Deena Dray

Photo from Brad Goda

Photo from Brad Goda

It began in 1915 with a small group of women who convened to read plays. Now, it welcomes 40,000 theater patrons annually.

One year before its 100th anniversary next September, Diamond Head Theatre (DHT) continues to thrive as the third-oldest continuously operated community theater in the nation.

With much planing still to do for an anniversary gala and more, the theater is revisiting its history.

“I think we are very proud to be approaching our 100th anniversary, and it is really a testament to this community that they have supported our theater for all these years,” says Deena Dray, who has served as the theater’s executive director since 1995.

For Dray, who appeared on MidWeek‘s Dec. 15, 2004, cover, the theater’s anniversary also will mark 20 years of working alongside artistic director John Rampage.

“Over the years, we have become a solid team,” she says. “We have our differences, of course – he is the creative and I am the business person – but I respect him tremendously. I consider him not only my partner in running Diamond Head Theatre, but my friend.”

The duo has worked to establish DHT’s financial security while balancing its creative needs. It is a task they have met with success, Dray says, allowing the theater to have “been in the black” for 18 years.

“We operate efficiently and yet we don’t sacrifice our artistic sensibility to do that,” she says.

Currently, DHT is presenting Show Boat through April 20. A Broadway musical with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the story spans 40 years and features a theater group that travels down the Mississippi River.

The show marks the debut of Anthony Feliciano as Gaylord Ravenal, and opera singer Lea Woods Almanza in the role of Magnolia Hawks. John Sloan III, also new to DHT’s stage, recently wrapped with Honolulu’s production of The Lion King, and will play Joe, singing the well-known classic Ol’ Man River. Fredrico Biven, Lisa Konove, Tricia Marciel and Alison L.B. Maldonado round out the cast.

With summer approaching, DHT also is preparing for its popular seven-week Musical Theatre Experience camp. The theater also continues to provide the community with its performing troop Shooting Stars.

“Education is No. 1 here,” says Dray. “It’s entertainment and education and volunteerism – (those) are kind of the three legs that are very important to us.”

In the near future, DHT hopes to build a new theater next to the existing one. Though a few years down the road, once the new theater is ready, DHT wants to demolish the current theater and utilize the space to create gardens and walkways.

“(Right now I am) talking to the community, making sure they know about the new theater, making sure they see what our plans are,” says Dray. “We want to be very transparent, and we want to be sure that everybody is happy with what we come up with and that we’ll be proud of the final results.”