The first time I took my daughter to the Iao Theater in Wailuku to watch a show, her chin literally dropped as she craned her little body forward in the big fold-up seat when the ugly duckling transformed in the Maui Academy of Performance Arts [MAPA]’s Honk. As any parent or teacher will tell you, there’s nothing quite like the look on a child’s face the first time they experience the magical world of theater.
But theater isn’t just for kids. In fact, most of the productions put on at the Iao Theater are geared more toward a general adult audience.
The Iao Theater has been around since before my grandparents were even born–in 2009, it will celebrate its 80th birthday. Over the years, I’ve seen many different productions there–musicals, dramas and even an all-male revue called Sex Appeal which, needless to say is one of my favorite memories. I will never hear the song, “Take my Breath Away” nor view ice cream cones the same way ever again.
Though many different groups produce works at the Iao Theater, Maui OnStage has been the “keeper” of the theater since 1984. It’s a nonprofit, professional community theater. That means the actors are volunteers, the staff is paid and a board of directors governs the organization.
Alexis Dascoulias, originally from New Hampshire, took over as Executive Director this past June after Darla Palmer resigned. Under Palmer, the Iao Theater largely showcased musicals. But when she left, things changed; new dramas, including an adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs by Alley Cat Productions, began appearing at the theater.
“When I came in, Maui OnStage was right there on the brink of taking it to the next level,” Dascoulias said. “It had definitely been primed before I came on board.”
I was surprised and a little smug when I discovered that everyone at Maui OnStage, from the technical director to the marketing head, all have extensive theater backgrounds. And not just any theater, but impressive ones like the Denver Center Theatre Company, which in 1998 won the Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre.
Generally, Maui OnStage produces about four “Broadway type” shows per season. Examples from the recent past include: You Can’t Take it With You, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Full Monty and Blithe Spirit.
Besides the four main shows, under the direction of Dascoulias, Maui OnStage has started several new programs. Recently, they have added the Hawaiian Cultural Concert Series. They will be producing, along with Jason Sadang and Kealaokala Records, 10 productions per season. December’s A Maui Christmas to You was the most recent production of the series.
Maui OnStage has also started holding adult acting classes and musical workshops for adults and children. “We’re looking to fill whatever has been missing here on Maui when it comes to theater,” Dascoulias said. “We’re not planning on dance classes or anything like that–clearly MAPA has been doing a great job with that.”
A major addition to the season is Bare Essential Theater (BET). It’s a monthly reading of a play that’s free and open to the community.
“It’s a great opportunity for high school students to come and listen to some of their required reading for English being read live,” Dascoulias said. “With these new programs we hope that there’s a little something for everyone out there in the community. Theater brings people together. When a group of people experience something–an emotion or idea together like you do when you watch theater—it’s very powerful.” MTW