PUHI — Hawai‘i Children’s Theatre’s Dolly Kanekuni was overflowing with excitement when she made an informal announcement about the HCT’s 10th anniversary while enjoying a recent NYC shoreline series race with Sea Scout commodore Larry Richardson.
“We’re going live,” Kanekuni said. “With all the distance learning and virtual meetings taking place because of the pandemic, we are doing a person-to-person event — in compliance with the COVID-19 rules and mandates, of course.”
The HCT After Dark program offers “Leave a Light On: A 10th Anniversary Cabaret” that will feature Kaua‘i’s talented artists in an open-air, socially-distanced format under the outdoor performance tent set up next to the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.
There are two performances scheduled — one on Aug. 21 starting at 7 p.m., and the second performance being a fundraiser dinner and show on Aug. 22 starting at 6 p.m. with food being provided by Mark’s Place and Contemporary Flavors Catering.
Seating is limited because of the social distancing guidelines. Audience members are required to pre-register online at hawaiichildrenstheatre.org. Audience members will be required to wear face masks during the entire show, except when actively eating or drinking and social distancing limits tables to 10 people.
“This registration is especially important because we need to know food counts,” said Debra Blachowiak, a co-producer of “Leave a Light On” with Carrol Gatlin. “Ideally, we want to finalize everything by Aug. 15. For those who cannot attend the show, there will be a recorded video released for audiences to enjoy at home following the performances.”
The program will feature songs from shows performed over the past 10 years including “Rent,” “Les Misérables,” “Next to Normal,” “Into the Woods,” and “Spamalot.”
“This is exciting,” Blachowiak said. “A lot of the performers came to perform the numbers they did when their shows ran. We’ll also have video of some of the past performances, and some songs from potential future shows as the After Dark program looks forward to the future for theatre on Kaua‘i.”
Cast members taking the stage include Jenna Cedusky, Isaac Dubey, Erin Gaines, Leilani Goldberg, Sienna Gregerson, Taj Gutierrez, Jacob Lester, Jessika Montoya-Cristobal, Thom Newman, Mahina Olores, Veda Parker, Mckenna Pascua, Alina Puig, Billy Quebido, Larry Richardson, Daphne Sanchez, Rayna Shafter and Stacy Wells.
They will perform to music provided by Nina Saraos, the production’s musical director.
“This year called for something different than the staged musical we had originally planned for the summer,” said Chris Alderete, the Leave a Light On director. “Instead, we looked for a safe way to rehearse and perform, where actors could express themselves and the audience could have the option of enjoying in person. We adapted and created a cabaret-style tribute where actors could rehearse individually, or in duos and all come together to perform outside. For the 10th anniversary, this is really a celebration of the creativity of our young performers and our artistic team in so many ways. We’ve included both some favorite numbers from our past shows, and also included some aspirational numbers of shows we’d like to do in the future. In this way, the theatre lives on — even with today’s challenges.”
Monday was the first group rehearsal after individual cast members spent weeks working with Alderette and his production leadership team.
“They sound good — even with their masks on,” Blachowiak said. “They all wear masks during the group numbers. They take off their masks for the individual and small group performances.”
Alderete mixed in his social distancing duties of sanitizing equipment between sets, and introducing the individual performances.
“This is interesting,” Alderete said. “Every week has been challenging working with each performer individually. Now, everything is in place. People have been dying to do theatre and the energy is just electric.”
Among the theatre community, it is said that if a small light is left on, the theater will never go dark. During the pandemic, the theater has been dark, except for a ghost light. The lights will go on when “Leave a Light On: A 10th Anniversary Cabaret” takes the stage, starting Aug. 21.
The HCT After Dark program was started a decade ago to showcase the talents of their alumni and teachers over the summer with challenging theater material with a PG-13 rating for more teen and adult themes.
“Many of these young actors were home for the summer, and working with kids and youth during the day at Summer Stars program,” Kanekuni, the HCT president, said. “But they were seeking opportunities to challenge themselves as artists too. We came up with HCT After Dark as shows would be rehearsed in the evenings with a show to be performed at the end of summer. The current material, artistic challenge, and shorter rehearsal schedule attracted talented artists to direct, and even perform alongside HCT older teens and young adults, and a tradition was born. Through the years, we have seen these actors grow in their talent and tackle meaty subjects like loneliness, drugs and homelessness as well as the music and theatre of some of the great artists of our time.”