The Season of Reemergence cover of The Dramatist includes an illustration of a chrysalis hanging from a budding branch and emerging monarch butterfly
Hawai’i: Theatre Across Our Pae ‘aina
Cast of Ho‘oilina by Akea Kahikina, Hawaiian Theatre Program, Kennedy Theatre, UHM, 2022.
Cast of Ho‘oilina by Akea Kahikina, Hawaiian Theatre Program, Kennedy Theatre, UHM, 2022. Photo by Jonah Boblin.

‘Ano‘ai me ke aloha mai Ko Hawai‘i Pae ‘Aina! With the newly developed skills of digital theatre in place, many theatres across our archipelago remained vacant of audience members for the fall of 2021. Artistic teams across Hawai‘i’s theatre community continued strategies to create virtual theatre experiences for our community while the house management teams carefully prepared performance venues to welcome back audiences at the beginning of 2022. Most of the nineteen theatres registered with the Hawai‘i State Theatre Council rehearsed for pre-recorded and livestreamed virtual productions over the summer months and into the fall. Hawai‘i’s patrons and theatre artists yearned to commune with one another, to share space and story, to laugh and cry communally; we yearned to have a live theatre experience again. Masking, vaccines, and booster shots enabled artists and patrons to once again return to the theatre for an impactful engagement. The recalibration over the 2021-2022 season fostered a slow and mindful return to live performance. 

Kumu Kahua Theatre offered a virtual reading of Edward Sakamoto’s Stew Rice to jumpstart their hybrid season. Known as one of Kumu Kahua Theatre’s most watched productions, the virtual performance featured the original 1995 cast starring Jason Scott Lee, Sharon Aoki, Karen Kaulana, Brian Mimura, Michael Sun Lee, Amy Nishihara, and Marcus Oshiro. Following Stew Rice, the theatre’s season featured four world premieres: #HAOLEBOYFRIEND by Stephanie Keiko Kong and Tony Pisculli, The Kasha of Kaimuki by Hannah Ii-Epistien, Who You Again by Ryan Okinaga, Blue by Wil Kahele, and a remount of a historical play. The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, written by playwright and novelist Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, depicts the life of Kuhina Nui Ka‘ahumanu, queen consort of King Kamehameha who was one of the earliest members of the ruling class to convert to Christianity. The play was originally scheduled for the spring of 2020 to coincide with the bicentennial celebration of the arrival of the missionaries on Hawai‘i Island.

Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY) continued digital offerings during the 2021-2022 season for families and schools, which began with the Emmy Award-winning television series The HI Way in 2020. With the easing of COVID restrictions, HTY welcomed back audiences into Tenny Theatre to experience four different plays: Musubi Man by Lee Cataluna, adapted from the book by Sandi Takayama; Reiko Ho’s The Carp Who Would Not Quit; Holoholo Na Holoholona: Animals on the Go by Maki‘ilei Ishihara and the HTY ensemble; and ‘Imi A Loaa: Search and Find, created by Moses Goods, Inamona Theatre Company, and the HTY Ensemble. 

Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College developed a double feature virtual production in the fall of 2021. iHula, written by Ryan Oki Okinaka, explores the cultural perpetuation and legacy of hula, traditional Hawaiian dance. The story follows four different women trying to overcome their fears, pride, and insecurities in order to discover the true meaning of the hula. iHula was paired with Walter, adapted and directed by Taurie Kinoshita from Woyzeck by Georg Buchner, considered the first truly modern play and based on actual events leading to the first attempt at an insanity plea in 1824. Set in a contemporary world, the play uses non-realistic drama and expressionistic techniques to demonstrate struggles with mental illness. Paliku Theatre welcomed audiences in 2022 for the world premiere of Lee Tonouchi’s Oriental Faddah and Son. The play weaves the poems from Tonouchi’s award-winning poetry book Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son (Bess Press), to investigate Tonouchi’s heritage while highlighting the values of the Uchinanchu (Okinawan immigrants and their descendants in Hawai‘i).

The University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s (UHM) Kennedy Theatre produced twelve productions over the hybrid season of 2021-2022, which opened with fully realized digital streaming productions and eventually welcomed audiences back into both the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre and the Kennedy Theatre mainstage. He Leo Aloha, written and directed by Kaipulaumakaniolono, opened the season with a digital recording of the hana keaka (Hawaiian-medium theatre) world premiere. The play explored the power and limits of the leo, voice, articulated through poetic expression and original musical compositions. Supported by a twelve-piece band led by R. Keawe Lopes Jr. of Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha, the six characters in this play seek true aloha in one another and in the knowledge of their ancestors. He Leo Aloha received eight national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in April 2022 and will be featured at Reflections of Native Voices in partnership with Safe Harbors NYC, New York Theatre Workshop, and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club this summer. 

