Youth theater summer camps offer performing arts fun for all

Options are filling up quickly so register soon

Danielle Mealani Delaunay (from left), Sally Sefton and Kathleen Schultz kicked off the youth summer theater season at Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ annual fundraiser held last month. Maui youth theater options have swelled to 20 productions a year between October and July. Peter Liu photo

When I began writing Backstage seven years ago, there were many weeks when no performing arts events were scheduled. That has rarely been the case this season with the expansion of shows at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului, the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei and the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.

After a March tsunami of dance and comedy concerts, and more theater than I can remember ever taking place in one month, Maui’s performing artists are taking a collective breath this week in preparation for another wave of productions set to open at the end of April.

Youth theater has swelled to approximately 20 productions a year — all presented between October and July. In two weeks, King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani will open its multi- million dollar state-of-the-art performing arts center, affording all four of the major high school theater companies a professional facility that rivals the Castle Theater.

For students who don’t have the luxury of a continuous on-campus theater program, Maui Academy of Performing Arts in Wailuku, Theatre Theatre Maui in Lahaina and Maui OnStage in Wailuku provide after-school programs year-round and the opportunity to perform in first-rate musicals as part of their annual summer camps.

Last month’s circus-themed “Under the Big Top,” which is MAPA’s annual youth theater fundraising event, kick-started its “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” summer camp. This weekend, children in grades 3 through 10 may audition for the production at the MAPA studios. Co-directing “The Lion King Jr.” are Sally Sefton and Logan Heller, with costumes and choreography by Kathleen Schultz and musical direction by Danielle Mealani Delaunay.

Jeremiah Webb (front left) and Rory Delaney lead the Maui OnStage Teen Theater Company production of “Godspell” at the Historic Iao Theater during Easter weekend. Jack Grace photo

Heller explained why “The Lion King Jr.,” a Maui premier, was chosen.

“When a show is selected, we look for one that not only will be fun for the kids, but also one that is going to be a growing and learning experience — a show that will push the kids to reach the next level of performing; a show that can change a kid’s summer. ‘Lion King’ has all those aspects,” he shared.

“I think because it’s a premier it’s more exciting. It’s the first time some people are seeing it live and that’s going to be great for our younger audience members,” continued Heller.

I asked Heller the difference between directing and co-directing.

“When a show has co-directors, it’s a chance to have more than one mind bringing the show to life. In a way this just makes for a better result. Two heads are better than one,” he said.

“The Lion King” is one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history, touring to Hawaii twice in recent years. Its look is a feast for the eyes, and I asked Heller how the MAPA team was going to duplicate that theater magic.

“I’m hoping that this is a ‘Lion King’ that no one has seen before. It takes a lot of people and ideas to give the audience that magic that most people want when seeing a show. With this show, I think it has a chance to be very visually stunning with the help of Jamie Tait, our set designer, Kathleen Schultz on costumes and choreography and myself on makeup design,” he said.

Heller shared what makes MAPA’s summer camp unique.

“What separates us from other programs, in my opinion, is that we take as many kids as we can — why not let every child have a moment to shine?”

* Registration has begun for MAPA’s youth theater camp. Students in grades 3 through 10 can audition for “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the MAPA studios, 2027 Main St. in Wailuku. Tuition is $875 per child with payment plans and partial needs-based scholarships for qualifying families available. The camp will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, June 18 through July 25, culminating with eight performances July 26 through July 29 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Parents can register their children online at www.mauiacademy.org. For more information, call 244-8760.

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Theater options are limited for youths that live on the west side. That is why the Lahaina-based Theatre Theatre Maui has strived to fill that void every summer for over 25 years.

“Theatre Theatre Maui is committed to providing performing arts instruction and opportunities to our west-side community,” said Nancy Taylor, executive administrator for TTM. “Theater is a one-of-a-kind way to allow our youth to build their voice and confidence. They have the rare chance to work collaboratively on something larger than themselves.

“Youth theater helps develop leadership and communication skills that make a difference beyond our programs,” added Taylor.

This summer, TTM will present the Lionel Bart musical “Oliver!” based on the Charles Dickens novel. I asked Taylor why TTM chose a dramatic musical.

“We wanted to do a full-length show, and do a story that hit a bit deeper on tough themes,” she explained. “We’ve wanted to do this classic for a while, but we weren’t sure the kids were ready yet.

“It’s a fun show with some drama, and we think the kids can handle it,” she said. “We’re thrilled to introduce the kids to a world outside Disney musicals.”

TTM will present a youth theater showcase next week featuring original sketches and characters created by the student performers and directed by Heidi Turner. The performance, which is free to the public, will be at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Lahaina Intermediate School cafeteria. 

I asked Taylor why independent youth theater is important for Maui students.

“We have a large pool of talent on the west side with no dedicated theater or few opportunities for theater in school. We want to keep opportunities available to kids here so that they don’t have to drive to the other side to experience it. We love what MAPA and Maui Onstage has to offer, and we want to give our west-side kids the same chances,” she said.

Longtime TTM director Kristi Scott will return to helm the production, with the assistance of dramatic instructor and assistant director Turner, dramatic instructor Francis Tau’a, choreographer Felicia Chernicki-Wulf and musical director Aida Moala.

* Registration begins April 15 for Theatre Theatre Maui’s youth theater camp. Tuition ranges from $399 (if paid before May 15) to $425 per child with payment plans and financial aid available for qualifying families. Camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, June 11 through July 18, culminating with four performances of “Oliver!” July 19 through July 22 at a west-side location to be announced. For more information, visit www.ttmwestmaui.org or call 661-1168.

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Last weekend the all-new 20-member Maui OnStage Teen Theater Company presented an electric and highly entertaining performance of “Godspell.” It was the inaugural teen production performance of these youth who began in theater as 10- and 11-year olds, and even younger.

Frequent Maui OnStage and Baldwin High School theater contributor Dejah Padon choreographed the Easter production and will be directing “Disney’s Beauty and Beast Jr.” at MOS theater camp. I asked Padon why summer theater camps are vital to Maui students.

“The campers that participate come from all over the island and represent a variety of cultures. Since I was a little girl, Maui has always supported and nurtured its community. These camps help guide these youngsters to be outstanding citizens for our community and it is especially important, now, in this technology-driven world,” she shared.

Padon will be joined by musical director Kim Vetterli and three teen graduates: Emma Smith from Kihei Charter School, and Brianna Kenar and Ray-Anne Dela Cruz from Baldwin High School.

“I have worn many hats in the theater world and when I was asked if I would like to direct, I thought, ‘Why not?’ I can’t think of any other show to debut as a director than my all-time favorite fairy tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I am so thrilled to have a great camp team for this summer,” said Padon.

* The newcomer to summer theater camps, Maui OnStage will host 25 students ages 7 to 16 at the Historic Iao Theater from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays, June 26 through July 20, culminating with four performances of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.” July 21 through July 29 at the Historic Iao Theater. The Maui OnStage youth theater camp is currently full. For more information on “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.” performances, visit www.maui onstage.com. To place your child’s name on a waiting list, call 244-8680 x23.

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This week

Maui OnStage continues its free, one-night-only theater series, ONO! on Monday with a staged reading of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde. The free ONO! performances happen every second Monday of the month at the Historic Iao Theater.

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