Broadway Of The Pacific
Wednesday - May 14, 2008
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By Deena Dray
Executive Director of Diamond Head Theatre
On first meeting, people sometimes ask me if being executive director at Diamond Head Theatre is “your real job,” or even “a real job.” It sure is, but the question is a fair one.
Some community theatres on the Mainland and in Hawaii are run by volunteers. But with an annual budget of almost $2 million and year-round operations including productions and performing arts classes, Diamond Head Theatre exists as it must: as a business. And in my job, I function as the “CEO.”
With that “real” job comes a 93-year-old legacy. I follow in the footsteps of many who helped make Diamond Head Theatre the jewel it is today, a place we proudly call “Broadway of the Pacific.”
Beginning in 1915, a group of women from missionary families got together to form a play reading group. That group grew into “The Footlights,” an amateur performing company that eventually became Honolulu Community Theatre (HCT).
Those early days were filled with names you’d recognize: Castle, Cooke, Lewers and Dillingham. The plays were produced all over town: the old downtown Opera House, Central Union Church, McKinley High School, Moana Hotel and finally our present home, Ruger Theatre, which started its life as a USO movie hall.
Musicals and plays were staged right through the war years (which gives us the distinction of the third oldest continuously operating community theatre in the United States!), putting on shows for the troops throughout the Pacific.
Fast forward to the 1990s and HCT changed its name, again, to Diamond Head Theatre and came a step closer to being a more professional theatre - professional in concept, but still true to our roots as a community theatre.
As a community theatre, we are committed to providing theatre opportunities for everyone. We do this by pricing our tickets as low as we can, starting at just $12; by offering free preview performances to neighboring schools and nonprofits; by providing signed performances for the deaf and audio-described performances for the blind; by offering opportunities for everyone to volunteer whether ushering, working the spotlights, taking tickets on show nights or pre-show, building sets and sewing costumes. And we provide a cherished avocation for those who, in addition to holding “real” jobs, have that special talent to be able to sing, dance or act.
We also are committed to our education mission. Diamond Head Theatre has year-round classes ranging from baby ballet to hiphop for teens to acting for adults.
We are home to a very successful summer school program, Musical Theatre Experience, and we are the proud “stage parents” to our 45-member youth performing troupe, Diamond Head Theatre Shooting Stars, under the direction of artistic director John Rampage.
I have not even touched upon the inevitable but necessary fundraising, from individual and corporate donor cultivation to grant writing to our signature annual fund-raising affair, the ‘Ilima Awards.
But I love it despite, or maybe because of, the wide variety of the work. The executive director job combines all the challenges of running a business with the opportunity to have a ringside seat in the creative world, watching sets being built and costumes sewn, actors rehearsing, kids practicing skits and songs. Six times a year I get to watch the caterpillar of a rough first rehearsal morph into the butterfly of a fully staged, simply gorgeous show.
So, as I sit in the darkened theatre on opening night listening to the opening notes from the orchestra, surrounded by happy faces on the stage and in the audience, I gladly answer, “Yes ... this is a real job - my real job.”
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