Mission & History
The mission of Kumu Kahua Theatre
- To provide theatrical opportunities for the expression of local community lifestyles, whether contemporary or historical
- To stage locally written plays set in Hawai‘i or dealing with some aspect of the Hawaiian experience of residents
- To provide training and theatrical experiences for local playwrights, directors, performers and other theatrical artists
- To develop an increasingly large audience sensitive to plays and theatre pieces dealing specifically and truthfully with local subject matter
Kumu Kahua Theatre was founded in 1971 by a group of graduate students at the University of Hawai‘i, with the original goal of producing locally-written experimental works. The Hawaiian language words kumu and kahua translate to “original stage.” At the time, there was no local theatre devoted to telling stories of these islands and its various cultures. In 1982, Kumu Kahua was granted not-for-profit status and in 1994, the Hawaii State Legislature awarded the group its current 100-seat playhouse, a former Post Office, in downtown Honolulu at 46 Merchant Street. 46 years after its original founding, Kumu Kahua is still the only theatre we know of solely to creating, supporting, and showcasing original works of theatre specifically related to our geographical region and the cultures represented here.
In this time, Kumu Kahua has helped develop more than 230 original works that has influenced hundreds of actors, playwrights, directors, technicians, and community members.
Plays about life in Hawai‘i: The theater educates and trains new generations of aspiring theater professionals through its “living laboratory” of productions and public play readings, and by holding classes and workshops in acting, improvisation and playwriting. Top Hawai‘i actors such as Jason Scott Lee, alongside a core of Kumu stage veterans such as Dann Seki and Wil Kahele, have performed at Kumu Kahua.
Plays by Hawai‘i’s playwrights: Since the 1970s, the theater has co-sponsored the University of Hawai‘i’s annual historic play competition started in the 1930s. And the theater has produced the first stagings of work by locally renowned island playwrights such as Lee Cataluna, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Darrell Lum, Edward Sakamoto and Lee A. Tonouchi.
Plays for Hawai‘i’s people: Kumu Kahua productions—such as James Grant Benton’s Shakespeare adaptation Twelf Night O Wateva! in 1974, Edward Sakamoto’s Aloha Las Vegas in 1992 and Lee Cataluna’s Folks You Meet in Longs in 2003—have become cultural touchstones for island residents.
Kumu Kahua productions are supported in part by The Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and Arts through appropriations from the Legislature of the State of Hawai‘i and by the National Endowment for the Arts. Also paid for in part by The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, The Hawai‘i Community Foundation, The Richard Aaland and Robert Emens Black Funds of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, McInerny Foundation (Bank of Hawai‘i, Trustee); Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) Charitable Foundation and Hawaiian Electric Company; ABC Stores, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other Foundations, Businesses and Patrons.