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New group aims to import mainland performers to isles

There’s always room for new performing arts organizations in Hawaii, especially ones that are ambitious and ready to work with children.

One such program is Ohana Arts, a nonprofit that aims to bring mainland artists to the islands for performances and workshops.

Ohana Arts was established by sisters and Mililani High School graduates Jennifer and Cari Taira and their friend Laura Rubin, an opera singer based in New York. The group will be holding two events in the coming days, a fundraiser on Sunday that will feature hula, opera and other performances, and a children’s musical theater production to be performed July 23 and 24.


What: Food, music, silent auction
When: 5-9 p.m., Sunday
Where: Aiea Hongwanji, 99-186 Piakala St.
Cost $22.50

"The goal is to bring classical music into the communities, not have something big like at the Blaisdell … but something like a park," said Jennifer Taira, an award-winning clarinetist who studied music at Yale and is now based in New York. People in Hawaii are more comfortable in informal settings, she said.

Cari Taira, a drama teacher at Mission Hongwanji School, said the idea for Ohana Arts came while preparing musicals at the school. Her sister would return to the islands to help with the music and Rubin would work on the children’s singing. "That experience really inspired us to do more," Cari Taira said.


Who: Ohana Arts Summer Musical Theatre Workshop
When: 7:30 p.m., July 23-24, and 4 p.m., July 24
Where: Roosevelt High School auditorium
Cost: $10
Info: (800) 838-3006 or ohanaarts.org

Ohana Arts has ambitious plans. Jennifer Taira talks about establishing a conservatory of music here but admits that would be "some tens of years down the road." Rubin the possibility of bringing top mainland talent here for a full-scale opera production. "There are people champing at the bit to come here for that kind of opportunity," said Rubin, who sings with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

While dreaming big, they are starting small. This summer, they are producing a children’s production, "Disney’s Mulan Jr.," a shortened version of the Chinese legend popularized in the Disney film. They brought in New York-based actress and choreographer Ellie Mooney to work on dancing and acting with the children.

Mooney agrees with the notion that mainland artists would be interested in sharing their knowledge with local youngsters. "Hawaii? Musical theater? Kids? What could be better than that?" she said.


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