Maui Artist Profile: ProArt’s Jonathan Lehman
By Vanessa Wolf
ProArt Playhouse in Kihei opened their Fall season this weekend with a production of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama “Doubt.”
Maui Now spoke with producer Jonathan Lehman about how he came to run a playhouse in Kihei…and the trials and triumphs therein.
Lehman was on-island during the 9/11 attacks. It was then that he decided to make a change in order to live here forever. While on the mainland, he had had many years of experience in ‘show business.’
“It was inevitable that I got bitten by the bug once again after arriving in Kihei. I performed in productions with Maui OnStage (“Man of La Mancha”) and MAPA (“The Music Man”, “Scrooge”),” Lehman explained.
Aided by a business partner, fellow performer, and friend, ProArts came to life in 2006. “We started with dinner theatre in Kahului at the Maui Beach Hotel and subsequently dropped the dinner part. Then we moved operations to the Steppingstone Playhouse in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall,” Lehman said. “Our move to Kihei was in 2010.”
The playhouse itself is tucked between the Taco Bell and the Home Maid Bakery at the Azeka Shopping Center Makai. The move was in part practical: Lehman lives in Kihei and there was no theater there at the time.
“It was an easier commute, number one,” Lehman explained. “After looking at several different locations, we decided on the Azeka space primarily because of its location and the fact that it had high ceilings, which is a requirement for effective stage lighting. It’s not a perfect space, but it is comfortable and intimate. Doubling the seating capacity would help our budget, so a new location is in the future plan.”
As to whether or not Lehman feels Maui has influenced him as a producer/director/actor, he says the Valley Isle has had a significant impact on him, especially as a producer.
“I am much more keyed into audiences now: the marketing of shows I did in my mainland days was always done by someone else. Now, as well as doing the production job, I’m also responsible for marketing our shows to Maui audiences, specifically in Kihei/Wailea which makes up 80% of our audience base. It is a challenge to figure out what people want to see. My job is to make sure that the hits outweigh the misses.”
This is a continually evolving challenge. When they started in Kihei, ProArts was producing their “fractured fairy tales,” as they had been a hit in their previous location. Then they began broadening their horizons to include adult fare, with success.
“We still produce kids shows, but are currently concentrating more on adult comedy and drama. Because of our stage limitations, we have to choose our shows carefully, often thinking out of the box. Let’s just say that we won’t be producing Les Miz… unless we opt for a concert version with two pianos. Our current production of “Doubt” is a step forward to a more serious tone. We’ve produced lighter fare in the past, but really wanted to do a meatier show as our opening for Fall 2012.”
The show is directed by Kristi Scott, and this is her third production for ProArts. When Lehman and his partner began the company, they traded off directing duties.
“Since we didn’t receive any salary, we saved a bit on the budget. When I assumed full responsibility for the company, I decided to start using new talent in the director role. In any given season of three shows, I employ two guest directors and I usually direct one show. The actors are found via open auditions. This is a non-equity, non-profit group; so all the talent is local. And we have great local talent that keeps blooming during each show.”
But it isn’t all Pulitzer-prize winning dramas. ProArts is also involved in inspiring a new generation of talent and runs a drama/music program called Kamp Krazy Tales.
“We’ve been doing these camps since we opened in Kihei. It is open to keiki aged five to 12, and the cost is just $150 for a weeklong camp. The kids can expect an exciting theater experience: learning and rehearsing songs and scripts, with a performance for their ohana at the end of the week. The kids always have a great time!”
The Fall season has already begun at ProArts. You can catch performances of Doubt over the next two weeks. October 4, 5, 6, and October 11, 12, 13 the curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. There are also two matinee shows at 3 p.m. on October 7th and 14th. Doubt is intended for mature audiences and tickets are $20.
Are you a local artist – singer, storyteller, hula dancer, fashion designer, lei maker, taiko drummer, chef, tiki carver or cartoonist – with an interesting story to tell? Know of a great band, artist, author, filmmaker, or event coming to town? Have an idea for a fun or thought-provoking story? Get in touch: we want to hear from you! Vanessa(@mauinow.com)