To paraphrase Billy Ocean, who sang, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Rough”: When coronavirus strikes, Honolulu Theatre for Youth goes digital!
With public performances on hold for the duration of state and local restrictions connected to the coronavirus, HTY is introducing “The HI Way.” It’s an innovative new program that presents three new 30-minute, video versions of Honolulu Theatre for Youth performances as digital entertainment, which can be viewed by a family at home. The first episode is scheduled to premiere today.
“The series is created around things that are affecting kids right now, so we’re doing what HTY does best but taking it onto a different platform and a different medium,” HTY Artistic Director Eric Johnson said, calling on March 20 from a sanitized and access-limited facility while company actors and support crew were in rehearsal.
“We have such great artists — Reiko Ho and Moses Goods and the whole company here — and they’re all concerned about the community,” Johnson said. “There are tons of families that are stuck at home — together — and they need ways to get through this time, and our board really helped us see that we can be a part of the solution in helping families navigate through this.”
The series is intended to help children cope with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on daily life in Hawaii. Honolulu residents have been subject to a “stay at home, work from home” order since Monday, and a statewide “lockdown” began Wednesday.
THE FIRST episode of “The HI Way” is “Contact.” In it, Honolulu Theatre for Youth company actors use puppets and original songs to help kids adapt to the current need for social distancing — staying apart from and avoiding physical contact with others — and with the sense of isolation that can come from that, along with the disruption of familiar routines.
The next two episodes, “I’m So Bored” and “Fear,” address other issues that can be part of the virus-imposed “new normal.”
“The HI Way” will stream at htyweb.org, on HTY’s YouTube channel and other streaming platforms, and will be broadcast on Hawaii News Now TV stations.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth, which includes professional actors and playwrights who produce theater for young and family audiences, has created the digital programs for Hawaii families with children of elementary school age.
Each episode is made up of eight three-minute segments. Plans call for the development of segments about things families can do independently — how to write a song as a family, for example, one of the project segments.
Johnson said the current disruptions in kids’ lives can be like a night when the power goes out: “It can be really scary — or it can be a night you’ll always remember because your family lit candles and played board games and spent some time together.
“If there is a way that we can help families negotiate that on a lot of different fronts, then we can continue to work” on additional segments, he said.
Johnson emphasized that in filming the productions, actors and production crew were “working in small groups and maintaining social distance” as they took the new series from concept to final product.
“This certainly is a way for our artist community to keep working and keep contributing,” he said. “None of us want to just drop out.”
HTY is also developing what spokeswoman Reiko Ho describes as “an interactive digital classroom” that will allow audience members to communicate directly with cast members and offer suggestions for future episode.
Summing up, Johnson described the new series as a shift “to a new medium” with the potential to share Hawaii’s unique culture with viewers in other parts of the world.
“This is a moment for us to give not just to our local community but to everybody,” Johnson said. “It’s a whole new area for us, but the company is excited to try this new venture and reimagine how we can be useful in these times.”
Find out more at htyweb.org.