Listen to the Podcast About Maui On Stage

Podcast for Maui On Stage

Podcast Summary

In our recent engagement, Jake Carter from Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos interviewed the renowned Kalani Whitford, an artistic consultant for Maui On Stage. With a rich educational background from Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts and Thomas Edison University, Kalani spices up the realm of theater with his inspired work.

His portfolio ranges from writing and directing shows like ‘Sea Men’. Kalani has left his mark also at Maui On Stage by magnificently directing ‘Rocky Horror’ twice, ‘Clue’, ‘Xanadu’, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Nine to Five’, ‘Shout’ and many more. The interview also touched upon Kalani’s impressive movie portfolio, including the blockbuster ‘Titanic’ where he played a character role.

Kalani enthusiastically expresses his experiences since joining Maui On Stage in the summer of 2021. Prompting audience’s enjoyment and appreciation, Kalani recalls directing his favorite films as a surreal yet fulfilling experience. His priceless opportunity to direct his favorite shows and to see them be successful for the theater was a highlight.

As the artistic consultant for Maui On Stage, Kalani carries the torch of the company’s artistic vision, choosing plays, and working on educational programs. He works closely with his elder sister, Luana Whitford Mitchell, the executive director of the theater. Kalani and Luana make an exceptional duo, perfectly harmonizing the artistic and business sides of Maui On Stage.

This interview was provided by Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos .

Learn more about Maui On Stage

Podcast Transcript

Jake (00:25)
Hello, I’m Jake Carter with Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos and I am here with Kalani Whitford who has a really, really fun bio I was just talking to you about that. You’re a graduate of Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts holding a bachelor’s in theater and a bachelor’s in humanities from Thomas Edison University. You recently wrote and directed a show called Sea Men. Sea Men, wow, I just fell right into that trap. The musical.

Kalani (00:47)

Jake (00:53)
four plays of Wilton in the Foundry Theater in Wilton Manors in Florida, and then at Maui On Stage you’ve done Rocky Horror twice, Clue, Xanadu, Mamma Mia, Cabaret, Nine to Five, Shout, and a bunch of other things. And I am gonna let you tell me a little bit more about some of these things because I think that it would be more fun to hear you talk about these shows and things that you’ve done. So what other fun things have you done to finish this off?

Kalani (01:18)
Well, I got hired in summer of 21 at Marion Stage and it’s been a blast. We reopened with Clue and Clue is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. So getting to direct the stage version of that was, you know, was just a blast. And then, yes, I’ve done directed Rocky Horror twice and…

that’s another one of just one of my favorite films and plays of all time. So I’ve been feeling really lucky to be able to get to direct some of my favorite stuff and then for the audiences to really turn out, for them to be, you know, enjoyed and for the shows to be successful, for the theater. It was a wonderful experience. It’s been wonderful.

Jake (02:14)
Yeah, that’s awesome. Just looking through your bio, because you have so many different things listed here. All the different shows and things that you’ve worked on and produced and worked on choreography, film work. I mean, you have a crazy bio, including, does it say Cameron? James Cameron’s Titanic? You worked on that as well?

Kalani (02:33)
Yeah, yeah, it was one of the officers in Titanic. It was a great job. It was eight months long.

Jake (02:38)
My gosh.

Wow, wow, very cool. Yeah, Wizard of Oz, Wedding Singer, you’ve done a lot of really cool things. Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, this is amazing. Really, really cool bio. So thank you so much for joining me. I feel honored to just get to talk to you right now. It’s amazing. And then at Maui On Stage, what exactly is it that you are working with them doing?

Kalani (02:59)
Thank you.

I’m the artistic consultant, which means that I am the one that is driving the artistic vision of the company, meaning I choose the plays, what we’re doing. I work with the education and youth program coordinators, Jessica and Tina, to help figure out the classes that are being taught. I mean, arguably that’s mostly them. I just give them suggestions.

but it’s really about guiding the artistic side of it. Luana Whitford Mitchell, who is my older sister, she is the executive director of the theater, so she’s responsible for paying all the bills and all the business side of it. She’s the business side, I’m the artistic side.

Jake (04:00)
Wow, wow, that is really cool. And it’s cool that you guys are related and kind of get to work together. Can I ask about how that relationship is? Does it work well? Do you guys fight? How?

Kalani (04:09)
No, it’s been great. Yeah, it’s been wonderful. She was the one who suggested that I go in for this job because we’ve always worked well together. She’s one of the people that’s known me the longest. So, yeah, we work very well together.

