HICCUP circus – ‘Malama Ka Aina’

‘Taking care of our land’

“Dear Hiccup Circus, thank you for including Shady Grove school in your production, Malama I Ke Kai.  As a teacher, I see the confidence building that comes from all the practices, training, and performances. The show was thoroughly entertaining and spectators were on the edge of their seats.  I am truly awed by the children’s commitment, dedication, and drive to accomplish such awesome feats.”  Jean McKeague“We appreciated your spectacular Malama I Ke Kai performance.  We were honoured to have our students be a part of this production which provided entertainment and inspiration for our entire community.” HAAS“Our children in Nanawale love it when the HICCUP circus comes.  They enjoy learning all the circus skills and being part of such an elaborate performance as the Malama I ke Kai.  It is a community building experience, and it is great to see so many volunteers participating. Some of our seniors helped make costumes and there seemed to be a job for everyone.”  Nanawale Community Association.“The production was fabulous to watch. It is an accomplishment to have so many different talented groups come together in one performance.”   HPP Hui

Testimonials like these are treasures for fundraisers and I was able to leverage the success of the 2004 Malama I Ke Kai into an even bigger and better production the following year. The contribution that social circus can make to the development of a community is not easily communicated in words on paper but together with the photo’s and videos from our initial project they told a compelling story. The numerous grant applications Mark Glick and I submitted gained the understanding and trust of some enlightened funding administrators and we received larger amounts of  funding for Malama Ka Aina in 2005.   

My budget for the whole event was almost $100,000 and we were able to raise $57,000 from grants. I calculated and gambled that this $57,000 in cash added to the estimated program generated funding, local business contributions plus volunteering and in kind donations would cover our costs. Anyone unfamiliar with projects of this nature knows that $100,000 (with only $57K in cash) is way short of what is realistically needed in order to meet our objectives let alone pay staff a reasonable salary.  Consequently, no-one working on the six month project was paid anything close to what they deserved, but we did the work and it was a fantastic success. As a result of this commitment from our beloved community ohana the HICCUP program was once again able to achieve the impossible.

The outcomes were impressive with our ninety minute spectacular production including over 120 participating children and adults from eleven schools and community groups located in isolated rural subdivisions. The ages of participants ranged from four years old to seventy-four years old. 

Graham and Dolo introducing Malama Ka Aina

For this production I had a strong desire for circus be the uniting theme and to make the possibilities of that clear to everyone involved. I was hugely motivated by Cirque Du Soleil who integrated singers, dancers and performers from a broad range of performance arts genres, into their shows and I wanted to try the same in Puna. To achieve this goal I brought in Dolores Leonard, a Bellyacres partner and a founding member of Cirque Du Soleil to co-direct Malama Ka Aina with Jackie Paris. It wasn’t easy transitioning to this structure and we had some difficult days but ultimately the partnership proved it’s merit with the quality of the final production.

In writing the show outline I brought circus firmly to the forefront by casting Hayward Coleman, Monnya Silver and Jerry Javier as the three lead characters providing the thread by which the different acts linked together to form a cohesive story line.

The plot followed the volcanic creation of the island with the evolution of flora and fauna especially the indigenous Ohia tree. After fifteen hundred years of native Hawaiians living in harmony with nature we saw invasions of colonisers, land exploiters and property developers who brought other invasive species and threatened the future ecological balance. The intention was to raise consciousness about dangers facing our land with an essential message about the need to help ‘malama’ it always.

A major significant new inclusion in this project was the addition of Halau Hula Ka Makani Hali ‘Ala O Puna under the direction of Kumu Hula Ehulani Stephany. Uniting a renown Hula troupe with a circus program was monumental and this was the first time it ever happened in Hawaii, perhaps in the world. Thanks to Ehulani’s spiritual guidance our show incorporated traditional Hawaiian chants and dances relating to the Aina and adopted protocols to bring it into alignment with Hawaiian cultural practices.

