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Publish Date: January 9, 2020
  • Historic debut off-Broadway

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Hawaiian language production, ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On  brought down the house in New York January 7 as the featured opening act at an off-Broadway festival. Organizers of the inaugural Reflections of Native Voices Native Theater Festival  invited the 35-member UHM cast to open the festival and perform at three venues. The event spotlights plays written and performed by representatives from a number of indigenous cultures, including members from the Sioux and Navajo tribes.

UH Mānoa student Dylan Chase Lee plays one of the production’s main characters. “It felt good to connect with other people, other cultures because this is a festival for native voices. People from all over, all walks of life, all walks of cultures,” Lee said.

ʻAuʻa ʻIa, written mostly in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) was performed four times in Manhattan’s East Village. The production captures pivotal moments in Hawaiʻi’s history from the perspective of four haumāna (students) and features ʻoli (chant), mele (songs) and hula transporting audiences through time. During the play’s kickoff performance, some audience members were moved to tears.

Lead actress Jorin Pōmaikaʻi Uʻilani Kuʻulei Young plays Ala. The 21-year-old comes from a long line of Hawaiian musicians and is on a mission to leave a lasting impression of her island lineage on audiences.

“My kuleana (responsibility) is to make sure our voices and our language are heard, and I also want to do my duty to make sure that it is correct and it is said well and shown well,” Young said.

Young, a UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre major, is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree this spring.  UH Mānoa's is the only theater program in the world offering a graduate degree in indigenous theater.

UH Mānoa Professor Hailiʻōpua Baker, Hawaiian Theatre Program Director, wrote and directed the hana keaka (Hawaiian theater) play, which debuted in front of sold out crowds at Kennedy Theatre in September 2019. This is the first time in UH’s history that a production has been invited to perform in New York City.

The cast and crew say they’re humbled and thrilled to represent both the university and Hawaiʻi.

“That excitement and honor that people feel being selected for us to go, that’s what’s fueling everyone’s response,” said Baker.

Mobilizing a theatrical production is no easy task and is especially challenging when it requires flying nearly 5,000 miles. The trek comes with a $150,000 price tag, but generous donations covered costs for the cast and crew’s airfare, cargo transport and accommodations.

Donors who supported the production include Hawaiian Airlines, the Roger A. Long Charitable Fund for the Performing Arts, the Glenn Cannon Foundation, the John Chin Young Foundation, Edward Langhans Fund, MANAOLA Ohana, Haleleʻa Arts Foundation, UH Mānoa Department of Theatre & Dance Enrichment Fund, UH Mānoa, UH Foundation and members of the community.

Original Story

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