Jake (04:28)

That’s amazing. I feel like it’s always one of the two having, I’m an older brother, so I feel like with siblings working together, it’s always one of those things where either you work really well together or you don’t work well together at all. But I feel like you know that from a young age. You figure that out pretty quickly. Yep. So because we’re talking about Maui On Stage, I think it makes the most sense to just kind of start with, can you tell me a little bit about Maui On Stage? What the venue’s like? What, you know,

Kalani (04:43)
Mmm, yeah.


Jake (05:01)
what it looks like inside and just tell me about the space and what you guys do.

Kalani (05:06)
Well, Malion Stage, the company, we’re housed at the historic E .L. Theater in Wailuku. And the building is almost 100 years old. It’s a beautiful building. And it seats just under 400 people. It was originally built as a movie theater and then eventually transformed into a space for live theater. We have a…

Jake (05:09)
Mm -hmm.

Kalani (05:36)
movie screen, so we do show movies once a month, but it’s primarily a live venue now and It’s it’s an like I said, it’s an old building. So there’s a lot of upkeep that we’re having to do now and So that’s the the part of it. That’s a little tough is The constant kind of upkeep of it, but it’s just such a beautiful building

And when people come into the building so many times, people say, I just love being in here or whether it’s audience or cast members, you know, if people get cast in a show, they are excited that they get to be in the building for the next three months, you know, rehearsing and then performing. So the building itself is just a grand dam, you know,

of like beautiful venue.

Jake (06:37)
Yeah, yeah. Having worked in historic theaters myself and seen the theater that we’re talking about, it is so cool. I always love working in historic theaters like that. There’s just so much character and they’ve seen so much and just walking around, you can tell. As someone in the backstage, you get to look around and be like, wow, just that wall has seen some things. And it’s really cool, really cool. So.

Kalani (07:03)

Jake (07:06)
With that being said, you guys do primarily live shows. Occasionally you show movies. Do you rent out the theater for people if they were going to do an event?

Kalani (07:17)
Yes, yes, you can rent the theater. And if you go to the website,, you’ll see the information, the contact information, it’s all there. But yes, there’s usually at least one rental a month. And we’re trying to get as many people in because it is a community, you know.

venue, it’s like we want people to come in and use the space and to bring more local people into the building would be wonderful.

Jake (07:55)
Yeah. Yeah. Do you know about what the specifics are for renting it out? Can I ask you those questions about that?

Kalani (08:06)
I don’t know. I know that post COVID, we did drop the prices down to try to get more people to use the space. So I know it’s cheaper than it used to be. But yeah.

Jake (08:23)
That’s always good. Cheaper than it used to be is always fun, especially post -COVID. Those are great words to hear.

Kalani (08:29)
Yeah, yeah. But as for specific numbers, no, I don’t know.

Jake (08:34)
Yeah, well I was curious about things like catering and what kind of people generally rent it out. Do you know those kind of details? Has anyone ever had a wedding there, do you know?

Kalani (08:46)
Not that I know of, no. You could though, I mean because there’s, you know, all the lighting is in place, all the sound, everything is there. Yeah, that would be possible.

Jake (08:59)
There you go. So an idea for people have a wedding at the EOF theater. It would be super cool. I love when people book spaces like that personally when they book things that you’re like, really a theater or like just the most different kind of thing for a wedding or just events in general. Like I’d love when people do that. So I think it makes a lot of sense. Like you said with the lighting and like theaters are just such a good spot for things because everything’s already there. It’s not like you have to bring in lights and all the stuff. You’re like, you’re ready to have an event. That’s what it’s meant for. So.

Kalani (09:02)

Yeah, I love that.



Jake (09:30)
Yeah, very, very cool. So with the events and the shows as the artistic director and something that you pay a lot of attention to, what is something that you’re seeing that is like a common direction that you’re moving and other places are moving in events and shows that you’re doing? What is something that you’re like really focused on and, you know, people are responding well to?

Kalani (09:56)
Well, something that the last couple of years we’ve been trying to, as an organization, move towards is doing more plays by local Hawaiian playwrights, which was not really the case for many years. And so we’re trying to change that and make Maui On Stage and the EO Theater a little more reflective of the community that it…

sits in and to have more Hawaiian actors on stage, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, more people from the community and more stories about those people. And we’re just starting rehearsals now for a play called Lovey Lee written by Moses Goods. And…

The cast is very excited and I hope people come out for it. It’s an amazing script. So I hope people do. So that’s one thing. The other thing is that we’re seeing people really responding to, as always, are the big, you know, fun musicals like Rocky Horror or Last Summer We Did Something Rotten.

You know, those big, fun musicals are always gonna be a big draw. Mamma Mia, things like that, you know.

Jake (11:32)
Yeah, what are the dates and specifics for that show that you guys are starting so that people that are listening to this can know about when to come and where can they get tickets? All the hard questions.

