Encore Newsletter July 2020

Message from Deena

Dear DHT Ohana,

I hope you are all well, staying safe and finding some small moments of joy in this crazy COVID-world.  There is no way to describe these last few months. For me, it meant coming to an empty theatre illuminated only by our ghost light on the stage and yes, it did feel ghostly here!

Outside, the streets were completely empty, and when I would venture out (masked!) to pick up a takeout lunch, the mall felt like a scene from a horror movie. You know the ones where the entire civilization is gone and only a gigantic alien remains. I’m sure you all have similar stories!  Write them down, so you can look back at these days and marvel at what you went through. And I hope that the looking-back and marveling is sooner rather than later!

Meantime, DHT is starting to come alive again. Some staff have returned and are busy taking care of our cancelled season and cancelled shows. If you have not heard from us already, please call the Box Office at 733-0274. 

The amazing and wonderful news is that to date, many have opted to donate back their tickets. As I have said before, we realize everyone’s situation is different, and asking for a refund does not mean that someone loves DHT any less. But it was just nice to see the efforts that were made. 

What’s next? Well, we are hoping to send out a revised season slate sometime in July. To give you an idea of our plans, the season, at this point, may start with the holiday production---still “Elf” but with a twist---and we plan to offer a stand-alone version of “Freaky Friday” (not part of subscription series) in October.  Plans could still change of course. It’s that kind of time. 

Our education programming this summer will be a mix of Zoom and hopefully some on-site, in-person classes. We’re testing out Drive-In-Live (!) theatre so we’ll keep you posted. Finally, we are going to try to be in touch more often, since we cannot see you in person. 

It’s all new, a bit daunting on the financial side, but exciting! Thanks for your support, your friendship, and your love for our little theatre. A hui hou.    

                                                                                       


A LOOK BACK...AS WE LOOK FORWARD

By: John Rampage

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella has always had a special place in my heart. Not only had I grown up watching the 1960’s televised production, but I also made my professional debut as a dancing horse in a Chicago stage production. So when we decided to open the 1999 DHT season with that show, much like the prince with his glass slipper, I went out in search of a Cinderella.

Enter Melissa Short, Miss Hawaii 1996. With the exception of a few things in high school, Melissa hadn’t done a full stage musical before, but she had won the talent competition singing in both the local Miss Hawaii pageant and the National Miss America competition, so she certainly had the voice and the presence to take on a role originally written for Julie Andrews in the 1950’s first live television presentation. And she had years of stage experience singing at conventions, private parties and special events, so she wasn’t without performing credits. She just hadn’t played the beloved title character of a major musical that required a triple threat who could sing, dance, and act.

Melissa jumped into rehearsals with a passion. Like a sponge she literally soaked up everything that was thrown at her, always taking notes, watching, listening, and learning. The singing was absolutely no problem, but the acting and dancing were at times a challenge for her. This resulted in some of the funniest and most memorable rehearsals in my entire career. Toward the end of the show the Prince asks her name and she replies “My name is Cinderella”. One night in rehearsal I stopped and said to her, “this is the big dramatic moment and the way you’re saying the line, it’s coming across like ‘My name is…… Blanche’.” Melissa stopped, filtered this for a moment and then replied “So, I’m called Cinderella but my real name is Blanche?” To this day, I still call her Blanche whenever I see her.

When I spoke to Melissa recently, I asked her what her best memory was of playing Cinderella after 21 years. Without even a pause she said, “rehearsing The Waltz for a Ball”. As mentioned before, dancing was entirely new to her and I have to admit I came up with some very complicated choreography for the waltz between Cinderella, the Prince (Andrew Sakaguchi), the King (Laurence Paxton), and the Queen (Stefanie Smart). One rehearsal went so haywire, that we had to stop for a 15-minute break just to stop from laughing. But when the dance started looking considerably better and I complimented her on the improvement, she admitted: “I can’t really turn that fast, so I just put my feet on top of Andrew’s feet and it’s much easier. Or sometimes he just lifts me slightly off the ground and I just move my feet like I’m dancing.  But it must be working since you didn’t notice.”

Not only did her dancing work, so did everything else she brought to the role of “Cinderella”. The production was a huge success, and Melissa proved herself as a true leading lady. So much so that she went on to star as “Christine” in our production of Maury Yeston’s Phantom that same season. And this time she really got to show off her beautiful soprano voice in all its glory.

In 2001, Melissa decided to take the big step and move to New York City to continue vocal training and advance her career. By her own admission her timing was not the best, arriving in the city shortly before the tragic events of September 11, but she persevered for 19 years and accumulated a very impressive list of performing credits. In addition to performing in operas across the United States, she sang 4 times at Carnegie Hall, sang in Italy and was the Understudy/Standby for “Musetta” in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Boheme. But it’s perhaps her episode of “Sex In The City” that’s become the most memorable to the general public.  We’ll leave that appearance up to your imagination, but Melissa has no regrets. As she says, “I still get royalty checks every time that episode airs!”

While in New York, Melissa also became Mrs. Ross Zapin in a wedding not unlike the one in  Cinderella. A few years ago, she made the decision to step back from her singing career but was still in need of a creative outlet. While vacationing in the Hamptons, she came across her Grandma Ruth’s pie recipes and started baking at home. The response was so positive that local restaurants started placing orders and Grandma Ruth’s Pies became a full-time job.

Recently Melissa and Ross decided to relocate to Los Angeles where husband runs Sirius XM/Pandora while Melissa continues to expand her Grandma Ruth’s Pies business. Melissa now supplies pies to several Hollywood movie studios and is launching a new nationwide shipping service. During the current COVID quarantine, she’s also offering social distance deliveries for customers who can’t survive without their Grandma Ruth’s Apple Pie. And for those of you interested in making your own pie, check her out on YouTube!

So, it seems fitting that after marrying her Prince, Melissa, our Cinderella, ended up back in the kitchen, but not to sleep in her “Own Little Corner”, but to become a successful baker and pie maker! A true, modern day Cinderella!

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History Comes Alive

In celebration of Diamond Head Theatre’s 100th Anniversary Season in 2015, we did a 4-part series on the history of DHT. Learning about our history was such a blast, and since many of us find ourselves with a bit more reading time these days, we thought it would be fun to revisit these articles. We hope you enjoy learning more about this theatre we love!

THE BEGINNINGS

Diamond Head Theatre was originally formed in 1915 as a group called “The Footlights”. According to their very first Constitution and Bylaws, the purpose of the group was “the study of drama.” The club, all women when it began, hosted 2 dramatic readings a month and produced one annual play. Annual membership for active members was $2.00 per year.

For the first 25 years, this theatre group found themselves in many homes, producing productions in such legendary venues as The Opera House, The Lanai Theater, Sans Souci, Hawaii Theatre, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Punahou School and U.H. Farrington Hall. Some performances even took place at the homes of members, such as “The Lady of the Weeping Willow Tree” which was performed in the garden of the Dillingham home.

The first official production of The Footlights was “The Amazons”, a farce in three acts, on April 28, 1915. The show starred an “all-star cast picked from amongst Honolulu’s cleverest amateurs,” according to a review. The cast included Mr. William Lewers, a known local actor of the time.  When the club was first formed men were not allowed as members, so Mr. Lewers helped where he could, starring in many productions as well as directing and teaching, until 1920 when the group decided to welcome men as members. Lewers went on to become president of the group in 1923.

The group gained a good reputation quickly and not even one year later put on an opera.  “Thais” was performed on February 7, 1916 as a collaboration between The Footlights and a touring group, the “de Folco Grand Opera Company,” who had become stranded in Honolulu after dismal ticket sales during their stay on Oahu. In an article in the Sunday Advertiser, the performance was described as a hit – bringing in over $764.25. Signor de Folco said later that evening, that after he paid every member of the company, he had just $1.50 left, but was grateful as the proceeds helped the visiting performers return to the mainland!

In the earlier years, most Footlights programs were a presentation of 3 short plays or 1 large production. They even added dinner theatre to their repertoire where they would put on a performance during the University Club’s monthly “dinner dance”.  They continued their regular meetings and added classes - they even offered a diction class. These classes would rotate location among various members’ houses. Participants would read randomly selected excerpts and get criticism and direction from William Lewers on placement, quality and depth of the voice. Mr. Lewers even taught a class on make-up!

In 1921 the possibility of combining with the College Club and Outdoor Circle with the intention of creating a joint clubhouse with a stage and auditorium was discussed. The group was so successful by this point that they wanted their own space to present their plays. A committee was formed and multiple possibilities were researched including partnerships with schools, the University and the city. Unfortunately none of these possibilities ever succeeded, but in 1925 the former home of Robert Louis Stevenson, a cottage at Sans Souci Hotel in Waikiki, was donated to the Footlights to use as a clubhouse. The group continued to stage their productions in various locations, but their clubhouse was used for regular dramatic readings and workshops.

In 1927, the Footlights presented a production of “Savages” as a dinner theatre in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Ballroom, just 11 days after the hotel officially opened. It was the first large event at the new hotel. Tickets for the play including dinner were $4.00 and over 400 people attended the production.

Later in 1927, The Footlights once again attempted to gain support to build or find their own permanent theatre. They got their wish in October in the form of Dillingham Hall on the Punahou campus. The building had been donated to the school by the Dillingham family who had a long history with The Footlights. They offered the Hall as a home to the club on a cooperative basis and this offer was immediately accepted by Footlights members. The new building had a large 800-seat theatre as well as a smaller theatre in the basement which could be used for smaller productions or readings. The first actual Footlights performance in Dillingham Hall was “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” in April of 1929.
 

In May 1934, the troupe put on their last production under the name The Footlights.  “Dangerous Corner”, a mystery, was directed by Elroy Fulmer, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. At the Footlights Annual meeting in June of 1934 a committee was formed by unanimous vote to reorganize the group into a true community theater with a broader and more communal reach in the community. The Honolulu Community Theatre was created, and Major General Briant H. Wells became president of the newly formed organization. Wells was known for his interest and success in promoting theatrical ventures in his army circles and was the perfect choice to take on this new undertaking. He said, “I believe that people are happiest when they make their own diversion. There is a place in Honolulu for a community theater and I shall be glad to do what I can in supporting the movement.”

The first production of the newly formed Honolulu Community Theatre in March of 1935 was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado”, which was performed in coordination with the Morning Music Club at the McKinley High School ​Auditorium. The show marked the first opportunity to call for wide-spread open auditions. Calls for auditions were posted in local newspapers. The production was directed by Elroy Fulmer and music directed Fritz Hart, conductor of the Honolulu Symphony. The cast of 60 talented individuals included a husband and wife playing the leads, 2 soldiers stationed at Schofield, and other well-known actors and soloists of the time, accompanied by a 35-member orchestra, all musicians in the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. The production was actually objected to by the Consul General of Japan who stated that he resented anything which “burlesques their emperor.” The performance received rave reviews and earned over $4,000.

After such a successful first production, the Honolulu Community Theatre hit the ground running, producing many successful productions at a variety of locations. The Theatre tackled many well-known and brand new productions, some of which attracted the notice of producers, directors and actors known to have played the original roles in these shows on the mainland. It became a regular thing to have a visiting actor, director or producer attend a HCT production like Claire Trevor (actress), S.M. Wurtzell (movie producer), Sonia Levine (screen writer), and John Halliday (actor), who later starred in and directed productions for HCT and whose own production “Black Out Review” the theatre went on to produce.

