As a youth, Trevor Tamashiro had inclinations about becoming an actor in musicals.
“I went to college to major in theater,” he said. “I had plans to pursue studies at the Ailey School (of the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York).”
But after college, he retooled his goals to the administrative side of the performing arts, “because I was hooked on admin,” he said. “I went to Columbia University, to learn about the admin side, not to major in fundraising.”
In May of this year, Tamashiro – born and raised in Honolulu – was hired to lead Diamond Head Theatre as executive director and the history-making first Asian American to shape the future of Hawaii’s largest theater group.
He succeeds Deena Dray, who resigned before the formal launch of the new $22 million headquarters, which had just opened after 125 years of service in an aging facility a stone’s throw from Diamond Head, the state’s best known landmark.
Over breakfast at Zippy’s Kahala recently, Tamashiro, 42, shared his thoughts and plans about his stewardship of DHT.
Yes, he’s immensely thrilled to be back in the islands, after years of different stints in mostly fund-raising jobs at non-profit entertainment endeavors in The Big Apple.
He is old enough to make a difference with the skills suited for his administrative and funding tasks, yet young enough to have potential longevity to build and grow and soldier on, for the next four of five decades of service, lord willing.
“I think my timing’s great,” he said of his situation. “Not really thinking of making it to the 200th anniversary, however.”
On paper, he boasts nearly two decades of experience in non-profit executive leadership, having served as chief advancement officer of The Diller-Quaile School of Music, deputy director of the Saratoga International Theater Institute, deputy program director for the Drama League of New York and briefly allied with the Broadway Dance Center. He also is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and is a certified fundraising executive.
Early on, he was ready to set roots in the craft he enjoys: live theater. Live, stage musicals.
“I was in the ensemble of ‘The King and I’ at DHT in 1999,” said Tamashiro, flashing a huge grin indicative of a truly happy memory. But his official stage debut was earlier in 1996, when he was 16 or 17, appearing in Army Community Theatre’s “Damn Yankees.” “My first show,” he smiled with more good cheer.
A few days after he took on the leadership, he was mingling with locals taking in DHT’s “Beauty and the Beast” production. Eyes and ears wide open, he attends the DHT along with audiences, soaking in the pleasures of folks taking on a show. Staff appears to adore him, because the feeling is mutual, as he brings a passion for performing in his new job, with an affinity for the thousands who take on roles in six productions every year, yet with a mindful focus to entail fundraising and day-to-today operations of a thriving theater group. A singing and dancing leading man aren’t in the cards anymore; the bigger picture will matter more.
“I learn a lot by talking to and listening to people,” Tamashiro said.
His governance style is to initially keep his eyes and ears open, and create relationships along the way.
“Right now, it’s all about sustainability,” he said. “Keep going, get better, and grow.”
Clearly, he is not rushing to get somewhere quickly. “I think in my first year here, I need to absorb as much as I can,” said Tamashiro. Even if he was born and raised here, “I fear I’m still somebody new.”
With the pandemic in his rearview mirror, Tamashiro said theater (including DHT) still has a lot to explore.
He took to the stage, before the curtain went up for “Beauty,” not just to introduce himself but to proclaim that there’s still some barriers before a full recovery is imminent. Thus, the reality is he has to boost and promote, following the examples of the retired Dray and the still-in-service John Rampage, DHT’s longtime artistic director.
“The numbers are not back,” he said of subscription renewals at DHT. “We lost 1,000 subscribers this year, and we hope next year will be better.” That equates to nearly two full houses at the DHT’s new home.
While optimistic that the new facility fulfilled its fundraising goal, DHT still seeks $2 million that would help complete what he calls the TAB – the Theatrical Arts Building – which is the restoration and rebuilding of the wedge of the standing segment of the original facilities to house administrative offices, new rehearsal space and classrooms to maintain the operational needs of the theater apart from the new building.
Asked if he regrets that the rebuilt facility pretty much has the same seating capacity in the old theater, he said no. “We have a 470 capacity (in the newbie) and that’s ample; if we had more seats, we’d have to have a (larger) ratio of more parking spaces.”
He misses a traditional theater lobby (there’s none now) but advises locals who loved the nostalgic scenic shots from historic shows not to fret; “they weren’t destroyed; we have them stored and could perhaps use them in rehearsal rooms later.”
The design team before Tamashiro’s hiring eliminated a central main entrance from the back of the house into the aisle of seats, and while there exists such a modified entry way, it is not in use in favor of the makai-side double-door entry and exit routes.
Tamashiro also is working with the tech crews to train and maximize the use of fly space, which was lacking in the old building, and the purchase of a projection device to display slides and scenic visuals already is in place during the “Beauty” run, and he’s taking notes on how to improve the sound equipment and other issues that develop.
Admission costs have soared in theaters across the globe, a particular hardship for those who can’t afford the prevailing ticket prices, and Tamashiro hopes to have an amnesty ticket some day for those who can’t afford retail that would be financed by those who can.
Changes take time and effort, he said, so he’s thrilled “to have that chance to make a difference.” …
“Mamma Mia,” the ABBA-loaded jukebox musical playing Sept. 22 through Oct. 15 (extension dates included), will formally launch his first full season at DHT. Wonder if he’ll be chirping and tapping along, “Take a Chance on Me.” …
And that’s Show Biz. …