Kalani (11:42)
I should have known this. It, Lovie is, it’s going to be opening on June 7th, but it’s going to be, it’s, we’re doing it as a collaboration with Pro Arts Playhouse in Kihei. So the performance run will actually be at Pro Arts Playhouse, but the ticket information and everything is on our website,

Jake (12:11)
Great, awesome. So one of my favorite questions, and I’m really excited to see your answers to this one, are with all the shows that you’ve done, all the things that you’ve done, and being a part of shows and things, I’m gonna make this a two -part question. Things that you’ve experienced and then things that you’ve seen, what are the worst horror stories of things going wrong? Like whether it’s a cringe -worthy thing that you’ve seen other people do, or something you’ve personally had to take part in.

Kalani (12:18)

Jake (12:40)
where you’re just like, oh my gosh, this was just the worst way a show could go or something that you did. Let’s do both. I wanna hear the craziest stories.


Kalani (12:54)
The good and the bad.

Jake (12:57)
Well, we’re gonna get back to the good in a second, but let’s start with the bad.

Kalani (13:01)
start with the bad. Well, because it’s kind of the same answer that the bad without a doubt, no question in my mind was the show that I just wrote and directed in Florida, the play called See Men. And it was a very silly campy musical, but it was a world premiere. It’s never been done before. So.

The producer had warned me that when we get to opening weekend and we start to do it in front of an audience, the audience tells you what’s funny, what’s not funny, what’s boring, what’s all of that. And I will say opening night was the longest 74 minutes of my life as I stood in the booth watching the show just sort of collapse in front of my eyes because there were moments where actors just forgot what they were.

supposed to be doing. There were a couple of moments where actors inadvertently like flip scenes around. And it’s… Sea Men is a gay comedy and so there’s a fair amount of nudity in it and there was a moment where one of the actors ran on stage at the wrong time naked and just by himself no one else was out there because the scenes kept getting flipped around.

And I’m just standing there thinking, oh my God, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen or ever been a part of. And they start the curtain call and I just walked out the back door and was standing in the alley. And then I heard a couple of guys come out and walk up the alley and say to the other guys, well, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

Jake (14:49)
Oh no, no, I was so hoping that this was gonna turn into like the producers kind of story where you’re like, and then the audience loved it. Like.

Kalani (14:51)

Well, then we worked, you know, the next day, worked for six hours and then did the show that night. And then the next day, worked for six hours and then do the show at night. And so the show started, you know, to get better slowly. But it was a lot of really quick, I mean, was it Saturday night of that opening weekend, I think, that we cut a song and rewrote the dialogue.

right before the song and right after the song at about 6 .30. So they had about an hour and a half to rethink everything. But long story short, it ended up being very successful. We sold out all 27 performances. Even that opening weekend, it was rough, but people still came, they still enjoyed it. It just was a very rough journey of…

getting to where it ended up being by the second weekend where people… I had people out when I’d be out at a restaurant or something in Florida, people say to me, oh, I saw your show, I loved it. And that’s where you’re like, okay, so that balances out the guy saying, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. When you’re sitting by yourself at a restaurant and someone comes up to you and says, I loved your show, like, okay.

Jake (16:15)

Kalani (16:23)
I’ll take the guy saying it was the worst thing, you know. So it was, it was, directing, writing and then directing my own play was the best and the worst thing, but I learned so much doing it and I’m hoping to do it again elsewhere. But yeah, that was pretty bad. That was pretty bad.

Jake (16:27)

Yeah. So it does sound like there was a little bit of the producers kind of show like story though, where you guys sold out and people seemed happy with it. So as much as it was hard for you, I think that it probably wasn’t as bad for the audience and the people coming to see it. I think that you just, as a artistic person have this very high standard where you’re like, this is not what I wanted it to be, you know? But it sounds like it went okay.

Kalani (17:09)

Jake (17:13)

Kalani (17:13)
I think it did. I think it did. I think it’s just like you’re saying, it’s hard to accept seeing it and just knowing that knowing that it’s that was just one night and then you move on to the next night. The next night’s a little better and you know, it’s that slow climb to get better. But whoo.

Jake (17:21)


Yes. So with shows and events, the second part of this question, with shows and events in mind and other people running shows, what is the most cringey thing that you’ve seen that you didn’t do and weren’t involved in? Where you’re like, this is something that they should have planned for, they should have not done this. You see where they went wrong and you’re like, why did they choose to do that?


