By Lance Sabado
The Castle Performing Arts Center (CPAC) may be a couple of shows away from its final curtain call with its production of Macbeth. The afterschool theatre curriculum, which is well-known statewide for its excellence in performing arts, is now facing a $50,000 budget reduction for the upcoming fiscal year.
“There will be no special DOE (Department of Education) funding for the program,” explains CPAC Director Karen Meyer. “Instead money will be put in a pot and divvied up amongst all the schools in the state. So there is less money per school and basically not enough to reasonably fund our program.”
For Meyer, the bigger problem is that her position as director is on the line.
“Half of my salary came from that special designation of funds,” Meyer says. “Unless we find the funds or someone to take over my half-time position, I’d have to teach a full day and still work after school. I’m already there till 10 or 11 o’clock at night every weekday and all day on Saturdays. If I teach a full day, there’s no way physically I can direct three shows a year. So basically there will be no director for the shows.”
However, DOE Budget Director Adele Chong says that the decision to reduce the budget is not final. The DOE board members decided last week that they would revisit the issue at their Sept. 20 general board meeting this year.
This sort of drama is not new to CPAC. The program was started back in 1963 by community theatre icon Ronald Bright (the Castle theatre is named after him) and it has received its share of shutdown threats. After many years of successful school productions, one year Bright was asked by the principal to teach a full day too. When Bright responded with, “Okay, but there will be no shows this year,” the story made front-page news and the principal backed down.
Fortunately, Meyer says the current principal is very supportive and is looking for ways to cover the program and her position. The community mirrors that kind of support for CPAC. CPAC’s Facebook page received overwhelming online testimony when the DOE was originally deciding to cut the program entirely.
“It’s been a stressful but validating experience,” says Meyer. We have testimony supporting our program from all over the country — Lebanon, Afghanistan and Germany. Everyone is rallying behind us and coming through.”
Even some special groups and higher-ups are joining in on the search and push for funds. The Hawai`i Arts Alliance is applying for grants. Also, Sen. Jill Tokuda and Rep. Ken Ito and Pono Chong are “looking to go straight to the Legislature and ask for funds.”
CPAC is also starting a Castle Alumni Association, which serves as a booster club and will help to raise funds outside of DOE funding. Meyer says that members of the club don’t have to be CPAC alumni and that all supporters of the program are welcome to join.
CPAC alumnus and former production manager Allan Lau speaks strongly about his support for the program. He says he feels the program has helped him to become who he is today.
“Twenty-five years later, I am an educator working with kids and parents — using many of the valuable lessons I learned from CPAC and Mr. Bright,” says Lau. Theatre develops life skills that bring together people to achieve a common goal — stuff that you don’t necessarily learn in a formal classroom.”
UH Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance Arts Education Specialist Amy Schiffner echoes this support for the performing arts and speaks about the importance of having such programs in schools.
“The benefits of having performing arts in the school are endless and unquantifiable, “ Schiffner says. Research has shown that involvement in the arts has reduced drop out rates, increased test scores, increased the number of college bound students, enhanced student motivation level in other subject areas and increased parent involvement, to name a few.”
Moreover, she says she feels that performing arts enhance people’s lives outside of school.
“The arts are an innate need in a human experience and represent our cultural past, present and future,” she says. The arts offer students a means of best understanding themselves and the world around them so that they are able to make positive contributions to society and shape the communities they live in.”
Griffin Lockette, a freshman at CPAC and cast member of Macbeth, can attest to the fact that CPAC has changed her life and made her a more sociable person. “It (CPAC) means a lot to me,” she says. When I saw the show ‘Brigadoon,’ the dancing and singing amazed me — it had a mix of everything. Since then I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
“I’m pretty outgoing now and theatre has helped me to talk and speak comfortably with people,” Lockette says. A lot of people have trouble with public speaking, and I feel like theatre gives you space to step out of your comfort zone. It gives you a better bond with people too; I’m still best friends with people I have done theatre with in kindergarten.”
In any case, Meyer sees every day how the performing arts shape kids lives and teach them real-life applications. She talks about a recent situation where a teacher came into the theatre and recognized the CPAC kids working on set design.
She says, “Some teacher came in and said, ‘Wow, you want to learn how to do problem-solving, to discover and learn – this is the place to be. Some kids are over there trying to learn how to make their painting look like stones: the shadow, the depth, the framing.’”
Ultimately, Meyer sees some irony in the fact that CPAC is doing a production of Macbeth. Shakespeare’s play, which is basically about greed and power, has a connection to how Meyer feels about CPAC’s situation. “Shakespeare wrote the play over 400 years ago, but it’s true today and happening everywhere,” Meyer says. “We live in a country where 1 percent of the population controls 40 percent of the money. There are corporate takeovers, and the little guys who serve them have no say in things. There are people in power that decide these things because it’s their job, and they don’t really know anything about the program.”