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The Historic Iao Theater

It’s a good thing I have other people looking out for me, otherwise I would never get any culture in my life…unless you count reading, blogging, making snarky remarks on other people’s posts, playing video games and masturbating as culture (which of course, I do).

Every second Monday of the month the historic Iao Theater (pronounced EE-ow), located on Market Street in downtown Wailuku, Maui, hosts their One Night Only (ONO) stage performances.  The ONO series performances are absolutely free, but they gladly accept donations.  To donate, simply drop your money in the very well labeled jar…located conveniently next to the coffee and treats.

The beautiful and historic Iao Theater.

This was my first experience delving into the inner sanctum of the beautiful Spanish mission style Iao Theater.  I have admired it from afar over these years, but have never been drawn to any performances to venture inside (mostly because of a dangerous combination of ignorance plus bliss with a slight dash of serious dislike of singing cats).

First opened in August of 1928, the Iao Theater was designed to house live performances as well as movies (which were still silent back then).  The list of highlights for the theater’s lifetime is short, but interesting:

  • August 22, 1928: A $40,000 750-seat theater opens.
  • 1953: Hosts premiere of From Here to Eternity, a WWII drama filmed in Hawai’i.
  • 1973: Showing of X-rated film Deep Throat ends with arrest of theater manager.
  • June 1994: Iao Theater is placed on State Register of Historic Places as the oldest theater building in Hawai’i.
  • February, 1995: Placed on National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2007 Maui County supports building restoration and installation of air conditioning.
I obtained the above list directly from Maui On Stage’s website, but edited it for the blog.  The full list of historical highlights can be found here.
According to other online resources, a snack concession was run by a man named Harry Kaya from 1930 to the mid-1970s, called Harry’s Sweets.  Also, during World War II, Bob Hope, as well as, Frank Sinatra performed USO shows at the theater.  During the early 1980’s the theater was a dilapidated building waiting for the wrecking ball.  Fortunately, it was bought from the previous owners and began a journey back into the spotlight.
Something the timeline fails to mention is the recent interest in the Iao Theater by the SYFY channel’s “Haunted Collector” television series.  The show told the tale of “Emma,” the ghost of Iao Theater.
Known as “The unknown actress of Iao Theater,” this friendly female spirit still haunts the theater to this day.  Apparently a multitude of spirits can be felt in the theater, but “Emma” has the strongest presence.  The SYFY show removed a time capsule from the Twenties from the theater’s facade and discovered a silver barrette, two postcards of Maui pineapple fields and a piece of 16mm celluloid film which shows an unidentified young woman dressed in white.  Whether it is “Emma” or not, remains a mystery.

Built in 1928, the Iao Theater sits on Market Street in downtown Wailuku.

Now, on with the show!

On Monday night, September 10th, we had the pleasure of watching “Sam Clemens and the Real Mark Twain.”  Performed by the adept Rick Scheideman, the play was a one-man show which had Scheideman dressed as Twain (or Clemens if you prefer) sharing excerpts from events in Twain’s life.  Covering everything from growing up in Missouri, working the Mississippi riverboats, to his acclaimed writing career and even touching on tragedies that affected him later in his life, the two-act play was well researched and well performed.  Scheideman played his character with feeling, not just reciting verbatim, but making the words his own.  Having it told in the first person I became lost in the language and not distracted by the white hair or makeup.  It reminded me of what an amazing grasp of the English language Twain had, and how he was such a wordsmith.  Some of his stories and anecdotes remain relevant, while most are meant to garner a chuckle or two (I will admit to laughing out loud a few times).

In the act of full disclosure I will share with you, my loyal readers, my initial concerns with this play I was about to see.  I had read that, “Sam Clemens and the Real Mark Twain,” performed by Scheideman for the past fifteen years, was originally created by a man named Cliff Jewell.  Jewell wrote the play inspired by actor Hal Holbrook’s stage performance of Mark Twain.  So, if you are scoring at home, the play was written after watching another actor’s performance and was to be performed by someone who obtained the original writer/actor’s permission to act in his play.  I hope you understand why I felt trepidation walking into that theater, not because of any ghosts or spirits, but the very real possibilities of a bomb.

I love it when my pre-conceived notions are shattered (in a positive way).  The performance at the Iao Theater was a sublime way to spend my evening of the second Monday of September.  I hope to see some of you there next month…unless I’m working.