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The ever popular performance phrase, “the show must go on” is taking on an essence of its own this fall at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance and Kennedy Theatre. The theatre’s anticipated 2021-22 mainstage season opener will be streamed online, giving audiences the opportunity to tune in amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The world premiere hana keaka or Hawaiian Theatre program production, He Leo Aloha, follows the story of a group of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) students at UH Mānoa and their struggles with finding and navigating love and the meaning of true aloha.

The production performed exclusively in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) was written and directed by Kaipulaumakaniolono, a theatre MFA candidate. “Although it’s a regular story about someone getting caught cheating and then all the friends getting involved, what makes it interesting is they’re not going to go gossiping about each other. They’re going to turn to traditional mele (songs) and really use the insights gathered from those songs we’ve been singing for generations to figure out what love is and how to love each other better,” Kaipulaumakaniolono explained. “To me, ‘true aloha’ is to love somebody and want what is best for them regardless of your personal jealousies or your personal ties to them. ‘True aloha’ lets them do what they need to do for themselves.”

Ticket prices for UH faculty, staff and students range $5–$10 for the virtual production set to premiere October 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and October 10 at 2 p.m. The story incorporates traditional mele and original oli (chants) to accentuate and highlight the importance of language and the power that it carries. A 12-piece live band will be featured under the direction of Kumu R. Keawe Lopes Jr., director of the UH Mānoa Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language. The musical arrangements are made possible through a special collaboration with UH Mānoa mele preservation center, Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha and the Tuahine Troupe from the Hawaiian Language department.

“Regardless of your experience with ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, you should be able to appreciate, connect to and understand what’s going on with the story,” Kaipulaumakaniolono said. “People who don’t speak [the languages in] opera still go and appreciate it. It’s my personal responsibility to make sure the story can be understood and I’m certain that it will.”

The flourishing of hana keaka

In 2014, the Hawaiian Theatre program was formally established at UH Mānoa by Associate Professor Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker. Lāʻieikawai, an inaugural hana keaka production she wrote and directed, played to sold out audiences on the Kennedy Theatre mainstage in 2014 before touring to Hawaiʻi Island, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Aotearoa (New Zealand). In January 2020, Baker’s production ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On, was showcased off-Broadway in New York City.

For more information about the show visit the department’s website.

Go to Kennedy Theatre for a full list of the 2021–22 season productions.

This production is an example of UH‘s goals of Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF), Enhancing Student Success (PDF), two of the four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

Three people
From left: Ikaika Mendez, Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker and Kaʻula Krug (Photo credit: Jonah Bobilin)
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