Behind the Curtain
We go to movies, we attend games at Aloha Stadium, we catch the latest musicals by our local theater groups. Behind each of these experiences are the unsung heroes. The technical directors, the ushers, the costume designers who work long and hard so that the stars shine and we, the audience, are thrilled. Devoted craftspeople behind the curtain make it all happen. Here are their stories.
Manoa Valley Theatre technical director
A few years ago, Benjamin MacKrell saw Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway and realized the impact of a technical director. “When the curtain went up at the beginning of the second act, there was a standing ovation for the set change,” says MacKrell, 24. “That was rewarding for me as someone involved in that area of theater.”
MacKrell started in September as the technical director at Manoa Valley Theatre, handling everything from lighting to set design. He’s even had to build furniture. “Sometimes you have to build pieces that you can’t find, that come with special requirements,” says MacKrell, who is building a storage box that can also be used as a printing press, a table and a boat in MVT’s upcoming production of Gutenberg! The Musical! “You wouldn’t necessarily bring these pieces home and throw them around the living room.”
Though he enjoys the spotlight, MacKrell prefers his behind-the-scene seat in the theater, where he can create art in a very practical way. He just doesn’t want the audience to notice his hard work. “If you’re distracted by what we’ve done, we’ve failed in a way. [The audience] should see a set and not think of us.”
stylist/ creative director/ makeup artist
Sometimes being a stylist for a photo shoot means gluing Austrian crystals to a chandelier and carrying a couch through a forest after a night of heavy rains. All for one shot. That’s what E’Jay Maldonado did for a recent photo shoot for Valerie Joseph Boutique.
Since he couldn’t find the perfect pink crystal chandelier, he created his own, using parts from two different chandeliers and lots of glitter. After scouting locations in St. Louis Heights, he wound up carrying a small decorative sofa to the site. The shot, which took a couple of weeks to plan, wrapped in just 20 minutes. “It’s such a rush,” says Maldonado, a veteran makeup artist, a stylist for Amy Hanaialii Gilliom and the creative director for Body & Soul Cosmetics. “To me, I see what I do as art. When you see Valerie Joseph ads in the mall and you hear someone say, ‘That’s cool,’ it’s so worth it.”
Consolidated Theatres projectionist
You might think a movie projectionist gets to see more movies than Roger Ebert. Toshi Arai rarely sees more than 10 minutes of a movie at a time. When he’s working his shift at Ward Stadium 16, he’s in charge of all 16 projectors, and spends his day on the move.
“I’m running between all the machines, making sure everything is OK. On Thursdays and Fridays, I don’t even have time to eat,” he says.
Automation has made this one-man show possible—timers set ahead of time start the movies right on schedule, and huge platters on the projectors hold up to four and a half hours’ worth of 35mm film, so Arai doesn’t have to switch reels midway through a movie. Some things still happen the old-fashioned way. On Thursdays, new movies must be spliced together by hand.
Arai has been with Consolidated since 1967, and has worked in many of Hawaii’s historic movie houses, including the Waikiki 3. Ironically, he’s not much of a movie buff in his spare time. “When I watch a movie now, I cannot enjoy it,” he says. “I’m always watching for scratches, listening to the sound levels.”
associate artistic director for the Hawaii Opera Theatre
You may not have seen Beebe Freitas on stage during one of Hawaii Opera Theatre’s productions, but the show wouldn’t be able to go on without her help. A more-than-40-year veteran of HOT, she’s been referred to as the glue that keeps the place together—doing everything from auditioning potential singers in New York City to playing accompaniment for all the rehearsals and coaching the chorus on the subtleties of Italian or French operatic diction. At any given moment, Freitas is likely juggling three different seasons of opera in her head. “People ask me what we did last year, and I don’t even remember,” she says.
Freitas began her musical career in New York City, training at the Juilliard School and working with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. When her husband accepted a job offer from the University of Hawaii, Freitas thought that her career was over. “When I left, I had to turn down a job in New York City with Igor Stravinsky,” she recalls.
Her next gig would be playing a church organ in Niu Valley—a far cry from Stravinsky—but she soon got involved with HOT, and quickly made herself indispensable. “Some people want to make a living in music, but they have this tunnel vision about what they can do,” she says. “But you can expand: Maybe you can start as a gofer at the radio station, or you can work in the office at the symphony. The point is that you’ll be learning.”
