It’s clearly a human enterprise, seen in cultures all around the world: putting on a mask, acting a role, setting the stage, and telling a story through theatrical performance. And like thousands of other communities across the country, Waimea has its own community theater, run by volunteer technicians, actors, set painters, directors, producers, and costumers, who come together to perform a play, to share the delight of live theater with a local audience.
This year, Waimea Community Theatre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the group, which began with its first production in Kona in 1964 as the Kona Community Theatre, later the Kona Coast Players, then the West Hawaii Players.
WCT is Hawaii’s third-oldest community theater group, after Honolulu’s Diamond Head Theatre and the Hilo Community Players, and has produced nearly 200 performances in its 50-year history.
For its 50th anniversary season, WCT is reviving some favorite plays that were performed over the years, including “Music Man” originally performed in 1988 and revived in the summer of 2013, and “You Can’t Take It With You,” the group’s very first production in 1964, that was performed a second time in 1982, and will be opening for its third run on Feb. 28. This spring, Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” originally played 10 years ago, will be revived, with a creative new look for the costumes and set.
Peripatetic no more
In its early years, the theater group performed wherever it could find a stage: in hotels, galleries, and community centers. They wrote original plays, performed on the radio, and once did a television production.
The group relocated to Waimea in 1981, and became based in the Parker School auditorium, at the request of Richard Smart, the last Parker Ranch heir. The school was not using the theater at the time, so Smart made a deal with WCT to perform in the space. Over the years, WCT added the backstage area and built the dressing rooms, green room, lighting box, and bathrooms.
During the 1990s, WCT ran a five-week summer teen theater camp that taught young people about all aspects of theater, from performance to costumes, lighting, and set design. Local businesses supported the camp by providing funding for scholarships for local students. The program culminated with the performance of an original play that was well attended by the community.
According to Miguel Bray, who has been a member of the board of directors for 30 years, “We are the only community theatre that has operated in the black for 50 years.”
“We have pursued a path of fiscal austerity, and we depend on the generosity of our community,” said Bray, describing the all-volunteer operations of the theater group. WCT has maintained an energetic and full schedule, producing not only three or four plays a year, but also twice-yearly choral music events since 1994 with the Waimea Community Chorus.
The theater community has reflected the composition of the Waimea community, said Felicity Johnson, active WCT board member, who has acted, directed and designed costumes with WCT for more than 20 years. Short-term residents like those from the two telescopes in town have gotten involved. Families have joined the cast and performed together in many of the shows.
In 2004, an Army colonel from the Pohakuloa Training Area and his wife got involved with the theater and not only acted in plays, but made unique masks for a Shakespeare production, with blinking eyes and moving parts.
Through all the years of these comings and goings however, a core of dedicated theater enthusiasts has kept the organization moving forward. But leading the charge, behind the scenes, in the productions and everywhere in between has been Bray — who has poured all of his time and talent into bringing joy into the community through entertainment.
“Miguel has been the backbone of the organization, fulfilling multiple roles and capacities,” said Barbara Kopra, director of the Waimea Community Chorus, “Director, choreographer, producer, board officer, founder of the chorus, lighting designer, set builder, running tech, overseeing the box office and balancing the checkbook! In some capacity Miguel has contributed to the success of each and every show since he began working with WCT.
“Over the years, Miguel (Bray) has been the heart and soul of Waimea Community Theatre,” said Johnson in agreement. “He is a perfectionist, and keeps every aspect of the theater running smoothly. He is not only a talented actor, dancer and choreographer, but is also the historian, the banker, and the publicist,” said Johnson.
“Miguel does the work of 16 people,” said Jack Watson, president of the WCT board of directors.
Once an actor …
Everyone who is involved with Waimea Community Theatre, whether newcomer or long-term volunteer, expresses the personal satisfaction that comes from being involved with live theater, and its somewhat addictive qualities.
When Watson moved to Hawaii a few years ago, he planned to retire from theater. His most recent position as a professor of drama provided him with an artistic staff of designers and production support. “I told myself that I was too old and tired to do this without my professional staff,” he said. “But I found out that I couldn’t live without theater. It’s the joy of my life. I couldn’t replace it with snorkeling.”
“Theatre is a drug,” said Johnson. “Once you get hooked in, you just can’t stop.”
“Our mission is to reach out to the community, and give them a taste of theater,” said Johnson. WCT has recently tried doing play readings, where the actors don’t need to memorize lines, and generally perform to a smaller audience. This gives newcomers a chance to try theater without the full commitment of a stage performance, she said.
“There is something for everyone in community theater,” said Watson. Whatever skills you bring to the group, as actor, painter, usher, seamstress, writer, will be welcomed and appreciated, he said. It’s easy to get involved, because each show is a short-term effort, for a concrete goal. And along the way, you find a sense of family with the group, and feel accomplished, he said.
What do you get when you bring together a car mechanic, a conservation biologist, a retired nurse, a store owner, an orchestra conductor, and a flower farmer from the North Hawaii community? The cast of the newest WCT production of “You Can’t Take It With You” that opens in the historic Parker School Theater on Feb. 28. Fifty years after its debut performance, WCT is again bringing the crazy Sycamore family back to life in Hawaii.
Kaufman and Hart’s comedy was written and set in the 1930‘s, and in its 77 years of performances, has won a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, an Emmy and an Oscar.
“This was probably the first American sit-com,” said Watson, the play’s director, and lifetime veteran of professional theatre. “In this play, you can see the roots of every television comedy that came after it: an unusual family with their individual quirks being thrown into one funny situation after another. It is not sophisticated wit or intellectual farce; this play allows comedy to have a heart,” he said.
Parker School high school student Mady Harper plays Alice Sycamore, the younger daughter who gets engaged to the boss’s son. She has been acting with WCT for the past three years.
“I really love community theater because of how different it is from a school theater group,” she said. “Working with adults has helped me grow so much as a performer. I always walk away from a production with great new skills that I learned from the adults in the group.”
“I think the director and cast are all fantastic and this production will be funnier than the movie,” said Dan Bal, the owner of a Waimea auto repair shop who plays the part of Mr. DePinna, the ice man who arrived at the house eight years ago and just stayed.
A main character in the play is the independent, fun-loving family patriarch Grandpa, played by Waikoloa businessman Bob Haber.
“I love the theater. This play has so many different things happening at one time, and very funny characters played well by the cast,” said Haber.
There are still opportunities to get involved with this production, said Watson. The set will be assembled and dressed this coming weekend, and the more hands, the lighter the work. Assistance with lighting, sound, costumes and make-up are always welcome, too.
Directed by Watson with assistance from Rick Turnbow and produced by Shannon Nelson, the family-friendly comedy will run at the Parker School Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. from Feb. 28 through March 9. Tickets are $15 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, children, military, and for advance purchase. Tickets are available in Waimea at Waimea General Store, and Without Boundaries Gift Shop, and in Kailua at Suite Possibilities, as well as from the cast and at the door. More information is available on the group’s website, www.waimeacommunitytheatre.org, on their Facebook page, or by calling 885-5818.