Leisure choices on the Large Island are nonetheless in flux
It is usually during this time of year that most of the Big Island’s performing arts theaters begin their annual season.
But a year and a half after the novel coronavirus pandemic, nothing has returned to normal, so the venue managers are looking for alternatives.
Perhaps nothing illustrates this as well as the University of Hawaii website at the Hilo Performing Arts Center, which is still posting the 2019-2020 season events. In bold it says: “There are currently no upcoming events.”
“I would like a time when we could say to you, ‘Okay, that’s exactly what is happening.’ But it’s just not possible. We just don’t know, ”said Lee Barnette-Dombroski, the centre’s manager, last week.
There’s an event on the horizon – a performance of Banyan, a post-9/11 fantasy by San Francisco-based Filipino-American playwright Jeannie Barroga, streamed online.
“It’s not live,” said Barnette-Dombroski. “We were filming in June when the number of (daily) cases was low and the number of indoor gatherings was 25. … All were vaccinated.
“The streaming link will be available on September 11th.”
The play, directed by Justina Mattos, an assistant professor of acting, was the final project by the theater’s longtime technical director, Rob Abe, who recently retired. It will be available online through September 13th.
The Palace Theater in downtown Hilo sold out in July with an 11th performance of “Beauty and the Beast” to a limited house and was preparing for a fall production of Mel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” – but the current surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant thwarted these plans.
“To do this, we will stop production and put all samples on hold. We see spring as a possibility, depending on how things go from here, ”said Phillips Payson, the theater’s manager.
Payson said the Art Deco Theater in downtown Hilo will continue to offer film programs with limited seating and will continue its “Live From the Empty Palace” music videos on YouTube every Wednesday.
An album resulting from these performances has been nominated for the Na Hoku Hanohano Compilation Album of the Year Award.
“It’s on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon – streaming on all of those platforms,” Payson said.
“We’re doing some funny film programming for now. We have a pirate weekend ahead, the ‘Cat Video Fest’ returns next weekend and until October we have a good mix of creepy classics – and of course ‘Rocky Horror’ on Halloween.
“We are severely limited in our capacity at this point, so there is a lot of space in the 500-seater theater to distance yourself and to distance yourself socially.”
While technically not a venue, the East Hawaii Jazz & Blues Festival, a fundraising event for veteran relief projects, was a popular affair at Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo every late October until the pandemic forced last year’s event to be canceled .
“We’re not giving up the East Hawaii Jazz & Blues Festival because we have a righteous cause going on and people are longing for it,” said Bob Williams, retired army lieutenant colonel and festival organizer.
“What we had planned was to withdraw easily, with a light lunch and jazz on the porch – a small thing, socially distant, out on Nani Mau’s porch. We originally planned to do it on August 23rd and then on September 23rd. Now it’s still for the rest of the year. And hopefully we can do something that doesn’t require a lot of numbers to pay off. So we’re still in the game.
“We can do that with musicians in the country. God knows we have enough talent to do this. “
Ahead of the current surge in infections, the Kahilu Theater in Waimea hosted a live performance by Hawaiian music icon Robert Cazimero to a limited audience in early May – a nod to the annual May 1st concerts that Cazimero and his late brother Roland a Big Island- Tradition.
“This was our first return to theater with an audience,” said Sara Nealy, Executive Director of Kahilu. “And after that we got an exception to do other things in the theater with a live audience, and it looked really good – and we got an upgrade to a higher capacity level.
“… And then we had to do something unthinkable. We had all of these wonderful kids rehearsing for Matilda the Musical. And four days before the opening, we had to close everything.
“It was pretty heartbreaking.”
Nealy credited Chuck Gessert, the creative director of Kahilu, for Kahilu TV, a subscription service that brings live performances to the public via digital streaming devices. She called it “a godsend during COVID”.
Kahilu TV has featured performances by Hawaii’s favorite music artists and hula halau.
Next up is Paula Fuga at 7pm on September 19th. Your show will also be available as a stand-alone purchase for non-subscribers. Details can be found at www.kahilutheatre.org.
“The Kahilu TV productions, in my opinion, are what sets us apart from many of our colleagues,” said Nealy. “You might archive something on occasion or put something on YouTube, but we’ve invested heavily in a professional digital platform and now we’re using it in ways that I don’t think everyone can do.”
And the Aloha Theater in Kona is in “watch and wait” mode, according to Melissa Geiger, the theater’s manager.
The Kainaliu venue had its own live production of “The Two Musketeers” before the climb.
“That was for 75 guests, a quarter of our capacity,” said Geiger. “We have really good protocols and felt very comfortable. But right now, a live performance doesn’t seem like the most responsible decision we can make. “
However, the theater has planned a live production of “Romeo and Juliet” for October, which is still on the Aloha calendar. Most of the roles are filled, but the theater has put out feelers online so an actor can play Romeo’s friend Mercutio.
“This increase has been heartbreaking for the staff because we have so many wonderful things we want to do to get the community involved,” said Geiger. “… Our board of directors has supported us a lot, our community has supported us a lot and we appreciate all the kind words and messages that have reached us.
“And that keeps us going day in and day out.”
Email John Burnett at [email protected].