Charles and Pauline Lindberg
Hawaii Theatre ushers
The Lindbergs have volunteered as ushers for Hawaii Theatre since just a few months after it reopened in 1996. They’ve since become stalwarts of the historic theater’s usher group. The week we talked to them, the Lindbergs had volunteered almost 30 hours, over the course of seven performances. “Sometimes we’ll be here late and it feels like we should sleep here, because we’ll just be coming back for a matinee show,” says Pauline with a laugh.
And what needs to be done? There’s the basic job of ushering people to their seats, but the Lindbergs also pick up trash after a show, set up and break down reception tables, and keep an eye on the audience for no-nos like flash photography. Charles says they keep coming back because of all the people they’ve gotten to know over the years—performers, regular audience members, and especially the crew of ushers they spend so many hours with. “It’s the love of the theater, really,” he says. “If it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t be here. It’s like a big family.”
installation designer at the Honolulu Academy of Arts
If Larry Maruya does his job well enough, it won’t even occur to you that he had anything to do with a new Academy exhibit. “I always put the artwork first,” he says. “The point for the viewer is to be caught up in the work itself.” In reality, though, Maruya and his team of six workers are essential to creating any new installation. From unboxing crates of newly arrived art to fabricating cases and mounts for displaying the art, Maruya does more hands-on work with the artwork than anyone else in the museum.
“We do 30 to 35 installations a year,” he says, “and no two shows are exactly alike. I have to change my mindset for each new installation.” And the impact of Maruya’s design is obvious, at least to him. “I show up to openings to see what happens to the crowd, how they move around. It’s obvious when something’s not working.
“The best part is when you set up a specific angle of view for a piece of art, and then you see someone standing in that very spot, looking at that view of the piece that you set up, and you realize that you succeeded.”
Aloha Stadium scoreboard administrator
David Golz has been managing the operation of the scoreboard and JumboTron at Aloha Stadium for 18 years. Still, he often winds up on the floor, looking for faulty wires. Like at the University of Hawaii’s home opener against Weber State. The game clock stopped working. And you can’t have that happen during a football game.
“It’s the most low-tech device we have and it didn’t work,” Golz says, groaning. “And there I was, crawling on the floor [in the press box] and soldering wires. It was the longest day of my life.”
For a UH football game, Golz gets to the stadium six hours before kickoff to go over the script with his crew, check the equipment—including the JumboTron and a matrix board that consumes as much electricity as 16 three-bedroom homes—and put out any proverbial fires.
His worst nightmare? A total power outage. Even with a generator, it takes at least 15 minutes for the stadium lights to turn on. He hates thinking about it. “We can’t do anything without power,” he says. “We’re dead.”
Polynesian Cultural Center wardrobe supervisor
With more than 100 dancers performing six days a week, the Polynesian Cultural Center is one of Hawaii’s largest live productions. Catherine Teriipaia is the one who makes sure all the performers are looking their best, day in and day out.
She helps design and create traditional garb and accessories for the seven cultures—Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga and the Polynesian Triangle—the center showcases.
“Every accessory, every piece of clothing, everything [the performers] wear on stage, we create,” says Teriipaia.
She uses lauhala, coconut leaves, feathers, shells, even tapa. Making a single pau-style skirt for a male kahiko dancer—which involves hand-stitching, dying and drying the material, and pressing the skirt—can take up to two days. To outfit the entire halau can take a month.
Teriipaia took over her current job from her mother Elisa, nine years ago. “She taught me that if you’re honest in your work and if you work together as one, you will fulfill all the work that’s been planned,” Teriipaia says. “Without that, we can’t be successful.”
Neil Blaisdell Center productions manager
On any given day at the neil blaisdell center, there could be a basketball game in the arena, a symphony performance at the concert hall, a car show in the exhibition hall, a sample sale in one of the meeting rooms and a seminar in another. And there’s just one person managing it all.
