Cades Schutte’s history is deeply rooted in the arts, including strong connections formed by its founders such as Russell Cades, a violin and viola player in the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and avid art collector. The firm is still proud to be a longtime supporter of the state’s leading arts and cultural institutions.
Diamond Head Theatre and Manoa Valley Theatre, both local theatrical productions based on O‘ahu, are examples of such entities. The heads of the Boards at both entities are currently Cades Schutte attorneys: Jeffrey S. Portnoy at Manoa Valley Theatre and Colin O. Miwa at Diamond Head Theatre. We asked both of them a few questions about each of the theaters and their backgrounds.
Colin O. Miwa, Diamond Head Theatre Chairman
How did you become involved with Diamond Head Theatre (DHT)? What motivated you to take on the role of Chairman?
I believe Larry Takumi, one of our retired partners, recruited me to join the DHT Board back in 2014. Larry, like Russell Cades a while back, Martin E. Hsia and John R. Love now, and many other Cades Schutte attorneys, had always been involved with the performing arts in Hawai‘i for many years, and Larry has always been an active supporter of DHT in particular. He reached out to me to join the Board (since I certainly couldn’t perform!), as they were planning to build a new theatre and we thought I might be able to help with the construction contracts. By the time I was approached for the Chair position, we were pretty deeply involved with construction of the new theatre building, which was about midway to substantial completion. So for the sake of continuity, it seemed appropriate for me to take on the chair’s duties.
How has DHT evolved or grown since its inception? Are there any significant milestones or changes that have occurred recently?
Founded in 1915, DHT is the oldest live theatre company in Hawai‘i, and the third-longest, continuously operated community theatre in the country. Originally a theatrical group called The Footlights performing in what was then the Honolulu Opera House, the group adopted a new name in 1934, Honolulu Community Theatre, and in 1952, took up residence in the Fort Ruger Theatre, the Army Post’s then-movie house. In 1990, HCT changed its name to “Diamond Head Theatre” to better reflect its location.
In support of its mission to serve “Broadway” musical interests and advance educational opportunities in the performing arts, DHT’s calendar of events has grown to include six different shows per season, year-round dance, voice, and acting classes, and a youth performing troupe called the Shooting Stars. Through its productions, DHT entertains more than 40,000 patrons per year and provides performing arts instruction to more than 1,000 young people and adults yearly. As a community-based theatre where productions are made by, with and for the community, DHT operates as a non-profit organization with a large cast of committed staff and volunteers.
In October 2022, the aging theatre structure was closed to make way for an adjacent and contemporary live theatre house, which opened in January of 2023 (despite COVID!) thanks to tremendous support from the community.
Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that DHT is particularly excited about? What can audiences look forward to?
Audiences can certainly look forward to productions in the newly-opened theatre building, which features a first-ever orchestra pit and fly-loft, grander production sets, plusher seating, enhanced sound and lighting, larger restrooms, an upgraded concession, and an open-air entryway next to a welcoming garden. Planning and construction work will continue with the redevelopment of the Theatrical Arts Building, originally built more than 40 years ago on the DHT campus, to make way for expanded educational facilities, a costume center and updated administrative offices.
Just for fun, what are your favorite theatre productions, both by DHT and outside of it?
That’s a hard question, but in more recent years, DHT’s productions of Billy Elliott, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Matilda stand out for me. Hawai‘i’s Loretta Ables Sayre as an especially chilling Bloody Mary in South Pacific was pretty hard to forget. And those Sunset Serenades from the old loading dock with Artistic Director John Rampage serving as emcee — in the middle of COVID — were memorable for what they reflected about the dedication of both performers and the community. We may not have the same star power as the actual Broadway productions of Hamilton or Phantom of the Opera (two other personal favorites) but experiencing DHT’s community-based productions and being involved on the Board has probably been even more enriching for me.
Jeffrey S. Portnoy, Manoa Valley Theatre Chairman of the Board
How did you become involved with Manoa Valley Theatre (MVT)? What motivated you to take on the role of President/Chairman of the Board?
I was always interested in theater and had been voted class actor in senior year in high school (back in New York). I first joined the organization in the late 70’s, shortly after moving to Hawai‘i to become a lawyer at Cades Schutte. I was President of the Board for 25 years and remain Chairman of the Board.
How has MVT evolved or grown since its inception? Are there any significant milestones or changes that have occurred recently?
MVT was founded in 1969 as Hawai‘i Performing Arts Company (HPAC) by a group of graduate students in the University of Hawai‘i Theatre Department. Their goal was to create Hawai‘i’s first professional resident adult theater organization that would nurture Hawai‘i’s theater artists while concurrently providing live, stage entertainment for community audiences.
At the time, MVT was in a 100-year-old wooden church with holes in the roof and we had a Board of three. 51 years later, we have a million-dollar facility, a Board of 30, and thousands of patrons. We are recognized as the place to go to see first-rate theater for Broadway and off-Broadway plays at our current 150-seat state of the art modern black box theater in a graveyard (something that makes us unique). The theater entertains several thousand people every year and also has been a launching pad for hundreds of local actors, designers, directors, and technicians to start their careers. Many have gone on to careers in professional theater in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Broadway.
Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that MVT is particularly excited about? What can audiences look forward to?
Right now, the task for the future is to just keep going. In accordance with MVT’s mission, “to entertain and enrich Hawai‘i’s audiences and artists through the production and promotion of live theatre,” we are always striving to find shows that are fun, challenging, entertaining, and thought-provoking. This holds true as today most plays are presented by MVT in their Hawai‘i debut.
For example, in March of 2024, Manoa Valley Theatre will present “Dear Evan Hansen,” a musical which has received six Tony Awards® and the Grammy® Award and the Olivier Award for Best Musical. This powerful show tackles issues of teen bullying, loneliness, suicide, and the power of social media. MVT is proud to be the first “community theatre” in the country to produce this award-winning show.
Just for fun, what are your favorite theatre productions, both by MVT and outside of it?
I have seen over 200 shows at MVT and it’s hard to pick my favorites. Like children, I love them all (most of the time).