A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa play written and directed by a recent alumnus of the Department of Theatre and Dance captured six national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
The national theatre program, which incorporates 18,000 students annually from colleges and universities across the country, awarded productions in higher education that promote long-term societal impacts through an artistic lens.
The UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre program’s production, “Hoʻoilina” is written and directed by Ākea Kahikina who penned the comedic hana keaka mostly in Hawaiian. Set in pre-pandemic Hawai‘i, “Hoʻoilina” explores real-time issues such as what it takes to be considered Hawaiian.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized on the American national level for theatre excellence,” Kahikina said. “The true award, however, is the participation, laughter, tears and leo kākoʻo (supportive voices) of our lāhui: our people, our nation. That is the validation we as hana keaka practitioners look for when putting out moʻolelo (stories) for our people.”
The production, which closed Kennedy Theatre’s 2021–22 mainstage season last April, netted awards ranging from the play’s ensemble, original artwork and costume design.
“This national recognition of our students’ creative scholarship confirms the po‘okela or level of excellence that is pursued and inherent in Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) theatre praxis,” said Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker, director and founder of the campus’ inaugural Hawaiian Theatre program. “When a hana keaka production is honored nationally, that award elevates the Hawaiian Theatre Program, the Department of Theatre and Dance and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.”
Last spring, KCACTF presented eight awards to UH Mānoa play, “He Leo Aloha.” The production performed exclusively in Hawaiian earned recognition for directing, individual performance, and lighting and music. The Hawaiian storytelling genre is flourishing rapidly. In 2022, for the first time in Kennedy Theatre history, Hawaiian language productions opened and closed out the theatre’s mainstage season.
In 2014, the Hawaiian Theatre program was formally established at UH Mānoa by Baker. “Lāʻieikawai,” the inaugural play production she wrote and directed, played to sold out audiences on the Kennedy Theatre main stage in 2014 before touring to Hawaiʻi Island, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Aotearoa. In January 2020, Baker’s production “ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On,” was showcased off-Broadway in New York City.