Festival is a big-ticket item

By Lynn Cook / Special to the Star-Advertiser on April 22, 2014

Packing and juggling, boxes, rides and beds, that’s what Monday was about. The first call I received Monday morning was asking if I could take an extra bag to Hilo. “I’ll pay,” my hula pal says, “I just need to get extra lei and a few more hula implements over there … (pause) … call you back, my neighbor says she is going.” No call back so I am guessing it got handled.

I don’t think I have ever seen a full budget for one halau traveling to Merrie Monarch, but you can tick off the items and get a round number. Airline tickets for the dancers, the kumu, the kokua (helpers), and accommodations for all. Even sleeping four to a room or “camping out” in a school gym, it costs plenty. Multiply all that several times over if the halau is coming from the mainland. An invitation to perform at the Merrie Monarch Festival is a coveted invitation that often requires several years of fund raising in advance.

Once in Hilo, the halau budget must include the cost of vans or a bus to move the aforementioned hula army between the airport, the hotel and the stadium, not just for performances but also for the rehearsals.

Then there’s food for five days. Dancers can’t make a quick stop for drive-through or hang out in line to eat pancakes at Ken’s like those of us in the audience. A big budget item is the cost of costumes, lei and hula implements. Another line item is bringing in musicians for the Saturday auana performance. Even if they come for love of the halau, they have to sleep and eat and have a matching set of aloha shirts.

This year there are 28 halau listed in the official Merrie Monarch program book. After thinking through the list of budget items, next year, when a halau member says they are selling fundraiser lau lau, I promise I will double my order. You too?

Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and cultural writer who has studied hula for 25 years.