Skip to content

The past year hasn’t been easy for community theater.

Like countless other venues worldwide, the Historic Iao Theater went dark last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the state’s stay-at-home order, a scheduled production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was halted just a few weeks away from opening night.

It’s been an interminably long intermission, but the curtain will eventually rise again at the Iao Theater. Leslie Mackenzie Smith of Wailea Realty Corp. + Windermere Real Estate is determined to see that happen.

Smith serves on the board of directors of Maui OnStage, the community-based theatrical organization that has kept the Iao Theater thriving over the years. She says joining the nonprofit’s board of directors in 2018 was a natural fit. “As a Maui resident for almost 40 years, I feel I have an obligation and a duty to give back to the community that has been so good to me,” she said. “For as long as I can remember, I have sat on a nonprofit board. All of the organizations I’m passionate about revolve around children. I have four daughters, all of whom were born and raised on Maui and have grown up involved in all aspects of the arts.”

The Iao Theater was built in 1928 and quickly became the entertainment centerpiece of the community. In its early years, the theater hosted live stage acts, special guests (Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Mickey Rooney, among others) and movie screenings, including the Hawaii premiere of the 1953 film, “From Here to Eternity.” Since then, performers of all stripes—actors, singers, musicians, dancers, acrobats, and comedians—have graced the Iao Theater stage. And since it took up residence in the theater in 1984, Maui OnStage has churned out productions for every taste, from poignant dramas to laugh-out-loud comedies to toe-tapping musicals.

Live productions remain on hold for now, and in the interim, Maui OnStage is offering its Education and Youth Program classes, as well as a brand-new, COVID-19-safe Elements of Theater workshop series. Like so many of its community theater counterparts, Maui OnStage was dealt a financial blow last year, as more than 75 percent of the nonprofit’s annual budget comes from ticket sales. Fortunately, many residents have stepped up to help. “We appreciate all of the support, both financial and emotional, that people have been giving the theater during this pandemic,” Smith said. “This means so much.”

You can help, too. “The community can help Maui OnStage and the Historic Iao Theater in many different ways,” Smith said. “Financial donations help us to literally keep the lights on at the theater. We have donation links on our newly updated website, so people can donate any day, any time, and in any amount. People can also donate directly to our Education and Youth Program through our website. We also know times are tough and not everyone is able to donate financially. We can always use in-person help at the theater with any of our cleaning and organizing projects we currently have going on.”

And your support will go a long way. “Participation in community theatre has so many benefits for people of all ages,” Smith said. “It is a perfect outlet for adults and has so many incredible benefits for kids. Community theater brings people together to collaborate and work together, while giving the audience an opportunity to lose themselves in an experience that can never be captured again. That’s the beauty of live theater.”

To learn more about Maui OnStage at the Historic Iao Theater, for more information about the Elements of Theater workshop series or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit You can also follow Maui OnStage on Facebook ( and Instagram (

The Maui News – March 15, 2021

Scroll To Top