I feel like I have seen, really, I feel like I’ve seen so many things where I’m like, wow, you know, why, I’ve seen a show not very long ago where I was watching it and it was, they just did such a great job with the show and with the transitions and everything, but for some reason, no one thought to tell the stage, like backstage people that they should be in all black. And so it was like every time the lights went out, the backstage people come on in like,

Kalani (18:01)
That’s a really…

Jake (18:30)
normal clothes and you can see them and it was just like this this is just such a simple fix why didn’t you know I mean I think that’s not the most extreme version of something that could go wrong it’s not the cringiest thing but that’s an example of things that I’ve seen anything coming to mind or do you want to move on?

Kalani (18:49)
I’m sure something’s gonna come to me in like five minutes or you know.

Jake (18:51)
Okay, so with that, let’s switch to the positive side of things. What is the most unique, fun, cool idea that you’ve seen at an event or show that you’ve watched or worked on? Something where someone came up and they were like, let’s try this and it was just really cool.

Kalani (19:13)
Well, the first thing that comes to mind was the recent production of Bent out at Pro Arts Playhouse in Kihei. The director, Ali Cardinali, just completely reimagined the space and used the space in a way that nobody ever had used that theater there. It was so wild. And it was the best thing I’ve ever seen at Pro Arts.

Yeah, that was amazing.

Jake (19:47)
So I’m not familiar with that show and what they did, so can you kind of tell me more about how that worked?

Kalani (19:55)
Well, Bent was, I think, written in the 70s, I think. And it’s about a relationship between these two men in the, I don’t think it’s Auschwitz, but it’s like, you know, one of the concentration camps. And so it’s a very serious, very dark play.

But he did it in the round, so the audience was all the way around the cast. So it felt very, just immediate. You were right there with the cast. The cast wasn’t 50 feet away from you. You were right like five feet from them. Yeah, it was such a, it was a very hard play to sit through. I mean, that script is very difficult.

Jake (20:40)

Kalani (20:51)
But it was, it was without a doubt the best thing I’ve seen there.

Jake (20:56)
Awesome. Okay. And they did, that show was in the round at Pro Arts? Oh wow. I’m very curious now because I didn’t, trying to think of how they would have laid that out to make that work, but very, very cool. I think to sum up what we’ve just talked about, the coolest things that you can do is use a space differently than how you’d expect. So like having a wedding at EO. To bring it full circle. Yeah.

Kalani (21:01)

Yeah, exactly.

Jake (21:26)
So what is some advice that you can offer someone that is getting ready to start working on planning an event that they were going to do maybe at the EF Theatre or work with you guys? So if someone came to you and said, hey, we want to work on an event, what is something that you tell them that they need to have some good advice or something that they should work on first?

Kalani (21:48)
Well, I mean, I guess the first thing is to have a conversation with our production manager, Amy Lord. She’s the contact info is on the website, but she’s the primary contact for rentals. So she would know, you know, exactly what you would need, how to facilitate to get you what you want. Because she knows all those little

fun things, all the lighting machines, and all the sound things can do, you know. So to me, that’s the first thing, is to have a conversation with Amy Lord.

Jake (22:23)

Yeah, so start working with the person that’s going to help you plan it basically. Cool. Well, what is the last question here? What makes Maui On Stage unique from say any of the other venues that do the kind of things that you guys do on it?

Kalani (22:50)
I think Maui on Stage just has such a rich history on Maui. We’re about eight or so years away from being a hundred years old, the company. Maui on Stage is one of the longest running, continually running community theaters in the country. And I think that history really shows in what we do and what we can present.

But as I was saying earlier, we’re also trying to kind of take us in a new direction with more local playwrights and more, you know, representation and diversity. But to me, it’s the history of the organization Bowing on Stage, especially now being run by my sister and I. You know, we’ve been…

a part of Marion Sage since we were children. Our mother ran the organization. And so, Moana and I remember going to rehearsals with her when we were kids. And so I think there’s history in the organization. And then there’s also history of the building that we’re in, the E .L. Theater, which, like I said, has been around for so long, also almost 100.

Jake (24:18)
Yeah, that’s awesome. So I’m very much being like a pillar of the community and being very much a long standing organization that like you’re saying is very dedicated to Hawaii and the community and the island and all of that. That’s really cool. I think that that is definitely something that makes you unique to some of the other places. And of course, the E .F. Theater, like you’re mentioning, for sure makes you unique to some of the other venues on the island being such a historic and beautiful building. Yeah, that’s awesome.

Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate your time and your fun stories. Did you think of anything for that one question?

Kalani (24:53)

Jake (24:54)
No? Okay, cool. It’s okay. But thank you for joining me. I appreciate it. You have an amazing bio and it was really cool getting to talk to you and hear all about it. So I appreciate it and I’ll see you soon.

Kalani (24:57)
Thank you.

Thank you so much.

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