Unmasking A Leeward Community College Artist
Michael Harada working late hours in the art studio.

Crafting real and imaginary worlds through masks is both a challenge and a joy for Michael Harada, Leeward Community College assistant professor of art. He’s been working tirelessly on the current Leeward Theatre production of She Kills Monsters, sculpting a masterful brigade of papier-maché demons and ogres for the comedic romp through the world of fantasy role-playing.

Harada holding ogre mask
An ogre mask in progress.

More than a dozen full-head masks were created for the theatre production, along with an array of props. Harada spent an average of 10-12 hours on each mask.

“I knew how important these visual elements were going to be in the intimate performance space,” states Harada. “The play is an ambitious project for such a small space. The visual impact of the masks was really important, so when Betty (Burdick, the director) asked for my help, of course I jumped on board.”

Harada’s fascination with masks began in the early 90s when he started collaborating with Monkey Waterfall, a local dance theatre company. He’s gone on to design and construct masks, props and sets for Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Kumu Kahua, Mānoa Valley Theatre and, of course, Leeward Theatre productions.

When asked how doing these projects impact his teaching, he replied with a knowing grin, “It reminds me of the value of hard work.”

Harada graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree and master of fine arts in printmaking. He presents workshops on making masks from recycled cardboard as part of Leeward’s Earth Week activities and continues to expand his mask-making skills. Last year, he learned the traditional wood carving techniques for Japanese Noh theatre masks.

—By Kathleen Cabral

A row of demons await a final coat of paint.