Next in the UHM season was a live stream of Interstellar Cinderella, based on the children’s book by Deborah Underwood, putting a new spin on the classic tale. January 2022 ushered in a socially distanced live-audience experience with Marion Lyman-Mersereau’s Eddie Wen’ Go: the Story of the Upside-Down Canoe, a giant puppetry TYA production, sharing the story of Eddie Aikau’s heroism through the eyes of ocean creatures. Live theatre continued with a celebration of the plays of popular pidgin-language playwright Edward Sakamoto in Hawaii No Ka Oi: A Sakamoto Celebration that featured a quintessential collection of selected scenes from his life’s works. Another world premiere from the Hawaiian Theatre Program closed the Kennedy Theatre season, Ho oilina written and directed by Akea Kahikina. Set in a pre-pandemic Hawai‘i, the farcical hana keaka knocks on the door of a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) family anxiously poised for a will reading that will determine the fate of a huge inheritance from their beloved matriarch. The multilingual production confronts family secrets, the pressures of capitalism, and cultural loss. Other productions in the Kennedy Theatre season included The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder), Human Pavillon (Chinen Seishin, English translation by Robert Tierney), two dance productions with original choreography Sphere and Co-Motion, and a selection of new plays produced by the student-driven Late Night Theatre Company: We Emerge, House Rules, and Keep it Brief…A Festival of Short Works. Kennedy Theatre’s ambitious season produced noteworthy productions as they transitioned mid-season from prerecorded and live streaming productions to live audience experiences. Three of those productions, He Leo Aloha, Hooilina, and Hawaii No Ka Oi: A Sakamoto Celebration, are now poised to be presented at the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists virtual festival. Both He Leo Aloha and Hooilina will also be featured at KEAKA: Hawaiian Language Theatre Festival produced by the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo this summer. 

Eo from the Moku o Keawe, Eric Stack here. How quick the year goes and here in the ‘aina of the Kanilehua rain, it doesn’t take long for things to flourish. It was another full year of productions for our island community as we came out from underneath the shadow of COVID-19. The playwriting hui established in April 2020 is now named Keakalehua. Dedicated to the development of new works with a focus on the cultures of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, Keakalehua fostered the development of several new works including Jackie Pualani Johnson’s Liliuokalani At Washington Place and Peter Charlot’s Lorrin Thurston: In His Own Words. Pualani Johnson also had another original play produced at UH Hilo’s Performing Arts Center, Wordsworth, The Poet, scripted from the award-winning books of Frances Kakugawa. UH Hilo’s Performing Arts Center also produced a streamed version of Jeannie Barroga’s Banyon in September 2021.

Other notable efforts this year, Victoria Kneubuhl penned Ke Kaua o Ka Lahui: The Life of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole. This history performance examines the early territorial years through the life of Prince Kuhio. Also, my ongoing collaboration with Herb Mahelona has created a new Hawaiian Rock Opera, based on the early life of Kamehameha I, titled Paiea. A workshop version will be presented online through UH Hilo’s third KEAKA: Hawaiian Language Theatre Festival. Pai ea’s world premiere is being planned for next March 2023 at Kamehameha Schools, Hawai‘i and is slated to go to the Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe through the American High School Theatre Festival in August 2023. 

The loosening of restrictions has given life back to theatre companies across our Pae ‘Aina. We’ve navigated the uncertainty of the pandemic to bring audience members back into our venues. We look forward to next season with hope. Ke aloha no kakou. 

World Premieres: Hawai‘i

Ho‘oilina by AKEA KAHIKINA. Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI

Tammy Haili‘ōpua Baker
Tammy Haili‘ōpua Baker

is a playwright and the artistic director of Ka Hālau Hanakeaka, a Hawaiian medium theatre troupe. Her work centers on the development of an indigenous Hawaiian theatre aesthetic and form, Hawaiian language revitalization, and the empowerment of cultural identity through stage performance. 

Eric Stack
Eric Stack

is a playwright from Kea‘au, Hawai‘i. He writes plays about his home, Hawai‘i. He is the author of Mū, Vitae, Brought to Bear, and Kupe‘e (winner of 2019 Kumu Kahua playwriting contest). He has also written the book and lyrics for the Hawaiian operas, Hā‘upu, Kū I Ka Mana, and The Battle of Kuamo‘o.