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Very model of a modern kids’ show

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Niu Valley Middle School students have been working with Hawaii Opera Theatre to present "Pirates of Penzance" tonight. The cast includes, clockwise from top left, Kamille Tacub, Maia Petrides, Lily Kim-Dela Cruz, Jenna Hashimoto, Makayla Willis, Emiko Duncans and Maddy Bernstein, with Tommi Hintnaus in the middle.
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Kristin Stone, Hawaii Opera Theatre's education coordinator, serves as stage director for the production.

"Is it going to be boring?"

That was the first question the drama students at Niu Valley Middle School asked about their summer school project. Fortunately, the Hawaii Opera Theatre members who were going to be their teachers knew it wouldn’t be.

Over the course of four weeks, the 19 middle school students received a crash course in acting, singing, set design and construction, and all things related to staging a show. Their efforts culminate tonight with a kids’ version of "Pirates of Penzance," Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular comic opera, in the school’s auditorium.

"There’s been no time to slip," said Kristin Stone, education coordinator for HOT and stage director of the show. "We’re going 100 percent every day. There’s no time to regroup or relax. If something’s gotta go, it’s gotta go. This is live theater and that’s the fun of it."

Stone has worked in schools during the regular academic year, when students have much longer to produce a show. For the concentrated summer program, instructors pared the original two-hour "Pirates" to 45 minutes, rewriting lyrics to include some local references while still telling the entire story of a youth enslaved to pirates while hoping to find love.

Students received individual instruction in singing, but in some cases there were special challenges.


» Where: Niu Valley Middle School, 310 Halemaumau St.
» When: 6 p.m. today
» Call: 596-7372 or e-mail hotopera@hawaiiopera.org

» Click here for a video of Kai Queener singing "Major General."

"We had one boy who hadn’t sung before and didn’t say a word in the beginning," said Erik Haines, education coordinator for HOT. "His voice was changing and his range was eight notes. So we rewrote a song for him, transposed it and had everybody else learn it in that key."

At a recent rehearsal, that work appeared to be paying off. With pianist Erik Schank at the keyboard, the kids sang the entire work from memory, complete with dancing and other stagecraft. The famous "Major-General" song was performed by 11-year-old Kai Queener in convincing rapid-fire style.

"I love acting and singing," Queener said. "I guess it’s because I’m not shy at all."

At age 12 and with previous experience in HOT school productions, Maddy Bernstein has all the confidence—and insecurities—of a budding thespian.

"I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out how to play my character," said Bernstein, who portrays the nursemaid Ruth. "When everybody else is supposed to be sad, she’s happy. She’s a unique kind of person, so I have to learn how to play to her strengths."

The course is HOT’s first attempt at what is being called a "summer immersion program" in theater production. It is one of the Department of Education’s summer school offerings at Niu Valley. It was introduced at the request of school administrators, and a Niu Valley teacher is helping with set design and construction, though students are earning no credit.

Haines said the program helps the children build confidence onstage and learn accountability offstage. Every day, he goes through a checklist of things to do, such as building props or working on the set. Students also maintained a journal of their activities and gave oral reports about the production process.

"We have to get them to step out, to build courage and to get to do something for themselves," Haines said. "It’s their project, not ours."


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