Founded in 1970, the Hawai‘i State Theatre Council serves and supports the theatre community in Hawai ‘i.
That community includes, but is not limited to: theatres and their managers, actors, directors, playwrights, musicians, technicians, costumers, students, educational institutions, and audiences.
The Council does this by promoting live, local theatre; acting as a conduit for theatres to work collaboratively; and providing educational experiences in the performing arts.
In 1970, Wright Esser, Nelson D. Fair, and John C. Hurd came together and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Hawai‘i State Theatre Council (HSTC), for the purposes of providing a representative body to encourage, promulgate, and propagate theatre arts; offer opinion and advice concerning matters theatrical to be available for consultation to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts; and to work cooperatively with theatrical artists in Hawai‘i and theatrical organizations for the optimum development of theatre arts in Hawai ‘i.
The HSTC’s founding officers included Gary D. Anderson (President); John C. Hurd (Vice President); Jane Campbell (Secretary); Newell Tarrant (Treasurer); and Directors Nelson D. Fair, Electra Fair, William Croarkin, Lee Stetson, Jan Moon, Mary Jan Kahanamoku, Katherine O. Vincent, William Rhyne, Bob Hara, and Jose Bulatao.
Their first major event, “Showcase ‘82” in 1982, was a major function with cocktails and pupus, exhibiting the talents of Barbara Fitzsimmons, Barbara Kelly, Holly Reich, Penny Bergman, and Christine Wallis. The event included a dance performed by Ernest Morgan, “One Ring Circus” by Benji Marantz and Jeanne Wall, and “Hats” directed by Rap Reiplinger.
The HSTC board which oversaw this inaugural event included Mark Jeffers (President); Dwight Martin (Vice President); Cecilia Fordham (Recording Secretary); Barbara Fitzsimmons (Corresponding Secretary); Kathe James (Treasurer); Robin Beasley (Membership Director); Walt Dulaney and George Kon (Education Consultants); Mary Lewis (Conference Coordinator); Ted Scott (Calendar Coordinator); Stephanie Troxe (Newsletter Editor); and a production team which included Cecilia Fordham, Barbara Fitzsimmons, Mary Lewis, Kathe James, Ken Kanter, Walt Dulaney, George Kon, Robin Beasley, Casey Cameron and James Young.
The following year, the HSTC hosted “Showcase ‘83” at the Richardson Theatre, featuring scenes and short bits from Army Community Theatre’s THE ODD COUPLE, Kumu Kahua’s CONSTRUCTION UNLIMITED HONOLULU, Dream Theatre Hawai'i’s HIROSHIMA NO MORE, Windward Theatre’s WEST SIDE WALTZ, Maui Community Theatre’s TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, and Chaminade University’s SOMETHING'S AFOOT.
Earlier in 1983, on June 24 and 25th, at the HSTC weekend board retreat at “Pat’s at Punalu‘u,” coordinated by Walt Dulaney and George Kon with Mark Jeffers as President, Vanita Rae Smith wrote to Dulaney with the suggestion of the creation of an awards event. It was presented to the board, which included Jim Hutchison of Honolulu Community Theatre (now Diamond Head Theatre); Dwight Martin of Hawai‘i Performing Arts Company (now Manoa Valley Theatre); Jane Campbell of Honolulu Theatre for Youth; Diana Reece of Windward Theatre Guild; and Joe Craver of Army Community Theatre; and approved with one caveat: if Joe Rozmiarek of the Honolulu Advertiser and Pierre Bowman of the Star-Bulletin agreed to adjudicate. Both reviewers were contacted on June 28, 1983 and agreed with the request that Vicki Viotti, of Midweek, join the team. The suggestion was adopted and established as the “Po‘okela” (meaning excellence in Hawaiian) with a competition to name it (won by Linda Hearn) and a design contest to provide the logo ($1,000 awarded to Paul Kruck).
The mission of the Po‘okela Awards was outlined as the following: “The Po‘okela Award was established as a non-competitive recognition of theatre talent. It was meant to celebrate THEATRE in Hawai‘i. Selecting officials cited worthy performers and performances for quality and excellence. The goals were constructive; calling the public's attention to the fact that there was and is a healthy, active and innovative theatre community in Hawai‘i worthy of their attention and support. The annual awards have stimulated a higher caliber of talent and performance, generated audience growth, and brought the theatre community closer together in an event of fun, applause and praise."
Also attending the Retreat were Mark Jeffers, Walt Dulaney, George Kon, Cecilia Fordham, Vanita Rae Smith, Ted Scott, Kathe James, Mary Lewis, Dwight Martin, Judy Neale, Barbara Fitzsimmons, Gordon Svec, Jim Wheeler, and Rita Whitford.
At the first annual Po‘okela event celebrating the 1983/1984 season, held at the DeRussy Hall in the Hale Koa Hotel at Fort DeRussy, Jack Lord served as the master of ceremony with Pierre Bowman, Joseph T. Rozmiarek, & Vicki Viotti as adjudicators; John Maughan of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, & Co. as CPA; and an HSTC board of directors comprised of Cecilia Fordham, Vanita Rae Smith, Walt Dulaney, George Kon, Ted Scott, Kathe James, Mark Jeffers, Mary Lewis, Dwight Martin, Judy Neale, Barbara Fitzsimmons, Gordon Svec, Jim Wheeler, and Rita Whitford. Out of 93 total nominees from 36 show across seven theatre companies, 27 total honorees were celebrated.
The Pierre Bowman Award was later established on July 25, 1985, as an award presented to a person whose lifetime of achievement reflects courage and commitment to quality and through whose efforts the life of theatre in Hawai‘i has been uplifted.”