In May 1936, HCT paired once again with the Morning Music Club to produce “Madame Butterfly” starring Hawaii’s own “prima donna” Mrs. Ululani Robertson.  A review in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin stated, “Anyone who attended the opening performance Thursday night and failed to be thrilled and exhilarated must be entirely devoid of imagination and artistic feeling.”

In December of 1936, for the first time in its history, the theatre company was booked for a production off the island of Oahu. The company’s production of “Double Door” headed to Hilo to give a performance at the Elks Club. Nearly 500 people attended this one-time performance.

From 1915 to 1940, The Footlights/Honolulu Community Theatre presented almost 180 plays, musicals and dramatic readings. They performed all over Honolulu and set the stage the next twenty five years…to be continued. 

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Stars On and Off the Stage:
How the Pandemic Affected Lives in the DHT Ohana

In this ever-changing COVID world, we have found ourselves wondering what our DHT family members have been up to. Our actors, teachers, students, and volunteers all have “day jobs” in addition to the time and love they give to our theatre, and some found themselves on the front lines of this pandemic. We were lucky enough to speak to one such front-liner to find out how things have been going. We’ll showcase others in future E-Encores.

Kirsten Pennaz
DHT Performer, Donor, and Shooting Star Parent

What is your day job? 

I came to Hawaii in 2000 as a Pediatric Travel Nurse and am now the Director of Clinical Operations at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children. I am wife to my husband, Matthew, and mother to our two daughters, Paige and Ingrid, ages 8 and 4 respectively (also definitely a job!)

What has life been like for you throughout this pandemic?

The past 12 weeks have been tremendously busy with constant adjustments and new routines both at work and at home. Hawaii Pacific Health has always demonstrated incredible leadership in our community through its mission to create a healthier Hawai‘i. In the first days of our COVID-19 response, changes were implemented quickly to ensure the health and safety of our patients, staff and community.

My outpatient departments initially needed to readjust to make sure we could safely take care of patients that needed essential care and critical follow-up in the hospital setting. We revised workflows to include screening, allow for social distancing and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) until more PPE was available.  We implemented telehealth and video visits and continue to grow with these tools.  I am proud of my staff for their positivity, expertise and dedication to serve our patients. It was a whole new experience!

For me, the outpouring of community support to healthcare workers has been especially touching and meaningful – donated PPE, food donations to acknowledge frontline workers, thank you notes, and mahalo signs.  My heart overflowed from the efforts of my theatre friends, who sewed and donated community masks, using their time, talents and resources.

While my work life has endured multiple changes, my home life has too.  I have always held a special place in my heart for teachers, but now even more so after experiencing E-distance learning with my daughters who are in second grade and preschool!

Pre-COVID-19, my favorite part of the day was the enthusiastic hug I received from my daughters when I picked them up from school. When COVID-19 became part of our lives, I had to teach them to save their hugs until after I changed clothes and showered.

What do you miss most about theatre, about DHT?

DHT holds a special place in my heart; it is where I found my Ohana; which includes my husband and many of my closest friends. I miss attending shows and savoring the productions of our talented theatre community.

My heart went out to the cast and crew of The Bodyguard in its final phases and subsequently not able to open, as a result of the pandemic. As a performer, I know just how much actors pour into the rehearsal process; I can’t imagine the heartbreak of losing the opportunity to perform.

Do you have anything theatrical you’ve been doing on a regular basis?

The last show I performed in at DHT was The Drowsy Chaperone in 2009, so I’ve been on a hiatus to obtain my MBA in Healthcare Administration and start a family. I still listen and sing along to my favorite singers and Broadway shows and I applaud the Broadway community for making so many Broadway performances available on-line during the COVID-19 crisis. 

For me, no matter if times are positive and stable, or are stressful with adversity and uncertainty, I always find immense comfort with the song in my heart to carry me through. I’m so grateful to the artisans who inspire me and keep my spirit humming. Music and the performing arts are a comforting respite during this unpredictable time! 

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In This Issue

A Look Back... - Click Here

History Comes Alive - Click Here

Stars On and Off ... - Click Here