Talks of closure loom over Kumu Kahua Theatre after 40 years

Severe cuts in State funding could force the seminal venue for homegrown theater to close

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU—For most of its 40-year history, Kumu Kahua Theatre has told Hawaii’s story through theater, offering talented local playwrights and actors a crucial venue for their craft, and giving the Hawaii community new perspectives on its island home. Many of its productions have become statewide touchstones, such as the hits Folks You Meet at Longs by Lee Cataluna and Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois Ann Yamanaka.

However, due to severe cuts in State funding, Kumu Kahua Theatre’s latest spring production, Da Kine Space, may be its last.

Like most arts organizations, Kumu Kahua’s difficulties started in 2009, after the nationwide financial crisis struck. The State Legislature drastically cut its State Foundation on Culture and the Arts grant and this year, its grant was cut an additional 60 percent.

“Whenever I talk to someone who comes to Kumu for the first time, they inevitably tell me, ‘Oh that actress was just like my aunt.’ Or they mention that they never knew that happened here in Hawai‘i,” said Kumu Kahua artistic director Harry Wong. “It would be great loss for the community if there was no place they could go to hear and see the people of Hawaii represented.”

The theater has initiated a slew of cost-cutting measures and raised its ticket prices for the first time in 10 years, yet the severe reduction in funding could force the theatre to close its doors in February.

The staff at Kumu Kahua Theatre will make an announcement on Tuesday, December 21 at 10:00 a.m. at its 46 Merchant St. theatre to announce Kumu Kahua’s possible closing at the end of February 2011.

Speaking will be Wong, Kumu Kahua board president Jason Kanda, board vice president Katherine Aumer, and co-founder Dennis Carroll.

Kumu Kahua productions are supported by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Annenberg Foundation; the Hawaii State Legislature; the City and County of Honolulu; the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts; and various foundations, businesses, and patrons.