After a yearlong hiatus brought about by a $225,000 debt, a decline in ticket sales and erosion in grant support, Waimea’s Kahilu Theatre will have a 2013-14 season.
There is a new focus, said Tim Bostock, Kahilu’s artistic director, “to re-imagine it as more of a community hub, to be more inviting to community organizations that want to use it, for big events or small.”
“I was aware that it wasn’t particularly supportive of outside rentals,” Bostock, who also runs a promotion business, said. “I think we can do everyone a big favor by being more welcoming and helping those shows to succeed, just like our own shows. I’m trying to do away with the difference between them and what we’ve traditionally seen as the theater’s season.
“Since 2008, there’s been an enormous drop in funding from family foundations and individuals prepared to give large amounts of money, and this has been happening in theaters and arts organizations across the country. There’s no more money from the Richard Smart Foundation or from Parker Ranch for the theater,” Bostock added.
Smart, a Broadway actor and cabaret performer who owned Parker Ranch, built the 490-seat theater, which opened in 1981, for $1.5 million.
“He supported it hugely when he was alive,” Bostock said. “There was always deep pockets the theater could turn to, and there was the perception, I think, that when he passed away, the more wealthy in the community would continue to support the theater, but there wasn’t an effort to expand its base of support.
“The theater only gets about 30 percent of its income from the tickets, so the other 70 percent was totally disappearing. There are some hard costs that go with theater operations. We pay a CAM (common area maintenance fee) to the shopping center … to allow our patrons to park in the shopping area.”
Bostock said events, such as a recent family fun day, at the theater were used to launch a new membership program among those in the community who don’t necessarily have deep pockets.
“We’ve had a lot of people sign up for membership, mostly at lower levels, but we’re making sure that there are discounts for tickets at every level of membership,” he said. “It will give us a broader base in the community and more of a sense of belonging.”
The theater also asked community members what they’d like to see, and the response included more Hawaiian music.
The season will open Sept. 21 with Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole and Kekuki Kanahele. As part of the theater’s ukulele and slack-key guitar institute, there will be shows with Ledward Kaapana and Nathan Aweau on Nov. 15 and Cyril Pahinui on Nov. 16. Amy Hanaialii will perform a Christmas concert Dec. 19, “slack rock” master Makana will play Jan. 31, and the Brothers Cazimero will close the season May 10.
World music shows include bluesman Keb Mo on Oct. 16, the Honokaa High School Jazz Band on Nov. 10, Zimbabwe musician Oliver Mtukudzi on Jan. 24, bluegrass stars Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum on Jan. 26, Celtic supergroup Danu on March 22, and folk rockers Sarah Lee Guthrie — daughter of Arlo Guthrie — and Johnny Irion on March 29.
There will also be a variety of dance performances starting with “Yankady-Here is Good?” — a fusion of West African dance with modern rhythm and movement created by Fara Tolno of Guinea on Oct. 19 and 20, Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance on Feb. 12, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” by Rhythmic Circus on March 15 and Australia’s CIRCA, which combines dance with acrobatics and tumbling, April 4 and 5.
Classical performances include Kona Music Society’s presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 1 and Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko, this year’s Van Cliburn gold medalist, Feb. 19. The Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra plans its return to the Kahilu stage in April.
Theatrical productions include Honolulu Theater for Youth’s “Nothing is the Same” on Nov. 8 and “A Korean Cinderella” on Nov. 9. Kahilu will present the musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on Jan. 10 and 11 and “The Vagina Monologues,” directed by Jane Sibbett, on Feb. 8 and 9, and the Hawaii Opera Theater’s “Opera Express” performance on May 5.
Sibbett, known for her recurring role as Carol on the hit TV sitcom “Friends,” and fellow director Beth Dunnington, who also relocated to the Big Island after a long Hollywood career, are now both members of Kahilu’s board of directors.
“They know about theater. We now have a much stronger board because of those two,” Bostock said. He also praised the board’s holdover members, who he said “worked like eager beavers to get the ship righted again.”
Bostock said the theater is always looking for committed volunteers to help keep it viable. To volunteer, or for membership and season tickets, call 885-6868.
“I think this theater has become ingrained in the mind’s eye of the community and the community was not about to let it go,” Bostock said. “This is not about outsiders coming in and making it happen, this is about the community coming together.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.