PACKing the House
Local theater group gives Leeward kids a shot at the stage.
THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER OF KAPOLEI (better known by its stage name, PACK) burst into the spotlight in 2004 and has been gaining popularity with young performers and their families ever since.
Megan Olson and Rachelle Amparo, both mothers of three with backgrounds in the local theater scene, formed the community theater hub nearly a decade ago aﬅer identifying a serious need for a performing arts venue out in the growing West O‘ahu second city.
“We believe to our core that [performing arts] is beneficial to kids,” says Amparo, who is a state-certified and -licensed drama and theater teacher who holds a Masters of Arts in Youth Theatre from UH-Manoa.
“When we go through shows, you see that the kids become more confident,” Amparo continues. “They’re more articulate; they learn responsibility and how to work with others.”
“And it’s not just about performing and being able to memorize things; it’s about responsibility and ownership,” Olson says. “When they come in, they don’t just sit down; they start sweeping the stage or getting water out for other kids. It’s that whole big-picture thinking—one team!”
According to the two artistic directors, that “one team” approach is crucial to keeping their cast of energetic young artists engaged in positive activities that foster education and creativity.
“Megan and I both believe that the busier kids are, the less trouble they’ll get into. We want them to get all that energy out of them then go home and sleep!” says Amparo, whose day-job is that of a drama instructor at Kapolei High School, which is where all performances and rehearsals are staged.
“If we’re here and they have a place to go, then they’re not out making problems,” Olson adds with a laugh.
For example, its popular PACKids group meets every Sunday to build their dance and singing skills with local choreography and vocal experts, including Angela Morales of Na Leo Pilimehana fame, and Phil Hidalgo, who has worked with more than 75 musical productions at Manoa Valley Theatre, Diamond Head Theatre and Hawaii Opera Theatre.
The group, made up of kids from all over the island, is invited to perform at parties and gatherings throughout the year; in fact, this past spring, PACKids had the opportunity to perform in a popular “magical” theme park in Southern California.
Other PACK programs offered during the year to keep kids on their toes include dance classes in jazz, tap and ballet, and The Amazing Food Detective, a traveling show sponsored by Kaiser Permanente that goes out to schools around the state to teach kids the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.
PACK also puts on a summer intro-to-theater workshop open to anyone with the itch to perform. This past summer, a record 60 keiki, ranging in age from 5 years to mid-teens, got their first taste of “fame” during the weeklong beginners’ class.
“For us, it’s about giving the kids a chance to perform, giving them a chance to be successful,” says Olson. “But, I tell parents that, for the kids, it’s more about making friends and being a family.
“Musical theater kids are different than other kids. They’re good kids—you never hear them swearing, you never see them being rude—but they might not fit in in every aspect of school life. They find their home here. We embrace the oddness.”
“It hits that area of kids who don’t really fit in anywhere else,” Amparo says. “They become a family.”
The kids themselves agree with their instructors’ assessment. “I enjoy coming here because it’s a comfortable environment; everyone’s really friendly and everyone’s really positive, and you learn a lot and have a lot of fun doing it,” says 15-year-old Isaiah Graham of Kane‘ohe, who joined PACKids two years ago.
“I like that it’s like your second home,” chimes in 10-year-old Kapolei resident Kaena Watson, who also has been with PACKids for two years.
“Our directors are awesome!” adds 12-year-old Xander Van Der Berg, also of Kapolei. “It doesn’t feel like you’re coming here to be with these people; it feels like I’m hanging out with my family.”
“Even if you’re not into musical theater, I think [kids] should give it a try,” Graham says. “Nobody really cares if you mess up. We’re not judgmental. We’ll help you get back on your feet and help you fix your mistake. It’s a really fun thing to do, and they should at least try it out.”
As a nonprofit, PACK is funded solely through production fees, tickets sales and outside contribution and operates entirely by volunteers, many of whom are parents.
“We try to keep the parents involved by getting them to come in to paint the set or sew the costumes,” Olson says. “That’s part of our vision, to foster the parent involvement.”
PACK produces on average three to four shows each year, with auditions open to any and all children ages 7-17 who wish to grow artistically and personally through high-quality productions in Broadway, show choir and hula-style dancing and singing.
On the playbill this fall are The Little Mermaid Jr. (at 7 p.m. Oct. 3-4 and 10-11, with a 6 p.m. showing Oct. 9), A Very Merry PACKids Holiday performance in December, and a yet-to-be-announced high school musical set for later this year.
Also, auditions for the first musical of the 2015 season, West Side Story, will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Performances begin in late March.
For updates on all PACK performances and try-outs, or for more information and tickets, visit www.packapolei.org.