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Meet Caro Walker

Artistic designer, costumer, prop master and set builder

Set from “Elf” designed by Caro Walker. Jack Grace photos

Whenever live theater has a brief lull, it means that the designers and volunteer craftspersons are hard at work creating theater dreams — sets, costumes, lighting, props and all the unheralded components necessary for the next big show.

Few have been more active in theater design on Maui than artistic designer, costumer, prop master and set builder, Caro Walker.

Currently hard at work on Maui OnStage’s “Mamma Mia!” set, Walker clarified what exactly it is that she does with a memory.

“I was working on the Baldwin [High School] set for “Hairspray” years ago, and a student’s father volunteered to help. I explained how we were going to construct this giant hairspray can that would rotate on stage using a conduit, door skin, rolling-drum platform and some pre-fabricated pond liners. He looked at me like I was crazy, but paused and said, ‘Ah, you dreamed this.’ I thought about it and realized that is really what I do — it’s what all designers, choreographers and directors do. We make dreams into reality, but without volunteers, those dreams wouldn’t be realized.”

I asked how she was first drawn into set design.

Set from “It’s Only A Play” designed by Caro Walker.

“It was in the ninth grade,” she recounted. “I learned how to use a jigsaw and worked on my high school production of ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ My mentor, Mr. Boyd, had a philosophy that you don’t sit down at work. He always had a stand with designs and notes on it. He engrained that in me, and I have passed this on to the kids I’ve worked on sets with over the years at King Kamehameha [High School], Baldwin and MAPA [Maui Academy of Performing Arts]. You need to have your weight over whatever you are building; it doesn’t work if you’re sitting on the ground.”

Walker is originally from Wichita Falls, Texas, but later moved to Houston where she attended high school.

“I was always an art student, but I love learning new things and discovered I liked building too,” she expressed.

As a student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Walker focused on costume design, but volunteered as a set designer on several senior project productions. After graduating, she landed in Los Angeles working at Bob Barker Productions. I inquired how she ended up on Maui.

“It was a transitional time in my life and I was looking for a new opportunity,” shared Walker. “A coworker of mine saw an ad.

Set from “Of Mice and Men” designed by Caro Walker.

MAPA was looking for a full-time technical director, and I decided to call them that same day. I was asked to call back and talk with Linda Takita, and she asked if I could design 10 shows a year, which is an enormous amount.

“Without hesitating I said, ‘Sure, I can do that, but one thing — I hate lighting.’ Linda said that would be fine because her husband Michael did the lighting design, and just like that I was off to Maui. I got right off of the plane, dropped off my luggage and went to strike their ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set.”

In the fall of 1989, when Walker began working with MAPA they had no theater home.

“We were a roving company, moving sets and productions from place to place. We did ‘Sherlock Holmes’ at the Kahului Community Center and ‘Into the Woods’ at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.”

Walker recounted some of her favorite sets in those early years.

Set from “Albatross” designed by Caro Walker.

“We made it rain on the stage for ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ and we had a full-sized car that rotated on a turntable. I also loved the ‘Twelfth Night’ set — it was very ‘Monty Python,’ very ‘Baron Munchausen.’ We had all these little moving buildings on railroad tracks.”

The vast number of sets that Walker has either designed or built over the past 30 years would likely approach 300 at the rate of Takita’s request of 10 shows a year. This season alone she designed Baldwin’s “Willy Wonka,” ProArts’ “It’s Only A Play,” Oh Boy’s “Albatross,” and Maui OnStage’s “Elf,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Rumors” and “The Boys Next Door.” Amazingly Walker also finds time to teach a makeup design class at Seabury Hall.

I wanted to know Walker’s all-time favorite sets and she needed a few minutes to, as she put it, “take a trip down memory lane.”

“One has to be ‘The Secret Garden’ with MAPA at the [Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s] Castle Theater. I just love that show, and I had the best time creating that world. Of course I can’t forget “Jesus Christ Superstar” with MAPA at the MACC when it was new. The pavilion hadn’t been built yet. That was the biggest show ever at the time with Eric Gilliom and Keali’i Reichel.

Bonnie Prucha did the lighting and I did the set — back when we were young and full of energy.”

Caro Walker (right) and Diane Green at Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ annual Garden Party.

She currently serves as the technical director with Maui OnStage and shared a few of her more recent sets at Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.

” ‘CATS’ was tremendous fun. Of course, that was an homage to the original Broadway design. Some shows just need to be done a certain way, and with other shows you have artistic liberty. The first year we did “Elf” is a favorite; so is the “Of Mice and Men” set. And MAPA’s “Man of La Mancha” at the Steppingstone [theater] is another one that I loved.”

With Walker’s never-ending production schedule, I asked what she had planned for the 2019-20 season and if there was a dream show that she would love to design.

“It’s a far-fetched dream, but ‘War Horse’ would be the absolute dream show for me. This season I’m looking forward to ‘Matilda.’ That is right up there as a dream show, and I’m excited to return to costume design on ‘Priscilla (Queen of the Desert).’ “

A great advocate for re-using materials, Walker talked about the large number of set pieces stored at her home in Makawao.

Dale Button (left) and Brian Connolly engage in the ultimate cat-and-mouse game in “Sleuth,” which concludes this weekend at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.

“People joke about all the stuff in my yard, but I’ve always tried to be conservative on what to keep and what can be re-used. I get a number of things from corporate events. I do this because we live on an island. I love figuring out the puzzle of a set. How are we going to make this work, and what do we need to make it reality? Maybe it seems like I’m collecting and hoarding random stuff, but that’s why. I hate the idea of filling up a landfill with useful items.”

This week

Captured live on London’s Adelphi Theatre stage, the multi-award-winning “Kinky Boots the Musical” by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, will be presented through Fathom Events.

• Screenings are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and 12:55 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at the Regal Maui Mall Megaplex in Kahului. Reserved seats are $18.75 (plus applicable fees) and are available through www.fathom events.com.

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ProArts concludes “Sleuth” by Anthony Shaffer, directed by Jason Strahn.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse at Azeka Shopping Center Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.

Upcoming

Army of Sass Maui and FuzzBox Productions in association with Galaxy Laser & Lights presents an original, adult-themed cabaret production of “Snow White.”

• Performances are at 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at Lahaina Loft, 736 Front Street in Lahaina. Tickets range from $25 to $45 and are available through www.eventbrite.com.

*****

Maui OnStage presents the Maui premiere of “Mamma Mia!” by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, directed and choreographed by Kalani Whitford and under the musical direction of Kim Vetterli.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, opening July 12 and running through Aug. 4 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $20 to $40. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.