Mary Lewis has been the productions manager for the city-operated Blaisdell Center and Waikiki Shell for 18 years. She employs one full-time assistant and about 140 part-timers, ranging from ushers to security guards to event technicians. Her job is to handle the logistics for every act, performance, concert or event that’s booked at one of the four venues. One day, this could mean scheduling, on another, finding a forklift.
“It’s a constant shifting of gears,” says Lewis, whose background is theater set and lighting design. “Multitasking is an overused word, but in productions it’s what you do. You always have six things in your head and you always know where to find the cheapest gaffe tape.”
One of the most challenging productions Lewis has worked on was the 12-week run of the hit musical The Lion King at the concert hall in 2007. She had to figure out how to fit a cast of 40 and a slew of sets, costumes and masks—normally stored in a basement—somewhere off-stage. “We’re on a rock. We don’t have basements,” Lewis says. “We don’t have that luxury.”
Contractors had to create aisles, put up new curtains and install doors. They even figured out a way to lift scenes into the ceiling for extra storage. And while most people envy her job because of her access to Hawaii’s best shows, Lewis insists there’s nothing glamorous about it. “Elton John was here three nights in a row and what did I hear? The last song of the last day of the last encore,” she says. “And I was lucky just to hear that.”
Cherry Blossom Festival contestant coordinator
When the 12 Cherry Blossom Festival Queen hopefuls make their first public appearance this month, the experience won’t be that daunting. Not when the contestants—Japanese-American women between 18 and 26—have spent the past four months preparing for this appearance, one of several leading up to Festival Ball, where they’ll don expensive, formal kimono and judges pick a new queen and court.
The pageant is just one day in a preparation process that lasts seven months and includes more than a dozen cultural classes ranging from taiko drumming to public speaking. “I think many people are under the impression that the festival is only a pageant held on one night,” says Leilani Tan who, as contestant coordinator, is responsible for overseeing this process. “The festival is a series of many events … Festival Ball is just a small piece of the pie.”
In her role—which can seem a cross between supervisor and Mom—Tan plans the entire contestant experience from scheduling classes and fittings to finding appearance dresses and pageant gowns. But it’s not just planning and paperwork. Tan, herself a former Narcissus Queen, advises the contestants on their speeches, critiques their interviewing skills, quizzes them on current events and keeps extra pantyhose on hand just in case. “Managing a group of young women who are all vying for the title of Cherry Blossom Queen is no small task,” says Tan, 34, a deputy prosecuting attorney. “Luckily, I’ve been able to escape any real drama thus far.”
The best part, she says, is seeing the transformation from timid strangers to confident women who appreciate their culture and can execute a five-point turn in a kimono. “The ride often starts out very bumpy, but I’ve found that because expectations are set very high, most will rise to that level,” Tan says. “When they reflect back, they, too, are amazed at how much they have changed in such a short period of time.”
University of Hawaii athletic trainer
When Renae Shigemura was a junior at Saint Francis School, she wrote a letter to herself that she would read when she turned 25. In it, she had written that she wanted to study kinesiology. Not that she knew what that meant at the time. “My whole life I’ve been involved in athletics,” says Shigemura, 33, who grew up playing soccer and lettered in basketball and tennis. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
For the past 11 years, Shigemura has worked in the athletics training department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, first as a student and now as one of five full-time athletic trainers responsible for the care and rehabilitation of the more than 400 student-athletes on campus.
These trainers’s tasks run the gamut from the medically rigorous to the mundane: taping ankles, massaging calves, poring over X-rays, administering therapeutic ultrasound, even accompanying student-athletes to their doctors’ appointments. They spend the mornings treating athletes in the recently renovated Makai Athletic Training Room, adjacent to the Stan Sheriff Center. Their afternoons are spent prepping for practice or home games or tournaments, all of which at least one certified trainer attends. They even pack supplies—Band-Aids, knee braces, coolers—for road trips.
“People think it’s a glamorous job,” says Shigemura, who often works 60-hour weeks. “They see us at games, but they don’t see everything else we do.” And because they work so closely with the student athletes, trainers even get tapped for non-sports-related injuries. Shigemura remembers flushing out a dime-size hole in one volleyball player’s shin after she got into a moped accident on campus.
“I could literally see inside her shin,” Shigemura says. “But you have to just think, ‘OK, what do I do next?’ You can’t think about it.”