BY LISA MARIE DAHM
North Hawaii News
“It takes a whole family to run a theater,” David Tarnas told the audience of about 150 people at public forum on the Kahilu Theatre intermission on June 12.
A communal response is what the Kahilu Theatre board of directors is hoping for to clear its $225,000 accumulated debt and to find funding for a new season before they can confidently re-open its doors.
Michael Bonahan, board vice president of external affairs, told the audience that in order for the theater to re-open it will take a collected effort.
“Together we can make it happen,” Bonahan told the group. “I am not giving up and I am not going anywhere. But we can’t do it without you.”
The theater is a not-for-profit organization managed by a volunteer board of directors. At the hour-long meeting, board members sat in a row along the edge of the stage. The forum included a presentation by Michael Bonahan, who reviewed the theater’s history and also gave a detailed account of its programs and financial expenditures.
Bonahan and Monique Allison, board vice president of external affairs, fielded the majority of the questions.
Richard Smart, owner of Parker Ranch and an actor, built the 490-seat theater in 1980 for about $1.5 million dollars. He was involved with the theatre for 12 years until he died in 1992. Smart set up no trust for the theater when he died and, without a dedicated funding source, the theater became independent from the ranch in 1994. In 2001, Kahilu Theatre acquired a 30-year lease on the property from Parker Ranch Trust.
Bonahan said that since the economic downturn in 2008, the theatre has struggled. In his presentation, he said there were many factors that led to the intermission including a decrease in ticket sales, as well as in grants, sponsorships and donations.
He said with rare exception, ticket sales do not cover direct costs of performances and rental charges for the theater cover direct, but not indirect costs.
Allison said major expenses that make up the theater’s yearly operating budget include electricity and other utilities, insurance, salaries and grounds upkeep. With the intermission, the board had to let go Janet Coburn, managing director and four staff members.
Because of the seasonal nature of the theater, commitments to performances have to be made months in advance, making it harder to react to economic changes.
Bonahan said the board had done its best to stem the tide, trimming expenses and cutting staff. He said two board members made donations of $100,000 each, allowing the theater to remain open for another season.
Bonahan said the board plans to use the intermission to restructure and work on eradicating the debt. Built into the restructure, the board hopes to create multiple advisory subcommittees of people with expertise in the community to help develop the plan. They are now looking for community volunteers.
He said they are also contemplating a condensed season when they restart, which may initially eliminate children’s programs and makana events, or any other programs that weren’t fully sponsored.
He said their situation is not unique and that many non-profit organizations are “always trying to balance their budget.”
“The reality is, all who have been on the board have been struggling really hard to keep it open,” Bonahan said, when asked why the board hadn’t told the public sooner.
During the question time, an audience member asked how many children were touched by their programs last year. Allison said there were about 9,000 children who had experienced events through the theater, including students outside of Waimea, in other areas of North Hawaii.
“They are children that would not otherwise have access to it,” Allison said of the theater’s dedication to offer students artistic experiences.
She said they bus performers out to the schools or bring students to the theater for performances.
“The children in the community are really who are impacted,” she said of the intermission.
Dr. Madeline Schatz, music director and conductor of the Kamuela Philharmonic, said they have been performing in the theater since 2004. She said even though they fill the theater, because their performances are free, people only donate a collective amount of about $2,000. She asked if Bonahan thought there was enough support on the island to keep a non-profit going.
“We are going to find out,” Bonahan said. “That is what we are going to do. We are not afraid to ask.”
He said the board wants the theater to become what the public wants it to be.
He said a good way to show support and to stay updated on the theater is to join their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KahiluTheatre. The theater welcomes anyone with thoughts, fundraising ideas, suggestions, or donations to e-mail them at [email protected].
“We have an opportunity going forward for all of us to be involved in the solution,” Bonahan said.
For more information, go to kahilutheatre.org