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Sharing Mana‘o

Thursday morning, more than 700 Kihei Elementary School students will taste the thrill of live theater while learning a little about themselves and the world they will not just inherit, but help to shape. The annual Maui Academy of Performing Arts School Performance Tour aims to educate while entertaining through performances at preschools and elementary schools. By the end of this year’s tour, my “Birds of a Feather” castmates and I will have shared our message of aloha with over 7,000 youngsters, from Honokowai to Hana.

We will also perform for young-at-heart-sters this Friday at Kaunoa Senior Center. That show is already sold out, but we will present two free public performances at the MAPA warehouse (the old National Dollar Store in Wailuku) on Friday, Feb. 7. Showtimes are 6:15 and 7:30 p.m.

This is my third year of writing and performing in the school tour shows, and I am grateful to MAPA for the opportunity to participate in this valuable, worthwhile mission and for making me, technically, a professional playwright.

I say “technically” because, though I was commissioned to compose these plays, I don’t think of myself as a true dramatist like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon or Derek Nakagawa.

Derek has written numerous plays for children as well as for adults. With the equally talented and prolific Francis Taua, he co-wrote and co-starred in the delightful local comedies “Greater Ahi” and “Fresher Ahi.” His current work in progress is “Return of the Menehune,” written for another of his creations, the fledgling Makawao Elementary School Drama Club.

At Derek’s invitation, I’ve signed on to assist with the weekly after-school sessions, along with his teenage daughter Max. Last Wednesday, Max and I worked with the older students (grades 3 – 5) while Derek did creative exercises with the little ones. As we rearranged tables, I realized that we were in exactly the same classroom where my first effort at playwriting was presented.

“Bunny and Clod” was a short and silly skit about the notorious Bonnie and Clyde, co-written by my best friend Ruth and me, for a 5th-grade Language Arts class project. It was also my first time acting for an audience that didn’t consist solely of my parents. Our classmates were enthusiastically appreciative, and Ruth, Jayne, Lois and I soaked up the applause like happy little sponges.

Though I don’t know how many, if any, of today’s Makawao 5th-graders will continue to pursue the performing arts, I can see that, for now, they are having as much fun as we did. Hopefully, in a few years, some of them will join the Dramaaticans of Chris Kepler’s theater program at King Kekaulike High School. That’s what I told Chris when I saw him last Saturday at the KKHS presentation of “The Outsiders,” which, by the way, is another show I urge you to see.

The final three performances of “The Outsiders” will be presented this weekend. If you forget to take Kleenex, as I did, don’t worry; the drama club will have packs of tissue available for a dollar at the concession stand.

Chris, Derek, Francis and I are all products of local youth theater programs, including MAPA and the Baldwin Theatre Guild, which began as Sue Ann Loudon’s Baldwin High School Drama Club. These three men have continued to share their passion for the performing arts in numerous, notable ways, and I have long applauded their contributions to Maui’s youths.

Now, through the MAPA tour and the Makawao School Drama Club, I too am helping youngsters discover the joy of creative expression. It’s the most rewarding role I’ve ever played.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.