Journalism sample: community theater profile

Talent in Hawaii is abundant and active in the local community. Coletta Teske had the honor of interviewing the board of directors of the Waimea Community Theatre, learning about their history, and hearing stories of the actors that built the theatre group.

Waimea Community Theater Feature Story by Coletta Teske

Behind the scenes

A night with the Waimea Community Theatre

Published by North Hawaii News (March 23, 2006)
Pages 1, 12 and 13
Word count: 1108

If you can’t take Waimea to Broadway, you can bring Broadway to Waimea.

That’s just what the Waimea Community Theatre attempts to do. Four times a year, the group puts on a variety of famous and not so famous plays in their home base at Parker School Theatre.

For the past 26 years, the Waimea Community Theatre has enchanted Waimea audiences with such hits as Dracula, Peter Pan, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Good Doctor and South Pacific.

But the group’s history goes back even further. They originally started in Kona as the Kona Community Theatre in 1964. It was founded by a mixed plate of theatrical buffs including actor Richard Boone and TV producer Fenton Earnshaw.

For a little summer fun and because they didn’t have a fixed locale, the group performed in storefronts, church halls, and community centers. During the 1960s and 1970s, they produced plays such as You Can’t Take It With You, Arsenic and Old Lace and Dial M for Murder.

During these Kona years, Richard Smart was on the scene in Waimea. Smart was also a theatre buff and involved in cabaret performances on the mainland. When he built Kahilu Theatre, he invited the Kona Community Theatre (which had changed their name to Kona Coast Players and then to West Hawaii Players) to come to Waimea and use the Parker School theatre.

So in 1980, the Players moved to Waimea and have been at home on the range here since then. It wasn’t until 1991 that they changed their name to Waimea Community Theatre.

One of the draws to the Waimea area for the group was that the small town atmosphere in the 1980s was conductive to forming a network of talented individuals to participate in theatrical projects.

“So many people move to the Big Island for some inexplicable reason that were previously a Broadway performer, the head costumer for 20th Century-Fox or a pianist for 19 movies,” said board member Michael Bray. “But finding them or getting them to know that there are people here that would love to see their talent put to use can be challenging.”

Even though the group does attract some internationally known talent to appear in their productions, it’s the local children that bring in the audiences. Their recent performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was successful because of the number of children involved. Each child’s parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and classmates all come to see them act.

For many local children, their performance with Waimea Community Theatre is their first time on stage. Many have continued to act as they have grown up. “It’s been really great to see that,” said board member Paula Beamer. “It gives them something to do that is creative and worthwhile.”

Beamer also said that teaching a child on the stage gets them over their fear of being in front of people. “It’s an educational experience for them.”

Heidi Thomas, left, plays an employer that both comforts and afflicts a worker, played by Malia Lingenfelder, in the story 'The Governess' during the play 'The Good Doctor' put on by Waimea Community Theatre.
Heidi Thomas, left, plays an employer that both comforts and afflicts a worker, played by Malia Lingenfelder, in the story ‘The Governess’ during the play The Good Doctor put on by Waimea Community Theatre. (Photo by Baron Sekiya | North Hawaii News)

“We have had a number of people go on from Waimea Community Theatre to college acting schools on the mainland,” said board member Gary Hagerman. “It’s a good training ground.”

Bray said that the productions that bring in the highest revenues are those that involve a lot of children or are a well-known musical. These are also the hardest to produce. “Something like The Good Doctor is not as hard but there’s no way you are going to attract the audiences that you can by doing South Pacific or something that everybody recognizes.”

The group realizes that to maximize their income, they should do four well-known musicals a year. “But you can’t find four musical directors, you can’t find the people to support the productions,” said Bray. “Two musical productions a year would burn everybody out and you would tax your resources beyond your ability to support these productions.”

It is the revenue from these large productions that makes it possible for the group to put on lesser-known plays that attract a smaller audience.

Even though the group chooses to put on only one large production a year, they have an impressive track record. Waimea Community Theatre is a member of the Hawaii State Theatre Council. This is a cooperative union of community theatres in Hawaii. “We are the only one that operates in the black,” said Bray. “We have operated in the black for at least 23 years which is a minor miracle.”

“We’ve managed this through Michael’s frugality,” said Hagerman. “I give Scrooge a good name,” retorted Bray.

All kidding aside, the group believes their financial success has to do with luck and having had a cooperative relationship with Parker School for a long time. They have also been successful in matching the scope of their performances to the scope of their resources. “We look at what we can do and what we can afford,” said Bray.

Another measure of the group’s success is the caliber of producers it is able to attract. For a play to be successful, someone needs to manage the production. It is the producer that does the publicity. The producer also arranges for the production’s needs whether that be finding a bolt of material or an old sewing machine.

Lindsey O'Neill-Myers, front, sews part of her costume as Heidi Thomas preps her makeup backstage before the opening of 'The Good Docotor.'
Lindsey O’Neill-Myers, front, sews part of her costume as Heidi Thomas preps her makeup backstage before the opening of The Good Doctor. (Photo by Baron Sekiya | North Hawaii News)

The job of the producer is time-consuming. “There isn’t much glamour in being a producer,” said Bray. “Nobody ever knows who you are even though we put the producer’s name in big letters in the program.”

But, the work of the producer determines if a play is good or not.

“If you don’t have somebody producing that is going to remember when the deadline for the paper is or that somebody needs to make a poster or that there needs to be somebody in the box office on Thursday, you’re always going to face problems,” said Bray.

For the group’s latest production, The Good Doctor, Beamer played the part of producer. This was her first producer role. “I’d rather be on stage than producing,” she said. Beamer began acting with Waimea Community Theatre in 1982.

“The best part about being on stage is that the lights are so bright that you can’t see anybody out there.” She said it’s also fun to be another person for a change. “You don’t have to be yourself.”

Hagerman is involved in the group for “the camaraderie, the community feeling, the people that you meet and the friends that you make.”

“It gives you a rush to be in a play,” said Bray. “It’s like anything that is exciting. It’s something bigger and beyond yourself. You’re part of a big group. You’re doing something that seems wonderful and everyone claps. You don’t want that to end.”

Copyright 2020 Coletta Teske
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