Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Audience Evaluation

At each performance of The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu audience members were asked to fill out evaluation cards. Feedback on our programs is always important to us, but particularly so for this production. The play is the first that NMAI has produced in-house and as such was an experiment in whether or not the museum can build its own Native theater program. The evaluation cards asked audience members for their opinions on the performance, what they would like to see in our theater, and their impressions on doing local Native theater in our museum. Responses were overwhelmingly positive. Here is a sample of what audience members thought of the show:

“I have been to other presentations here and all have been of great quality, but this was absolutely the best. The play, set and actresses gave us a wonderful experience.”

“The play increased our understanding of how the Hawaiian culture was impacted by the missionaries. It was educational as well as entertaining.”

“This was an excellent production. I felt that the story was compelling. The actors were very persuasive and I feel as if I’m leaving thinking of the many complex issues presented.”

“Very excited that NMAI is doing this now! Wishing you great success!”

Following the successful presentation of The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu we are exploring possibilities for the future. Watch this space for updates on the continued work of building a Native theater program at NMAI and, as always, your comments and feedback are welcomed.

Article About Our Set Designer

The following is a link to an article about David Dwyer and his set design for The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu.

Suddenly it's all over...

On Friday, May 15 at 7:30 pm, and on Saturday, May 16 at 2:00 pm, in the Rasmuson Theater, NMAI Cultural Arts presented a production of Victoria Kneubuhl’s The Conversion of Ka’ahumanu. This play examines the complex relationships among Christian missionaries and indigenous Hawaiian women 40 years after the islands’ first contact with the West. There was a special event preview performance for NMAI members on Thursday, May 14, followed by a reception where members met and talked with the playwright and the cast. This was the first play produced by the NMAI’s Mall museum drawing entirely on local resources, including Cultural Arts Program Specialists Vincent P. Scott, director, and Janet Clark, stage manager. Prior to the Thursday and Friday evening shows the Mitsitam Café offered a special menu of Hawaiian-style tapas, with music provided in the café by members of Halau Ho’omau. Approximately 550 people attended the performances, which were received with great enthusiasm and standing ovations.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Here we are - time for our opening performance tonight. This last week we concentrated on technical and dress rehearsals. Last night we held a preview/final dress performance. This was a special "Sneak Preview" event for NMAI members. The rehearsal went very well. The audience was engaged in the performance during the entire play. Comments were very positive. Most importantly, we did justice to Ms. Kneubuhl's play. We have been honored to be hosting Victoria Kneubuhl this week. She was the featured writer in our Native Writer's Series this week and has been with us for dress rehearsals and performances.

Before the preview last night and the performance tonight, our famous Mitsitam Cafe is featuring a Hawaiian menu of:
Hui Hui Chicken Skewers
Kalua Pig
Ahi Poke
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Coconut Shrimp
Lumpia with ginger dipping sauce

Specialty Cocktail:
Pineapple Coconut Cocktail

While folks dine, the Halau Ho'Omau I ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i entertains cafe patrons with beautiful Hawaiian music. Mahalo to our cafe and to Halau Ho'Omau for making an evening of Hawaiian culture and performance an even more memorable one!

To the cast and crew and many folks who helped to get all of us to this opening night, I send a very heartfelt "Mahalo!"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Set

In the script for The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu the set is described as follows: "Downstage center is a free open Playing Area. Downstage right is a simple set to suggest a parlor of the Mission House. The set pieces include a table with benches and a few chairs, one of which should be a Boston rocker. Behind the Playing Area, on a slightly raised platform, is a lauhala mat with pillows, and a small western table. This is Ka'ahumanu's House. Downstage left is a lauhala mat covered with a small Chinese ruge, a table behind it, and a nice chair. This is Hannah's House."

As you will see, the NMAI's set for The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu varies slightly from this description. Factors such as the shape and size of our stage affected the set design. For our production, Hannah's house is not on stage but is instead represented by a stool in front of the stage, level with the audience. Our set designer David Dwyer, with the assistance of his son Garrett, has built a world that is true to the essence of Kneubuhl's description and does a wonderful job of bringing 1820's Honolulu to life.

