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Theatre Maven

Ruth Bolan was named president of Hawaii Theatre center in june, and she couldn’t be happier in her new role

In the dimly lit, cavernous Hawaii Theatre, Ruth Bolan is animated as she points out details of its construction and renovation others probably have never noticed. One thing is clear: she is home.

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Ruth Bolan's job as president of Hawaii Theatre Center is a dream come true PHOTO BY ANTHONY CONSILLIO

“It was like the scene in the Wizard of Oz when everything turns into color,” she says of stepping foot in the theater and seeing the way it had been renovated.

In June, she was appointed president of Hawaii Theatre Center, taking over for Sarah M. Richards, who retired at the end of May after nearly 25 years in the position. Though it’s only been a few months since then, it’s a role Bolan has been preparing for her entire life.

Born in Chicago, one of her earliest memories is of the city’s Goodman Theatre. As a toddler, Bolan accompanied her mother and younger sister there to see Aesop’s Fables.

During The Tortoise and the Hare, the actors raced around the theater. Each time they passed her sister, who was seated in the aisle on her mother’s lap, the costumed animals patted her head.

“Her eyes just glowed, they just sparkled,” recalls Bolan, “and I think from that moment, I was just totally hooked.”

Her career in the arts is an extensive one. In Washington, D.C., she worked at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In New York, she produced shows on and off Broadway. In Hollywood, she worked in film and television with networks like HBO.

And really, that’s only a fraction of what she has accomplished.

In Washington, D.C., she fell in love with Hawaii boy Shawn, and the couple married in 1991. As their brood grew to welcome son Griffin and twins Amy and Walker, the family moved to Hawaii to be with family.

Eventually looking to go back to work, Bolan hoped to return to theatre. Then she saw one of late playwright Lisa Matsumoto’s shows at Diamond Head Theatre.

“I just loved what she was doing and I literally cold-called her,” she says. “I looked her up (in the phonebook).”

From 2002 to 2005, Bolan was executive director of Matsumoto’s Ohia Productions before moving on to various roles in local nonprofits.

Now, her kids are in college and Bolan is back in the theatre, in a role she is quick to describe as her “dream job.”

“I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and she said, ‘Oh, you’re going to have an empty nest now, poor thing, what are you going to do?,'” she recounts.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be president of Hawaii Theatre,’ and it was the first time I said it out loud, and it’s such a thrill. I love everything about it.”

Her vision for Hawaii Theatre’s future is grand. With it, she hopes to not only fulfill a need in the community, but also speak to a generation that has become absorbed in technology and social media.

“I think, in a space like this, where it’s so intimate, it just feeds your soul in a way,” she says.

“It’s like an atavistic human need for that sort of shared human connection — living, breathing, in real time human connection — that as great as all the digital platforms are, they just can’t replicate it.”

As president, Bolan will put her business savvy background to use in her new role.

“To use a fun Broadway term: ‘It’s about butts in the seats,'” she says, elaborating that it is necessary for a nonprofit to operate like a business to ensure financial stability and longevity.

To do this, Bolan hopes to continue fundraising efforts and tap into digital marketing methods. Current renovations to Sun Yat Sen Plaza around the corner have the theater in talks with the City & County to form a partnership, so that it may use it for intermissions and also assist in its maintenance for the community.

As other areas in downtown Honolulu are transforming landscapes and communities, Bolan hopes to do the same in Chinatown — and put it in on the map.

“In the same way that the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville is associated with country music, I want Hawaii Theatre to be associated that way globally or nationally with Hawaiian music,” she says.

With her background as a producer, Bolan plans to enhance the theater’s programming, capturing audiences of all ages. Young theater-goers in particular, she says, are the ones the theater will look to in years to come for continued support.

These goals really only scratch the surface of what Bolan has in store for the nearly 100-year-old theater. And though there is much to be done, she is energized about the future.

“I feel really excited and invigorated by the challenge,” she says, “and there are challenges in your life, where they’re kind of like, ‘Whoa, I don’t know if I can do it,’ and there are challenges where you’re like, ‘I think I’ve got this.’

“This is like, ‘I think I’ve got this.'”

Hawaii Pops Orchestra will perform with Amy Hanaialii and Willie K Saturday, Nov. 1. For tickets and more information, visit hawaiitheatre.com.