When entering a theatre, one rarely pays attention to the stage. Most stages look the same: picture- framed, with raised seating that extends to the back of a theatre. On occasion the theatre may be “Black Box” style, a big square stage painted black inside with seats fixed in whatever order that best suits the performance. If lucky, one has sat in an arena theatre where the stage is in the center surrounded by the audience on each side.
Until recently, the students of Nānākuli High only dreamed of performing in such theatres. Located in the rural and economically challenged leeward coast area of Oahu, Hawaii, where 73 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch, there were little resources for a theatre stage.
Nevertheless, the students who performed in the Nānākuli Performing Arts Center program (NPAC), put on three theatre productions yearly from their school’s cafeteria. Students were accustomed to moving tables, creating wing space, and putting out folding chairs to transform the cafeteria into their theatrical stage.
Still, the school’s newest production Shrek the Musical, was calling for more supplies and a larger space. This inspired NPAC to apply for the ETF R.I.S.E. America Grant, a $10,000 grant funded by NBC, and awarded to 50 high schools in 2018, including Nānākuli, to cover critical theatre program needs.
The ETF R.I.S.E. America Grant helped NPAC purchase costumes, production materials, a microphone system, and most importantly the rental of a theatre stage. The award exceeded NPAC’s expectations.
“The impact on students and the NPAC program has been phenomenal,” said NPAC Director Robin Kitsu, “The students had some doubts about being able to perform a production of this scale well, but based on the response from audience members and themselves, they now know that their abilities are only limited by how hard they are willing to work.”
When the production debuted inside of an auditorium in the spring of 2018, the stage was set and filled with iconic Shrek characters and there was more than enough room for attendees, resulting in the highest attendance for an NPAC production in eight years.
Equipped with new materials and excitement for the upcoming school year, the R.I.S.E. America Grant has given Nānākuli students much more than a stage to perform on, it has strengthened the NPAC student’s commitment and performance quality for years to come.