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The performing arts hopes and dreams of Leeward Community College students and the surrounding communities got a major boost in 2019, after the three-year renovation of the Pearl City campus’ Leeward Theatre. Nearly $12 million in improvements included increased stage crew access, replacing the theater seats and modernizing the stage and lighting.

A jubilant Leeward CC staged Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights in January 2019, and bookings began to pick up speed. It all came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 closed the campus in March 2020.

Today, after a combined five years of dormancy, the only major arts presenter and arts education center serving the Leeward and Central Oʻahu communities is welcoming audiences back through the storied lobby featuring a 100-foot-long mural by Jean Charlot to comfy new seats and the glow of the LED-lit stage.

Makalapua launches new season

 Betty Hill in Leeward C C Theatre
Betty Hill
Mokihana Garcia in Leeward Theatre
Mokihana Garcia
Lalea Nilsen in Leeward C C Theatre
Lalea Nilsen

The Liliʻu Project’s Makalapua debuted in September and a full slate of renters have booked the new facility through the end of the 2022–23 season.

The current crop of students couldn’t be more excited.

“I think it’s gorgeous,” said Betty Hill, who volunteered as a stagehand for Makalapua. “It’s my first experience in a theater ever. It’s never been available to me before so I love it.”

Mokihana Garcia grew up in Waiʻanae and is hoping to perform in the new theater.

“A real stage like this is unknown, at least in my experience, so revolutionary,” he said.

Lalea Nilsen had the opportunity to perform ballet in Leeward CC’s Pau Hana, when the theater opened briefly in 2019.

“It’s beautiful,” Nilsen said. “I love the backdrop and how many people can fit in the audience.”

The shows go on

New Leeward Theatre Manager Elisa Olson has been in theaters all over the country—in 49 states to be exact. She has worked as a production stage manager for national tours and also served at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Olson in Leeward C C Theatre
Elisa Olson

“We have something very special here, which I am very excited about, and the ability to utilize that is fantastic,” Olson said. “As far as what we have to offer and our capability, we can do just about anything.”

Her work now is both external and internal. Musical theatre, popularized by shows such as Glee, could be among Leeward’s future offerings.

“Honestly what I’m the most excited about is the ability to really engage with the community and build a program that’s here that represents Leeward,” Olson said. “We are planning on coming back for our 50th anniversary, which is next year, and offering a full slate of what we expect from Leeward Theatre and some new things along the way.”

Ahead at Leeward Theatre:

  • Hawaiʻi Ballet Theatre – Nutcracker (November 25–27, 2022)
  • UH Mānoa Bands (December 4, 2022)
  • Hawaiʻi Symphony (December 13, 2022)
  • Pas De Deux Hawaii (December 9–10, 2022)
  • Hawaiʻi Symphony (February TBD, 2022)
  • X1 Entertainment – Piper Rockelle—Social media influencer (February 19, 2023)
  • Starpower Talent Competition (March 4–5, 2023)
  • Treasure Box – Goldmine Dance Comp (March 24, 2023)
  • UH Outreach College – Atamira Dance Company (April 14–15, 2023)
  • EnerGy National Dance Competition (April 22–23, 2023)
  • UH Mānoa Bands (April 30, 2023)
  • ʻIolani Schools (May 6, 2023)
  • Ballet Hawaii (May 12–14, 2023)
  • Island Pacific Academy (May 27, 2023)
  • Spotlight Dance Cup (June 2–3, 2023)
  • Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy (June 9–10, 2023)
  • Pas De Deux Hawaii (June 16–18, 2023)
  • Waipahu Community School for Adults (June 24, 2023)

—By Kelli Abe Trifonovitch

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