A New Show Asks You to Share Stories About the False Missile Alert

“38 Minutes” at Kumu Kahua Theatre turns that infamous morning in January into an interactive play.
38 minutes Kumu Kahua Theatre
The cast and team behind 38 minutes.
Photo: raul soria, Jr. courtesy of kumu kahua theatre. 


I was getting breakfast ready for my kids when I received a text from my sister. “Did you see the missile alert?” Moments later, my phone started buzzing as a crawl began scrolling below the basketball game on TV, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” 


More than six months later, we can all remember exactly what we were doing on Jan. 13. The frightening mistake has inspired bills to change the way the alerts are sent (and retracted), a documentary (This is Not a Drill: 38 Minutes That Changed Lives is set to be released in September) and more than a dozen cheeky missile alert survivor T-shirts online. But one local theater has created a safe space for people to share stories about what, for some, was a life-changing day.


38 Minutes is a compilation of scenes and monologues submitted by local writers, performers and event students about their experiences that not-so-quiet Saturday morning. Kumu Kahua Theatre asked for submissions from the public (over a period of 38 days, of course) which were then worked into a show by husband-and-wife team Monica and Squire Coldwell.


This is not a traditional performance, with the actors on stage, the audience observing quietly on the perimeter. The second act centers around improvisation. For those intimidated by that word, don’t worry that you’ll be pulled into a skit or put on the spot. Instead, people in the audience are encouraged to share their stories which the actors then improvise into new scenes (for 38 minutes, naturally). The Coldwells say this part has been especially powerful since the show opened in early July.


“Those from Hawaii that watch the show seem to appreciate it as a cathartic experience,” the pair wrote in an email response to my questions. “Others that may not have understood what family members experienced because they were separated by the ocean have a better understanding and reverence for what happened that day to those that they care about and love.”


Kumu Kahua received 27 submissions. Those not selected for the show are included in a book of all submitted stories sold for $10 at the shows.


38 Minutes runs through Sunday. Performances are Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $30.


Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St. (808) 536-4441, kumukahua.org