Embracing musical diversity we also gave a much bigger role to the hugely talented Musasa marimba band led by Micheal and Osha Breez and also added contributions from Diga, Boaz, Sierra, Drew and other talented local musicians.

We totally transformed the Leilani Community Center with our staging designed by Eric Marantz and constructed with a volunteer crew led by Michael Gornick. The shows were offered to the community at an amazingly low price, $5 for adults and $2 for kids. 

A rehearsal line up

The 2005  Malama Ka Aina production was the largest community arts project of its kind ever staged in Puna and brought a phenomenal audience turnout coming from all over the island. Fortunately for us all included in the crowd was the philanthropist who later became critical to the future building of S.P.A.C.E.. His presence at this show was the main reason why we eventually obtained a major grant from his Family Foundation.  The impact that our HICCUP project was having on the social fabric of lower Puna was noticed by everyone who attended. This short promo video of the production speaks for itself about what a great success it was. 

Outcomes from the Malama project had lasting effects on our community. A first class, full length DVD, was produced and distributed to Big Island Schools and libraries. Original music scores by local musicians created new relationships between community artists. News articles and reports were published and shared around the State.

The project successfully built new social networks as it reached out to a cross section of our population throughout the entire Lower Puna district. HICCUP already had a special connection to our community from our years of providing educational programs and quality entertainment. We were already positioned as the primary cross cultural performance arts organisation in the district but this took us to a new level. While Malama Ka Aina demonstrated how Puna was rich in it’s quantity and quality of performance artists it also showed our lack of facilities and funding to produce large scale community shows. That’s why we built S.P.A.C.E. !

Our Malama projects grew from the  spin-off effects  that occurred after “All Together for the Pahoa Ho’olaulea” in 2002. Many of the adult and children participants from that event had joined together with Jackie Paris to present the “Crystal of Light” theater show that won fourth place in a national 4H competition in 2003.  The Kapoho community association also ran their own festival featuring an “Earth Circus” show and a sustainable living expo that attracted over 400 people.  

Several of our HICCUP performers also started a new community dance troupe that met weekly to train for our Malama shows and other community events.  Malamalama Waldorf School started a circus arts summer camp program run by our own Michele Marzulla and presented a performance organised by HICCUP alumni. Puna started bustling with arts programs.

Over twenty-one local businesses  sponsored our program and generously gave their support for our impossible dream with cash and in kind donations. This was a production demonstrating Puna people power at it’s finest. There was a groundswell of pride of accomplishment and it brought 2005 to a very sweet end.  

There was a buzz of excitement  through our entire community. Everyone touched gained something through the connections and social trust created as a result of the performance arts experiences. This accumulation of social assets is known as “social capital,” a public good that sociologists attribute to adding to quality of life and personal happiness.  Ultimately the Malama projects will be remembered by many of our residents for their contributions to a greater quality of life in our district and how they united our broader Puna community. This degree of togetherness was not repeated until the near hurricane of 2014 and the devastating lava flows of 2018.

The location we chose for the Malama rehearsals and performances is an example of how our projects transformed communities.  The Leilani Estate Community Association Activity Centre was a severely underused facility that came to life as a result of our event. Increased public exposure over a period of five months brought renewed interest in other activities utilising the centre from then on.  

The Malama projects were the pinnacle of HICCUP accomplishments, up to that point in our history, and the community benefits could have continued after the building of S.P.A.C.E. had we not been faced with opposition to us presenting performances. The biggest irony is that we discovered later that Leilani Community Centre was also not legally permitted for performances but because no-one ever complained it became an accepted activity. If only we had received the same renegade reception in Seaview Estates that we experienced in Leilani subdivision HICCUP/S.P.A.C.E. history would have been very different.

We were proud and honoured to host Malama I Ke Kai in our facility and pleased at how many people and organisations came together to put on this event. We are looking forward to hosting next year’s production, Malama Ka Aina.” Leilani Community Association Board

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: