Deena Dray and All That Glitters
A chat with Deena Dray, Diamond Head Theatre executive director since 1995:
How did you end up at DHT?
I was the director of a health and human service nonprofit and I was on the board of the theater. The board asked if I would be open to accepting the position as executive director.
How has the theater changed in the years you’ve been there?
We’ve been lucky to have a thriving model as far as our economic situation. We have been in the black for 17 years now.
When I was on the board, we were very hands-on and we needed certain skill levels. We’ve gone to having a professional staff that has those skill levels, and the board has stepped up to deal more with fundraising and policy. The staff has really elevated the level of professionalism. People are surprised when they come to our shows. We have very high-quality production values – they don’t expect what we do when they hear “community theater.”
Who constitutes the backbone of DHT?
John Rampage is the artistic director and my partner in running the theater. He takes care of the artistic side of the house and I take care of the business side, and it is a very good match.
Part of our financial success is having a very strong CFO, Tammy Tamai. She is a certified public accountant, and she is a penny pincher (laughs). I’m a former banker, so Tammy and I really work hard to project what we think we can make each year and keep our expenses in line with that.
We have a really strong artistic staff.
Karen Wolfe in the costume shop, Willie Sabel in the scene (set and props) shop.
They continue to produce unbelievably fabulous productions on pretty much shoestring budgets.
They’re very thrifty and resourceful about coming up with designs and materials. People have come to expect the big Broadway-quality musicals that Diamond Head Theatre has become known for.
Any interesting tidbits about the theater itself?
We’re moving toward our 100th birthday. That’s in 2015. When I go to Mainland conferences, people are surprised that we have a 97-year-old theater in Hawaii, (a relatively) new state and new community. But we’re the third-oldest, longest continually running theater in the country. A lot of other theaters stopped producing during the wars, but World War II was a busy time for us because we were entertaining the troops.
The theater has really seen its day. It’s been kind of patched and shored up over the years so, as we look toward the 100th anniversary, the board has the vision to create a new theater.
We’re hoping to be able to build right next door and continue to operate the theater until we tear it down. The heart of Diamond Head Theatre is the people who come to it, and we want them to feel affection for the space and for the people on the stage and for the shows. The most important thing in thinking about a new theater is to make sure we continue our family-friendly heritage of people greeting each other in the lobbies, hugging each other in the aisles. We wouldn’t go any larger than 500 seats. We want to continue to be what people know us as now, which is a place to come to be entertained, see your friends, see your neighbors and walk out feeling good.
What’s the timeline for the new building?
Five to seven years, but it takes a lot of planning to get to that point, with capital campaigns and fundraising.
Anything else about the theater and its role on the island?
I’ve been going through the archives when I write stories for our newsletter, and we have families that have been participating in this theater for generations – old-time kama’aina missionary families that started the company in 1915 and have continued to support it. Also, new families that have been on stage or ushering or participating for 30 to 50 years. That, to me, is the unique thing about our theater, that we have such a rich history, and people value and love our little place here.
Like, Celebrate the ’80s, Dude
I’m of the generation that contributed Hammer pants and plastic bracelets, leg warmers and sweat-bands, high bangs and crimped hair to the world. I never thought I’d admit that. Once we had safely relegated those things to the trash bin, nearest thrift store, or closet of embarrassing memories, little did we expect the era to make the circle back to being fashionable. But, folks, tempered by the passage of time and steeped in a neon brine of nostalgia, the ’80s have indeed risen to the status of vintage chic. You see it in the clothing stores, you see it in party themes, you hear it on the radio, and it’s coming to you live at Diamond Head Theatre in all its corny glory. Xanadu, the infamous Olivia Newton-John, B-grade musical film, is re-imagined for the stage, with all the same fun songs she made popular. Samantha Stoltzfus as a Greek goddess and Tony Butindaro, the mortal street artist she falls in love with, rake in the laughs in the lead rolls as they plan the creation of a roller disco. Kim Anderson charms in her quirkiness and rat’s nest of red hair as one of the forces working against the romantic couple. But the all-out, over-the-top, best scenes come later in the show. Watch Drew Tandal glam it up as a god(dess) and see if the prancing of his centaur’s foot (yes, he also plays a centaur) doesn’t bring the house down! The show plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday through June 17. Cost is $12-$42. Call 733-0274 for more information.