story by Liza Simon
photo courtesy Honolulu Theater for Youth
True story: Sadako Sasaki was only two years old in 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Ten years later she was diagnosed with “radiation sickness” and, following an ancient Japanese tradition, she set out to fold a thousand origami cranes in the hope the gods would make her well. This is also the basic outline of the play A Thousand Cranes, which the Honolulu Theatre for Youth is staging through Feb. 10.
Heavy theme? Yes. Too heavy for kids? Not in HTY’s eyes … and it’s got the audience backing to prove it: A Thousand Cranes is somewhere near the 350th production in the troupe’s fifty-two-year history—all of them aimed at kids.
“And you know exactly when the deeper meaning resonates with them,” laughs Jane Campbell, HTY’s now-retired manager. “Unlike adults, they won’t politely yawn through a production. They’ll tell you straight out, ‘I hate this!’” As Campbell tells it, HTY has its roots in a territory of Hawai‘i (that is, pre-statehood) decree that learning take place between the lines in children’s drama. This mandate spurred a dedicated band of drama coaches to literally comb the world in search of original pieces they could bring to life with a professional theater troupe. Pacific cultural tie-ins became important, eventually leading to two HTY tours of Micronesia, in which the region’s folk tales were used to highlight the health problems related to U.S. nuclear testing in the region. Referring to that experience, Campbell says kids’ theater will never be like blockbuster movies but that there will always be a place for “the way it helps give a peek into other worlds.” And if some youthful audience members have to stretch their imaginations a bit to get the messages between the lines … well, all the better, says Campbell.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s season continues March 2 through 10 with a staging of The Stones, a drama by Australian playwrights Tom Lycos and Stefo Nantsou, in which a seemingly harmless prank has tragic, life-altering consequences. Needless to say, this is not your parents’ theater.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth