Young professional actors stage productions by local playwrights. ©Brad Goda
If you’re a parent, you’ve almost certainly signed the field trip permission slips, and maybe even gotten to tag along. If you grew up here, you may remember going on the field trips as a kid. Or maybe the annual production of Christmas Talk Story was once part of your holiday tradition. However the connection’s made, one thing seems certain: Whether you realize it or not, your island life has probably been touched by Honolulu Theatre for Youth. And for the people behind the HTY magic, it’s their greatest hope they’ve made your life just a little bit better.
“It’s a special gem to have a children’s theatre in your city,” says Annie Wood Cusick, former artistic director of London’s Polka Theatre for Children, a world renown talent in the world of children’s theatre, and now an HTY Board member and playwright. “HTY is considered one of the best in the world! And here it is, right here in Honolulu.”
The program’s focus is laser-specific: Do worthwhile, quality productions — not fairy tales and predictable children’s fare — with a strong emphasis on local culture and writers. Almost half of the HTY productions are original works, created by local playwrights and directors. The 2014-2015 season includes “Ku A Mo’o,” done in collaboration with Bishop Museum, tackling the story of the Mo’o lizard-bodied guardians of old Hawaii, while “Grinds” is a musical romp of humor, history and science exploring what we eat and why.
Most of the productions are done in their adopted home, Tenney Theatre, and students are bused to town for the show. For the outer islands, however, HTY takes the show on the road, even driving the road to Hana, if that’s what it takes. HTY is also the only U.S. theatre company to tour the islands of the Western Pacific — Yap, Marshall Islands, Palau — where some locations are so remote access is only via canoe.
“LOST” and “Hawaii 5-0” (both renditions) are part of the HTY fabric. Jack Lord chaired the first HTY fundraiser back in the early days, and Daniel Dae Kim is now a regular on stage, behind the scenes and at every fundraiser. HTY icon Jane Campbell remembers meeting Kim for the first time. “‘I knew the original,’ I told him,” she says, referring to Kam Fong Chun, the original Chin Ho and also an HTY regular. Even Hollywood’s darling Bette Midler got her start on the HTY stage in a supporting role in a production entitled “Young Jefferson.”
Campbell recalls the early days when newcomer to Hawaii, Nancy Corbett, declared that Hawaii’s children deserved good theatre, delivered in a language they understood. A well-educated woman with a vision, Corbett was good copy for Campbell, a Star Bulletin reporter. In 1958, Corbett declared “Let’s do a play!” launching Jack & the Beanstalk as HTY’s first official production.
When Campbell left her desk at the Star Bulletin in the late 1950s, Corbett lassoed her into the HTY fold, where shehas spent the last 50 years as volunteer, PR person, managing director and now Board member. “I’m thrilled they asked me to be on the Board,” Campbell says. “I’ve spent all these years complaining about the Board, and now I’m on it!”
More information about HTY, including information on season tickets, can be found at htyweb.org.