Final curtain for Kahilu Theatre


Saddled with a $225,000 debt, a 50 percent ticket salesreduction and decreasing grants and local support, Kahilu Theatre will close Saturday — at least for a year.

The Waimea theater that has hosted the performing arts for more than three decades will shutter for a “2012-13 season intermission,” Kahilu Theatre Foundation Board of Directors President Evarts C. Fox said Wednesday. The closure is effective Saturday evening, following The Brothers Cazimero concert.

“We never gave up, but the reality has sunk in,” said the board’s Vice President Michael Bonahan. “This was a hard-fought decision — we’ve struggled as much as we could with it.”

The closure is being termed “an intermission” because the theater hopes to reopen in time for the 2013-14 theater season, said Fox. To make that happen, the volunteer 13-member board of directors will meet throughout the summer to develop a reorganization plan to pay off debt and make the theater sustainable.

“The board is dedicated to staying on and is ready to work to get this thing done,” Fox said.

“No one is resigning. We are all working hard over the next several months to put on a 2013-14 season,” Bonahan said.

Four full-time and three part-time employees at the theater will lose their jobs in mid-June, said Janet Coburn, the theater’s managing director. Coburn holds one of those paid full-time positions.

The theater operates on an annual budget just under $1 million and revenues it’s currently receiving are half of what is needed, Fox said. It costs about $10,000 a month to keep the facility open.

Since about 2008, ticket sales at the theater have decreased by half, except for free and reduced-price events, Bonahan said. While the free or reduced-price events, such as the theater’s deal of $5 each for five events, sold out and helped the theater fulfill its mission, it did not provide the funding necessary to support theater operations.

In addition to lagging ticket sales, Bonahan estimated federal and state grants the theater once received have dropped by 40 percent. Local support and other sponsorships have also fallen.

Opened in February 1981, the $1.5 million theater was the idea of Richard Smart, a performer, Waimea resident and sole heir to Parker Ranch. The 490-seat performing arts center was given the name Kahilu, a name derived from Smart’s mother’s middle name, Kahiluonapuaapiilani.

In 1992, Smart died, but the theater remained part of the ranch until 1994, when it became independent. In 2001, the Kahilu Theatre Foundation was established and secured a 30-year lease to operate the theater. Funding from Smart ceased then, leaving the foundation to secure outside funding sources.

According to the theater’s prepared statement regarding the closure, Kahilu Theatre entertained and educated more than 30,000 people, including area students, during the 2011-12 season. At its high point, Bonahan said the theater reached upward of 50,000 people.

Ideas and suggestions concerning future programming, operations and fundraising may be emailed to Future@kahilutheatre.org or made by calling 885-6019. Donations can be made at the theater’s website, kahilutheatre.org.