Puppeteer retells Koʻolau story on three islands

January 21st, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Campus News  |  1 Comment

stage scene of multimedia performance

The University of Hawaiʻi welcomes home theatre designer and director Tom Lee, with his multi-media puppet theatre production Koʻolau: A True Story of Kauaʻi, for performances at campuses on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi during spring 2010.

Praised by The New York Times and NYTheatre.com, this intimate and inventive retelling of a native Hawaiian paniolo’s resistance to forced exile to Kalaupapa in the 1890s employs the little-known puppetry technique kuruma ningyo (wheeled puppets) along with shadow projections video and an original score for shakuhachi, hammered dulcimer and guitar inspired by nature sounds and Queen Liliʻuokalani compositions.

Lee, a Mililani High School graduate, credits UH Hilo’s Summer Program for the Enhancement of Basic Education for first exposing him to his signature style and his vocation.

“We worked on the (Japanese folk tale) story of Momotaro, building not only the bunraku-style puppet, but a scrolling stage background—some of the same techniques I have used in my own productions,” Lee says. “I played the left hand of the puppet. So many of us from that one summer on the Big Island are still in touch and several still work in theatre. I think for us as young kids at that time, working in a university environment on theatrical material really bonded us together. I’m very excited that Koʻolau will now be seen by family, friends and former teachers.”

Lee studied contemporary and traditional Japanese puppetry in Japan through a grant from the Theatre Communications Group and National Endowment for the Arts. He won grants from the Jim Henson Foundation for the development of Koʻolau and is a principal performer for the bunraku-style puppet in Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, directed by the late British film director Anthony Minghella.

Performances are scheduled at Kauaʻi Community College Performing Arts Theatre on Feb. 28, Windward Community College’s Paliku Theatre Mar. 5 and UH Hilo Performing Arts Center on Mar. 10.

Tickets for the Oʻahu performance, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Arts and Minds event sponsored by Outreach College, are available at etickethawaii.com, by calling (808) 944-BOWS or through UH ticket outlets in Rainbowtique Ward Centre or Downtown, Stan Sheriff Center and Mānoa Campus Center.

For more information, call (808) 956-8246 or visit Mānoa Outreach College online.

Ticket information for neighbor island performances are available at the Hilo Performing Arts Center website. For information on the Kauaʻi performance, watch the theatre website.

Koʻolau: A True Story of Kauaʻi is part of a Performing Arts Presenters of Hawaiʻi tour made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Western State Arts Federation and Windward Community College.

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  1. William Sollner says:

    February 1st, 2010at 12:24 pm(#)

    I lived on Kaua’i for many years and am familiar with the story of Koolau. If a DVD of the production is available, I would like to purchase one.
    Anyone interested in puppetry can see my puppets by Googling PIED PIPER PUPPETS.