UH Hawaiian-Language Play Wins 8 National Awards

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A virtual production premiered in October 2021 and is the first-ever Hawaiian-language play to open Kennedy Theater’s main season.

A university of Hawaii in Mānoa hana keaka (play) written and directed by a graduate student in the Department of Theater and Dance has won eight national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). The National Theater Program, which annually brings together 18,000 college and university students from across the country, awarded productions in higher education that promote long-term societal impacts through an artistic lens.

Made exclusively in ʻōlelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language), uh The Mānoa Hawaiian Theater production, He Leo Aloha, follows the story of a group of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) students in uh Mānoa and their struggles to find and navigate the love and meaning of true aloha.

2 actors on stage
From the left, Kaʻula Krug and Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker were recognized for their individual performances

“Mahalo harmed the entire creative team, especially Kumu Keawe and Ka Waihona a ke Aloha as well as Kumu Hailiʻōpua for their mentorship. These awards are truly a testament to the beauty of our mele and moʻolelo and the amazing kānaka that continue to serve as their vessels today,” said Kaipulaumakaniolono Bakera MFA Hawaiian theater contestant who wrote the play.

The hana keaka, which opened the Kennedy Theater’s 2021-2022 main season last October, won awards ranging from direction, individual performance, lighting and music. Baker incorporates traditional mele (songs) and original oli (songs) to accentuate and emphasize the importance of language and the power it carries. The production features a 12-piece live band under the direction of Kumu R. Keawe Lopes Jr.director of the uh Mānoa Kawaihuelani Center for the Hawaiian Language.

Awards

He Leo Aloha

  • Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award
  • Special Achievement in the Production of a New Work
  • Special achievement in production design
  • Special Achievement in Lighting Design (Jonah Bobilin)
  • Special realization in direction of student artists (Kaipulaumakaniolono Baker)
  • Special Achievement in Individual Performance (Kaʻula Krug and Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker)
  • Special achievement in musical direction (Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha, Kumu Keawe Lopes and the Tuahine Troupe)

The Hana keaka genre is booming

singer and band on stage
uh The Mānoa mele Preservation Center, Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha, and the Hawaiian Language Department’s Tuahine Troupe provided live music in the production.

uh aspires to be the first Indigenous-serving university in the world. In 2014, the Hawaiian Theater program was officially established at uh Mānoa by Associate Professor Tammie Hailiʻōpua baker. Lāʻieikawai, the inaugural production of hana keaka which she wrote and directed, sold out on the main stage of the Kennedy Theater in 2014 before filming at Hawaii Isle, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Aotearoa (New Zealand). In January 2020, the production of Baker ʻAuʻa ʻia: Holding On, premiered off Broadway in New York.

” The notion of po’okela (excellence) is at the heart of our training at hana christmas (visual and performing arts) and these accolades recognize that excellence,” said Baker. “We hope this recognition will strengthen the building of the Hawaiian theater program and that more haumāna (students) will enroll and learn to create, direct and produce more. moʻolelo (stories) of our Pae ʻĀina (archipelago) to share with our community.

In January 2022, He Leo Aloha received an invitation to perform virtually at KCACTF Region 8 Festival normally held on the West Coast. The region includes college and university theater productions from Arizona, central and southern California, Guam, Hawaii, Southern Nevada and Utah. The award-winning play rose to the national category and eclipsed dozens of top-ranked productions from across the country.

This work is an example of uh Mānoa’s goal of becoming a place of Native Hawaiian learning (PDF) and Improving Student Achievement (PDF) two of the four objectives defined in the Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (PDF), updated December 2020.

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