children and adult looking at taro leaf
Keiki Kalo lead artist Melisa Orozco Vargas show keiki the magic of kalo. From left, Marli Faria, Zaire Kilinahe Camacho, Zen Au. (Photo credit: Kennedy Theatre)

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre + Dance and Kennedy Theatre present Keiki Kalo, an interactive hands-on educational entertainment experience created for ages 0–4. Keiki Kalo explores the themes of community, culture and the relationship humans have with the earth through the taro plant. Keiki Kalo runs from September 21 through December 7 at Kennedy Theatre’s Earle Ernst Lab Theatre.

Marli Faria explores a patch of kalo. (Photo credit: Kennedy Theatre)

Keiki Kalo is co-coordinated by Melisa Orozco Vargas, a graduate student in the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) program and TYA faculty member Mark Branner.

The story centers around a character whose sister is expecting. She wants to do something very special for the baby and realizes that kalo would be a wonderful gift. It would grow while the baby grew and provide healthy sustenance as the baby’s first solid food: poi.

Farming kalo can be a big task so the sister recruits ʻohana and children from the community to help. Orozco Vargas reflects on her own motherhood in crafting the story, “As a new parent, you have a chance to shape the world of your growing ʻohana,” she said. “It is an opportunity to be very intentional. What dreams do you have, what lessons have you learned, ad what environment will you create for your child? Growing our own food has been a top priority for me since my children were born.”

While planting the garden for the new baby and watching the kalo grow to maturity, audience-participants will encounter strange and funny visitors: frogs, ʻelepaio (small Hawaiian forest bird) and pinao (dragonflies), characters creatively crafted and portrayed through the art of puppetry.

Setting the stage

Before the show begins, audiences pass through a “transition area” where keiki can care for the land by gardening.

Developed with community stakeholders who are either knowledgeable in kalo cultivation or early childhood education—most notably Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and educators Uncle Calvin Hoe and Kalā Hoe, Leilani Au and Jeffrey Brock of the UH Mānoa Children’s Center—the production celebrates ʻāina while exploring the gift that is kalo in a way that is relevant to young children.

Keiki Kalo lead artist Melisa Orozco Vargas teaching keiki about the huli (kalo shoot). From left, Marli Faria, Zen Au and Zaire Kilinahe Camacho. (Photo credit: Kennedy Theatre)

Ticket information

Keiki Kalo runs at 9 and 10 a.m. on September 21 and 28, October 5 and 26, November 16 and 23, and December 7. The production is designed for a small audience, lasts approximately 35 minutes, and has floor and bench seating.

Tickets are on sale online at, by phone at (808) 944-2697 and at official outlets. Any remaining tickets on the day of the show will be available for purchase at the door. Seating is very limited.

Ticket prices (includes all service fees):

  • $10 Adult
  • $8 Senior, Military, UH Faculty/Staff
  • $8 UHAA
  • $8 Students
  • $5 Youth (2-17)
  • $5 UH Mānoa Students with Valid ID