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UH ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Play Awarded by National Theatre Program

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A virtual production of “He Leo Aloha” premiered in October 2021 at Kennedy Theatre. (Photos courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa)

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa play performed exclusively in Hawaiian language has won several awards through a national theatre program.

The hana keaka, “He Leo Aloha,” written and directed by Kaipulaumakaniolono Baker, a graduate student in the UH-Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance, captured eight national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The national program awarded productions that promote long-term societal impacts through an artistic lens.

Kaʻula Krug and Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker in a scene from “He Leo Aloha.”

“Mahalo nui to the entire creative team, particularly kumu Keawe and Ka Waihona a ke Aloha as well as kumu Hailiʻōpua for their mentorship,” Baker, a masters of fine arts candidate in Hawaiian Theatre, said in a press release. “These awards are truly a testament to the beauty of our mele and moʻolelo and the amazing kānaka who continue to serve as their vessels today,”


The play, which opened Kennedy Theatre’s 2021-22 mainstage season last September, earned the following awards:

  • Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award.
  • Special achievement in the production of a new work.
  • Special achievement in production design.
  • Special achievement in lighting design (Jonah Bobilin).
  • Special achievement in direction by student artists (Baker).
  • Special achievement in individual performance (Kaʻula Krug and Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker).
  • Special achievement in musical direction (Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha, kumu Keawe Lopes and The Tuahine Troupe).

“He Leo Aloha” follows the story of a group of kānaka maoli students at UH-Mānoa and their struggles with finding and navigating love and the meaning of true aloha.

Baker incorporates traditional mele and original oli to accentuate and highlight the importance of language and the power it carries. The production features a 12-piece live band.


In January, the play received an invitation to virtually perform at the national program’s Region 8 festival. The award-winning hana keaka advanced to the national category and outshined dozens of other productions from throughout the the United States.

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