A vacant 30×30 lot in downtown Hilo will become a performance stage in the next few months, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the 2021 AARP Community Challenge Grants.
Last Friday, Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth and theatre director Larry Reitzer were joined by six young adults from OHANA (Oceania Hawaii Action Network for the Arts) who were there to help with the weeding, site clearing, and hauling on the site behind the East Hawai’i Cultural Center (EHCC) located on Kalakaua Street.
The project includes constructing a modular, mobile theater for free and low-cost entertainment performances on the Center’s grounds and various locations throughout the community. The EHCC is the only organization on the Big Island to receive the grant.
The new theatre will be sponsored by AARP and called The East Hawaii Cultural Center’s Livable Community Stage. It will be made up of many volunteers with the hope of using as many young people as possible onstage and off. EHCC is also actively looking for many volunteers from the AARP community, which includes people over fifty.
Finding rehearsal space and a venue to perform public events during the pandemic has been a challenge for Reitzer. After directing a recent successful three-week run of Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre, he postponed his next production, The Producers, until March 2022 due to current health and safety regulations. Looking to meet these challenges, Reitzer applied for a grant from AARP for organizations looking to pivot during COVID restrictions.
“We’re going to buy a trailer that’s going to be the stage, and it’ll have the ability to take events to nursing homes, schools, and parks,” Reitzer said. “We’ll add a roof, and this will become a regular venue. I’d like to offer cabaret acts, dance, classical music, and spoken art performances so that audiences unable to come to EHCC can still enjoy our programs. All of the events would happen outdoors, which is important during these challenging and confusing times.”
There will be seating for about 20 with social distancing in place and more when restrictions are lifted. AARP’s grant stipulations require that EHCC’s new center offer three events by November 10.
Mayor Mitch Roth stressed the importance of having Hawai’i Island’s youth involved with this project. “With schools, we see that there’s less focus on the arts, and we’re trying to make sure that this is an island that celebrates the arts,” noted the mayor. “We know that arts and education go very well together. Children who are involved in the arts generally do a lot better. One of the things that we’re looking at is sustainability, the ability to allow parents to raise their kids on this island and have something that holds them here, and the arts are one of those things that do that. So, we’re really proud of Larry and the group for getting this grant and giving something else to our children, especially during these times of COVID when there’s so much being taken away, they’re able to give back, and that’s important!”
This new project is an exciting addition to EHCC’s programming because it will allow them to serve everyone in East Hawai’i, even if they cannot come to downtown Hilo. If you’d like to learn more about the performance center, please visit their website at https://www.ehcc.org.
Featured image: Steve Roby
L-R: Sakura Yabuki, Aiki Bothell, Gabriella Tuson, Mayor Mitch Roth, RyAnne Raffipiy, Larry Reitzer, and Sam Hall