Production Staff

Our set is up and lighting, sound, props, and costumes are being added and tweaked with each rehearsal. Victoria Kneubuhl's play is coming to life thanks to the hard work of some very talented people:


Vincent P. Scott, a Cultural Arts Program Specialist here at the NMAI’s Mall museum, has been a director and stage manager for over twenty years. Vincent has worked in many types of theater, including Native theater, classical repertory, summer stock, musical theater, opera, and touring theater, from regional tours that included Moose lodges and Elks Clubs in rural Montana, to international festivals in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Hong Kong. He has even directed at the Amundson-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica! Here at the NMAI, Vincent has most recently directed a reading of Drew Hayden Taylor’s Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock. Mr. Scott has a BA in Theater and Speech from DeSales University, an MFA in Directing for the Theater from Wayne State University, and an MA in Christianity and Culture from Gonzaga University. Articles and book chapter contributions by Mr. Scott appear in Baylor Journal of Theater and Performance (Spring 2007), Insights (Winter 2007), The Soul of the American Actor (Summer 2008), and Performing Worlds into Being: Native American Women’s Theater (2009). Vincent dedicates this production to the many Native cultural guides that have warmly welcomed him into their cultures and have helped him “steer the canoe:” Jim Shanley and the Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, MT, the Cup’ik people of Chevak, AK, the Native Ministry Training Program in St. Mary’s, AK, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, AK.

Set Designer

David Dwyer is delighted to be working with a fabulous production team on The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu. He holds a Bachelor's degree in theater and an Oral Communication Certificate with distinction from Marietta College, and a Master of Fine Arts in production design from Michigan State University. As a free-lance scenic and lighting designer he works and travels throughout the Eastern United States. His designs have been seen at The Boarshead Theatre, Theatre Winterhaven, Dance Ocala, Gemstone Productions, The Gorilla Theatre, and LiveArts Theatre. He has served as technical director for the Showboat Becky Thatcher, and Northern Michigan University. He is an Associate Professor of theatre at Southern Virginia University, where he is the principal theater designer and technical director, teaches theater classes, and directs theater productions. He resides in Buena Vista, Virginia with his wife and five children.

Costume Designer

Valerie St. Pierre Smith (Anishnaabe) received her MFA in Costume Design and Technology from San Diego State University. Valerie has worked as a costume designer and artisan for clients on both coasts including Warner Brothers Studio; Universal Studios, Hollywood; The Old Globe Theatre; La Jolla Playhouse and Sea World, San Diego. Most recently her designs have been seen on stage in DC in The Other Room for The Kennedy Center/VSA and Antebellum for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Some of her favorite show credits include She Loves Me, The Skriker, The Tempest, A Doll House and Tartuffe. Valerie also currently serves on the design faculty at The George Washington University's Department of Theatre and Dance.

Lighting Designer

Sam Kitchel is currently a Kenan Fellow at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As a fellow he has been assisting at Theatre J, Synetic Theater, Wooly Mammoth, and the Kennedy Center among others. He holds a Bachelor's in Fine Arts from North Carolina School of the Arts. His next design will be Rorschach Theatre's Brain People.

Props Designer

Carmen Gomez is new to the D.C. area and has just completed her first year as a design professor and the technical director for the Theatre and Dance Department at The George Washington University. While she grew up and received her education in Texas, Carmen has spent the last five years teaching and designing at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida. She is excited to be involved with NMAI and looks forward to more new experiences.

Sound Designer

Edward Moser is a regional audio veteran whose recent theatrical credits include Native Son for the American Century Theatre, A Bad Friend for the Silver Spring Stage, Long Days Journey Into Night for the Quotidian Theatre, Rounding Third for the Accokeekcreek Theatre, and both As You Like It and 1984 for the National Players Tour 60. As a front of house engineer his work has been heard in the musicals Urinetown at the Clarice Smith Center, Godspell at Olney Theatre Center, and the world premiere of David at Theater J; and in concert for Grammy holders Walt Egan and Bill Danoff. He is a graduate of the Phoenix Conservatory and a member of AES.

Percussionist: 'olapa, Halau Mohala 'Ilima

Melissa Mokihana Scalph is a professional educator and duly graduated dancer of Halau Mohala `Ilima, a traditional hula school in Kailua, Hawai`i, under the direction of respected Kumu Hula (master) Mapuana de Silva. Mokihana’s family roots go back to the garden island of Kaua`i. She has been studying, performing and teaching hula in the D.C. area for over 30 years. Venues include Wolf Trap Theater-in-the-Woods, the Kirov Academy of Ballet, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Historical Society of Washington D.C. and the Taste of D.C. Festival. A former Fairfax County school teacher and experienced performer, Mokihana combines her skills to help dispel the stereotypical ideas about hula, and to replace them with am educated awareness of the dignity and respect due to Hawaiian dance and culture, while encouraging the same for cultures of all peoples.


Christy Stanlake is an associate professor of English at the US Naval Academy, where she runs the Navy theater program. She is active in Native American theater through both scholarship and practical theater work. Stanlake dramaturged JudyLee Oliva’s Te Ata World Premiere and directed a staged reading of Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl’s Fanny and Belle. Her publications in the field of Native theater include articles in Modern Drama and Performing Worlds into Being: Native American Women’s Theater; she also guest-edited BJTP’s special edition of Nation’s Speaking: Indigenous Performances Across the Americas. This summer, Cambridge UP will release her first book, Native American Drama: A Critical Perspective.

Stage Manager

Janet M. Clark has been stage managing professionally in theater in Washington, D.C. and New York for over 25 years. Here in Washington she has worked extensively at Folger Theatre, Arena Stage, and Theatre of the First Amendment. She also works in dance, opera, and special events, and is a proud member of Actors Equity Association.

Production Assistant

Meghan Williams is interning in the Cultural Arts department at NMAI this spring, working primarily on The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu. She has been involved in many theater productions both onstage, in plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as a stage manager for Oklahoma and Romeo and Juliet. In June, Meghan will graduate with a master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue working in programming or museum education.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sneak a Peek at the Play!

The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu delves into relationships. Over the course of the play the women's relationships within their own culture and between cultures are affected and changed by religion, friendships, personal trials, and cultural conflict and collisions. The following rehearsal photos show two scences in which the women confront and negotiate their very different worlds and their evolving relationships with each other.

Act 1 Scene 6: The Hawaiian women meet the missionaries for the first time and are shocked by their foreign appearance and dress.

Act 2 Scene 6: While Ka'ahumanu gives Sybil a lomilomi massage the missionary relaxes and shares secrets with the Hawaiian women.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Please join us!

Mahalo to Kevin Cartwright and Leihua Stewart for this promotion!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rehearsal Photos

The NMAI's staff photographer Katherine Fogden has been photographing our rehearsals. Here are a few snapshots of myself and our actresses hard at work.





Rebecca and me

Group Shot

Rehearsal Progress Update

Well we are about to start our technical rehearsal and dress rehearsals. This means we have spent our time since our "work-throughs" on running the acts and then running the entire show non stop for the first time. This helps actors with usual challenges such as getting their lines down firmly, remembering their blocking so that it becomes second nature, and having a sense of progression of what scenes happen in which order. Running the play also helps actors realize some routes they have to take backstage after an exit in one area with their next entrance in a very different area; run-throughs also help with timing and pacing, and general continued comfortability with actor roles and character development in the play. These rehearsals are both challenging and rewarding.
The set and props have now been loaded-in to our venue, although more of the set arrives soon; the costumes arrive today and the sound designer and lighting designer are busy at work on their contributions to the production. Our in-house sound engineer helped us record actor voices which are used as a sound cue in a certain scene in the play. We have also begun to add musical cues performed on traditional Hawaiian percussion instruments as transitions and underscoring; these contributions are performed by Melissa M. Scalph.
Two of the actors and myself are going to do a live radio show promotion of the play tonight on WPFW on the Jay Nightwolf program. Promotion of the production is key as we don't wish to perform for an empty house!
Our next few rehearsals are for the designers and technicians to really focus on their aspects of the show and for the cast to add all of these technical and design elements to their acting; actors must now work with the entire set, with all of the props, in their costumes and make up, in all the lighting cues and hearing all of the recorded and live sound cues. It is all these elements added to the performing of the script which will make a production of this script come fully to life.
The countdown is on: technical rehearsals Sunday, dress rehearsals Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, NMAI members preview on Thursday, and performances on Friday and Saturday. Saturday's performance is followed by an audience discussion with the playwright, Ms. Victoria Kneubuhl. Following the final performance and talkback, it will be time to strike the set and all of the production elements to the bare stage of the Rasmuson theater and put our Hawaiian play to rest. The beauty and pain of live theater performances are in the realization that, like trade winds across the ocean, the experience is indeed an ephemeral one.