Religion is bigger than ME. My God needs to be your God. Why is one religion’s God better than another’s? Jihad is senseless. Why are we fighting with each other? Will we survive after Earth’s inevitable end? Will we migrate to another galaxy? Will the planet survive or will Earth simply be a bad experience?

Tess wrote that production “puts forth the concept that there is a universal message within the English alphabet symbols B, E, M and W. When these letters are combined, as the words BE, ME and WE, or BEMEWE, the powers of the symbols are Eternal. I AM is both ME and WE. ME and WE are ONE. The individual and the community are BEMEWE; the powers of the symbols are released.”

Explaining further, Tess said, “B stands for female energy, growth, fertility and new life, and its color is blue, for water. M is for male, the mountain, the land, the character rendered in red. W is for joy, the absence of suffering and sorrow.”

What all this adds up to, apparently, is the individual in the community should be all they can be.

Got that? If not, wait for the documentary of the play now being filmed. And maybe one day, see it on Broadway – if Bud Burrid gets his wish.