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Maui Academy of Performing Arts moves forward with long-awaited black box theater project

Site of the Maui Academy of Performing Art's black box theater.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts
Site of the Maui Academy of Performing Arts' black box theater. MAPA officials say they hope to finish construction and open the facility by the end of 2023.

Carolyn Wright has been with the Maui Academy of Performing Arts since 1998. That same year, the nonprofit bought the former National Dollar Store building in Wailuku.

The goal was to turn it into a state-of-the-art black box theater. And that dream — nearly 25 years in the making — is now in sight.

“I’m excited and proud to have shepherded this project as far as we have,” she said. “And now we’re excited to take it across the finish line.”

Wright, the nonprofit’s executive director, said they plan to begin looking for a contractor this month and to start construction early next year. Their goal is to open the 6,500-square-foot theater by the end of 2023.

The performance space will seat up to 175 people and can be reconfigured depending on each production’s needs.

The academy doesn’t have a permanent theater to house its productions. Because of that, they have performed at more than 30 venues across Maui.

“I don’t think that people realize what this project is going to do for the community,” said David Johnston, who has served as the academy’s artistic director since 1992. “I’m excited to watch that unfold and watch people discover… the importance of the arts in our lives.”

The theater is part of the nonprofit’s project to create a comprehensive performing arts campus on Main Street in Wailuku, featuring classrooms, rehearsal halls and production facilities.

It is also part of a larger initiative by the county and other community groups to turn Wailuku into an arts and culture hub.

“All across the country, there are great examples of towns that have been transformed through the arts,” Wright said. “When people come to the theater… they want to go get a bite to eat or go shopping. And so the arts have the capacity to generate economic activity in other sectors as well.”

The academy has raised $12.8 million in public and private funds to finish the theater construction and another project nearby. They have about $1.4 million more to raise, which will be used to buy audio, visual and lighting equipment for the theater.

“We’re going to put our theater, our operation, right in the heart of Wailuku, where everybody can have access to it every day,” Johnston said, “and see that it’s alive and well and thriving and welcoming to anyone who wants to participate.”

Editor’s note: The Maui Academy of Performing Arts is an HPR underwriter.

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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