The Show
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"Tom Lee's production of this story not only reveals its lyrical beauty but, through his rich combination of music, film, and puppet animation, brings out the sadness and strength at its core.", 2007


Based on a true story of Hawai'i in the 1890s, this intimate and inventive puppet performance utilizes live music, animated projections, shadow puppets and Japanese kuruma ningyo style (wheeled puppet) figures.  Director Tom Lee addresses the powerful themes of this story with puppetry that evokes the poetry of the Hawaiian language and the natural environment of the islands.  The piece is performed by four puppeteers, two musicians and two projectionists who animate live shadow and video.  Directed and designed by Hawai’i raised puppet artist Tom Lee with live music by Yukio Tsuji and Bill Ruyle.


Kaluaiko’olau (hereafter Ko’olau) was a native Hawaiian from Waimea, Kaua’i. A well-respected paniolo (cowboy), Ko'olau learned that he contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in 1892, a diagnosis which meant exile to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on Moloka'i. Vowing never to be separated from his wife and child, Ko’olau took the family to the isolated valley of Kalalau on Kaua'i's rugged Na Pali coast. Here they lived until a deputy sheriff from Waimea, Louis Stoltz, attempted to arrest him. Ko’olau shot the man and two soldiers of the Provisional Government army sent to capture him, eluding fierce bombardment by the government forces. The family lived in secret in Kalalau for years until first Kaleimanu, and then Ko’olau died of their disease. Pi’ilani buried both of them in secret and returned to her home in Kekaha. In 1906, Pi’ilani recorded her story in the Hawaiian language with Kahikina Kelekona (John Sheldon). The volume was entitled "Ka Moolelo Oiaio O Kaluaikoolau" (The True Story of Kaluaiko'olau).


Ko'olau was made possible by support from The Jim Henson Foundation, Cheryl Henson, La MaMa Experimental Theatre, The Yara Arts Group (Virlana Tkacz, Artistic Director), The Chocolate Factory Theatre, Rhodopi International Theatre Laboratory (Jared Stein, Artistic Director), TCG/ITI Travel Grant Program and generous individual donations. To make a contribution via PayPal please click on the 'Donate' button at the top right.



performance photo

Photograph (top) credit coming soon
Performer (top): Matt Acheson
copyright 2010 Tom Lee