KEIKI KALO by Kennedy Theatre

Keiki Kalo (5) captioned.jpg

Keiki Kalo

Earle Ernst Lab Theatre

Sep. 21, 28, Oct. 5, 26, Nov. 8, 16, 23, Dec. 7

9:00am and 10:00am

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre + Dance and Kennedy Theatre are proud to present Keiki Kalo.  Co-coordinated by Melisa Orozco Vargas, a graduate student in the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) program and TYA faculty member Mark Branner, this interactive hands-on educational entertainment experience is created for ages 0-4. Keiki Kalo has performances at Kennedy Theatre’s Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at 9:00am and 10:00am on: September 21 and 28; October 5 and 26; November 8, 16, and 23; and, December 7. The production is designed for a small audience, lasts approximately 35 minutes, and has floor and bench seating.

Keiki Kalo explores the themes of community, culture, and the relationship humans have with the earth through the taro plant. Although the experience is designed for very young audiences, people of all ages will be able to join in the adventure. “We want to create a theatrical space where the youngest children and their families are welcomed with open arms,” says project co-coordinator and lead artist, Melisa Orozco Vargas. Orozco Vargas, a 2019 TYA/USA Emerging Leader in TYA Fellow and a 2019 recipient of the John Young Memorial Scholarship in the Arts (both which supported her research and exploration in Theatre for Very Young Audiences/TVYA), stewards this high-energy and immersive experience. Before the show begins, audiences will pass through a “transition area” where keiki can care for the land by gardening. Developed with the support and under the guidance of various community stakeholders who are either knowledgeable in kalo cultivation or early childhood education - most notably Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and educators Uncle Calvin Hoe and Kalā Hoe, and Leilani Au and Jeffrey Brock of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Children's Center - the production celebrates ‘āina while exploring the gift that is kalo in a way that is relevant to young children.  

The storyline centers around a character whose sister is expecting. She wants to do something very special for the baby and realizes that kalo would be a wonderful gift. It would grow while the baby grew and provide healthy sustenance as the baby’s first solid food: poi. Farming kalo can be a big task so the sister recruits ʻohana and children from the community to help. Orozco Vargas reflects on her own motherhood in crafting the story, “As a new parent, you have a chance to shape the world of your growing ʻohana. It is an opportunity to be very intentional. What dreams do you have, what lessons have you learned, and what environment will you create for your child? Growing our own food has been a top priority for me since my children were born.” She continues, “In the spirit of aloha ‘āina [“love of the land”], this multi-sensory presentation offers the children a moment to experience joy and marvel at the natural world in order to inspire love and respect for Hāloa.” “We want to emphasize the reciprocal relationship between human beings and the earth” says Orozco Vargas. Another theme she wants to explore is appreciating one’s culture and learning lessons from past generations. “This is reflected in the life cycle of kalo, a plant that grows from the huli [taro stem] of another that becomes the makua [parent] for a new ʻohana, thus connecting generations of people who have cultivated and eaten kalo before us.” While planting the garden for the new baby and watching the kalo grow to maturity, audience-participants will encounter strange and funny visitors: frogs, ʻelepaio (small Hawaiian forest bird), and pinao (dragonflies), characters creatively crafted and portrayed through the art of puppetry.

UHM Department of Theatre + Dance has decades of history producing theatre for young audiences at Kennedy Theatre, however, creating an interactive performance for the “very young” – in this case infants, toddlers and pre-school children up to age 4 – is new and exciting territory. Nationally, production of “theatre for very young audiences” (TVYA) is gaining momentum. Concurrently, it is being integrated into the Theatre for Young Audiences program at UHM, which began preparation for Keiki Kalo during the spring semester of 2019. While performing for the “very young” has its own set of challenges and opportunities, Vargas and her team have made it clear that they are excited to embrace it all.

Tickets for Keiki Kalo will go on sale September 2 online at, by phone at (808) 944-2697, and at official outlets.  Any remaining tickets on the day of the show will be available for purchase at the door. Seating is very limited.

Hitting The Stage