'Pirates' a popular draw at the fair

YO HO HO: Creator of troupe found Hollywood connections came in handy.

September 2, 2011 

PALMER -- What bloodthirsty corsairs have to do with the 75th anniversary of the Alaska State Fair is anyone's guess. But Pirates for Hire is proving to be a popular draw among this year's attractions.

The traveling troupe is performing in a tent off the Yellow Trail near the fair grandstand. Dressed in swashbuckling gear, long locks and swaggering boots, they take on characters reflective of cinematic buccaneers from Capt. Blood to Capt. Hook to Capt. Jack Sparrow.

In a mix of stunts, swordplay and comedy, they present their show three or four times a day. Between shows they stroll the grounds and pose for pictures with fans.

Pirates for Hire was created by Ted Shred, who is also in the cast. Like most in the troupe, Shred, a former rock drummer, has Hollywood credentials. The son of a Hollywood stunt man and animal trainer, he's worked in films like "Wayne's World 2" and "Naked Gun 33 1/3."

He really didn't plan on developing Pirates for Hire into a show, he said. It was more the result of chatting with colleagues and discovering a mutual fascination with piracy.

Shred was working on the set of "Charmed" when he ran into Mitchell Tagami and the two started talking about pirates. Tagami, who admits to having gotten into acting almost by accident by virtue of supplying cars for "Fast and Furious," eventually had a small part as an Asian pirate in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. "I have almost the same costume in the movies as I do here," he said. But most people remember him for a brief scene in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." "They say, 'Aren't you that guy in the bathroom?' "

"Ever since I was a kid, I loved the old pirate movies," he said. "I was always interested. But I never thought I'd actually be one."

Shred was also a fan of pirate flicks as a child. But he admits to a personal connection. A Dutch ancestor was a successful pirate, he said, accumulating a couple of castles that still stand in Holland.

Shred said he was using his movie connections to create themed events for celebrities like Eddie Murphy when he came up with the idea of pirate parties in 1992.

"It was a full-on business by 1998," he said. " 'Pirates of the Caribbean' came out in 1999. So I was ahead of the curve."

Today the company performs at fairs and events around the country. Right now eight members are in Alaska and another eight are at the Colorado State Fair.

The show is free. The performers are paid directly by the fair, which arranges for housing and meals.

"We don't charge for the photos," said Shred. "I'd feel awkward about that."

Noting the standing-room-only crowds, he said, "Everybody loves pirates, from 7 to 70, men and women." (The cast includes female buccaneer characters.) "To them we say: Come out and get in touch with your inner pirate."

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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