David Ward recalls the early days of Seabury Hall performances in the cafeteria, when they took down all the tables and chairs and collected the remains “peanut butter and jelly between our toes” just to put on a show.
So when he got the chance to teach at the state-of-the-art ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center in 2012, it changed everything from the students’ experience to the work they were able to do.
“It’s just become this incredible facility that everyone at school, parents, students, teachers, the community as a whole, benefits from,” said Ward, who came to work at Seabury in 1988 when the fine and performing arts department was just getting started. “It really became that light for us. I like to think he has his own life force. It’s like a magnet – it draws people to it and there’s so much creativity in this space.
Current and former students, some of whom graduated long before the establishment was founded, combine their creative power on September 23 and 24 to celebrate the center’s 10th anniversary, which has served as a performing arts center for more than Seabury.
“No other theater on the island offers the size of this facility at the price that Seabury offers to the community”, said Amelia Nelson Couture, a 2002 graduate who co-founded a contemporary dance company, Adaptations Dance Theater, and now teaches at the Alexander Academy of Performing Arts in Maui. “My ballet school, we couldn’t do the productions we do if we didn’t have access to this theater.”
Couture, who was born and raised in Maui, remembers seeing her older brother perform at the Seabury Cafeteria. She was in sixth grade when the school built a new gymnasium and turned the old gymnasium over to the performing arts program.
“It was the first year that we had a theater space, so for us this theater was a big deal,” Couture said.
The old gymnasium was about the size of half a basketball court, which they turned into a black box theater, Ward said. It smelled of sweat, but it was better than the cafeteria. They performed their first show in the old gymnasium, known as the Performing Arts Studio, in 1995.
Then, generous community donors provided seed money for a new facility, and after about five years of planning, the school opened the 10,500-square-foot ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center in September. 2012.
“Everything just changed, because not only were we in this state-of-the-art theater, but just the teaching experience, the experience of students performing at a facility like this, the quality and the kind of work we could teach and do,” said Ward.
The name of the building refers to the ‘a’ali’i, “a native shrub used in lei-making, a plant that adapts to many conditions and bends easily in the strongest winds”, Paul Wood, who founded Seabury’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts in the 1988-89 school year, wrote about the center.
“Like the ‘a’ali’i, the building adapts to its site”, Wood wrote. “Its deliberately cow barn-like outlines give an Upcountry vibe. (The land was once owned by Haleakala Dairy.) Fortunately, the barns have excellent ventilation, a quality that the CAC increases with louver systems, some of which are automated by temperature. The glass and mesh walls provide light without creating a greenhouse effect.
The facility serves not only as a theater but also as a meeting room; a multipurpose classroom for choir, music, drama, and Hawaiian culture lessons; and a gathering place for nonprofits and schools, according to Wood.
Ward, who was a dancer in Europe when Wood recruited him to work at Seabury, saw the power that performance and purpose can have on children.
When Seabury students first returned to school in the fall of 2020 after pandemic-induced closures, Ward decided to mount a production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” He thought he would only have 10 kids to try with many parents concerned about high-risk activities. Over 35 children showed up and he took everyone.
Their first performance in November was postponed to December due to COVID-19, and then again in January. Ward told the kids they didn’t have to go on, “but they wouldn’t let go.”
“It’s become this really important thing for kids to do,” he said. “It was like a club that brought them out of their lonely rooms.”
They finally performed in February to a limited audience of 30 people, and Ward realized that his work had grown into something bigger than just “Have fun and teach the kids about the performing arts.”
“It was something that was socially and psychologically important for the children,” said Ward. “The installation allowed us to be able to do this in complete safety. … The center stood out as a beacon at an important time for these children.
Ward, who invited former students to perform when the center opened in 2012, is bringing back former students to perform with 132 current students at the 10th anniversary event, dubbed “Past/Before”.
One of them is Isaac Raz, a jazz pianist and composer in New York who attended Seabury from 1983 to 1985. Raz grew up in New York and Israel, where he attended Thelma Yellin High School for the Arts during of his freshman year and moved to many places with his family. But it was in Maui, where he took the organ from Mark Kennedy, the classical piano from Ruth Murata and the jazz piano from David Bass at the Kaanapali hotel where his father worked, that he developed his identity as a musician. .
“I came into my identity, of all the places I was most, in Seabury, because I was there during very key formative years,” Raz said. “As I said earlier, my childhood upbringing was marked by many travels, many moves and the two years I spent at Seabury…these had the strongest influence on my teenage years. “
Raz said he was happy to see the investment Seabury has put into his arts program. When people consider how much music engages a person’s language, reasoning, visual and emotional centers as well as gross and fine motor skills, it is “the best full body workout for your brain.”
“As an artist, there is always an element of advocating for the importance of the arts in an academic setting,” Raz said. “When you look at how specific music is, which I can talk about, but the way it integrates all parts of the brain, body and spirit simultaneously, there’s no human endeavor that does that. insofar as playing an instrument does.
Couture, who will perform an acrobatic rope act at the event, can also attest to the importance of her time at Seabury, where she took dance lessons with Ward, Andre Morissette and Vanessa Cerrito.
“I think David, André and Vanessa influenced me a lot, especially in the way they used modern dance as an art form of storytelling”, Couture said. “It’s something that I really like. … I tend to go historically rather than abstractly.
For Ward, the story he wants to tell at the Past/Forward celebration event is one of passing the torch, from the professionals who once graced the cafeteria and gymnasium scenes to the next generation who are now enjoying the Creative Arts Center.
“We wanted to honor them for building the foundation that we now stand on,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for their courage, we would never have been where we are.”
For tickets or more information about the event, which will benefit from Seabury’s financial assistance program, visit SeaburyHall.org/arts.
*Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]