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poster of eddie wen' go production
Artist: Emily Wright, MFA candidate in theatre

Twenty people made history as they were cast for Eddie Wen’ Go, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Kennedy Theatre fall 2020 production.

The audition process was far from normal. Eddie Wen’ Go Director and Associate Professor Mark Branner led the theatre’s first fully virtual audition.

“It worked remarkably well,” Branner said. “I have done some auditioning online before where I just schedule a time when people who are off-island to sing for me or do a monologue on the computer, but I’ve never done the whole process online.”

Audition process changes

Auditions were held via Zoom on May 8–9 and callbacks were on May 10. Those wanting a spot were required to act, sing and perform a movement.

person smiling on a screen
Lily Kim-Dela Cruz auditions via Zoom.

“It worked quite well,” Branner said. “We would do something similar in a live version where we have people stand outside a door and sign in and come in one at a time to audition for the creative team and so this was a similar thing. We had the playwright, the assistant director, the choreographer and myself, the director, sitting in a virtual Zoom room.”

After the first audition, more than 20 people were invited to the callback, which involved a different format.

“We set up these breakout rooms where we would have people read a scene together and I would assign them to read different roles,” Branner said.

Plot and cast

The production is a tribute to big wave, championship waterman Eddie Aikau. It is based on the book Eddie Wen’ Go: The Story of the Upside-Down Canoe by Marion Lyman-Mersereau, who was on the Hōkūleʻa when it capsized in 1978 on its way from Oʻahu to Tahiti. Aikau paddled on a surfboard looking for help. But, he was never seen again. Suitable for all ages, the production is told by the sea creatures who may have seen his heroic act.

Eddie Wen’ Go cast:

Sea creature characters

  • Robert Torigoe as Tutukāne Koholā
  • Elizabeth Gannaway and Victoria Kashiwai as Kaleo Koholā
  • Lily Kim-Dela Cruz and Jorin Young as Lele
  • Kalā Muller as Mr. Manō
  • Christopher Apina and Audrey Castaneda Walker as Mr. Honu
  • Alison Bruce-Maldonado as ʻIwa
  • Isaiah Avilla as ʻIlio-holo-i-kauaua

Human characters

  • Michael “Donut” Donato as Ikaika
  • Paul Yau as Nanaka
  • Lily Kim-Dela Cruz and Jorin Young as Manu


  • Jessica Israel as Kaleo
  • Nicole Takahashi as Kaleo
  • Meenakshi Kutty as Kaleo
  • Fay Schneider as Tutu
  • Olivia Coughlin as Tutu

Dancers and Movers

  • Iana Weingrad
  • Dulcinea Sabin
  • Erika Sanchez

Kim-Dela Cruz graduated in spring 2020 with a BA in theatre and will be an MFA theatre student with a focus in Hawaiian theatre. She is looking forward to a new experience with this production. “I have never done a Theatre for Young Audiences show, or even a show using puppets, so this will be a new experience for me. I am looking forward to working with my friends in bringing this amazing story to life.”

Donato, a Leeward Community College graduate working toward a BA in theatre at UH Mānoa, acted in a similar production in 2014, but said there will be some changes. “I’m most looking forward to the new elements that will be introduced to this iteration of Eddie Wen’ Go, from the new cast members to the new puppets. The original production was very near and dear to all of us that worked on it, and I am very eager to introduce this important, heartfelt story to a new set of eyes and hearts.”

Muller is an MFA theatre student with a focus in Western acting. He was offered the role of Mr. Manō, a pidgin speaking shark who was ʻaumakua to a few Hōkūleʻa crew members. “My goals are to prepare my body via stretching for the physical demands and creative opportunities physically to explore how a shark would move or speak or gesticulate, and to commit myself as fully as possible to the success of this production and the creative team’s vision for it.”

Next steps

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the production staff is committed to starting rehearsals in August in preparation for opening night on September 19. However, the team is ready with multiple contingency plans during the constantly evolving situation.

“Within the guidelines of the university and our department, we’ll try and keep going as much as possible and then try to be flexible with one another,” Branner said.

—By Marc Arakaki

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