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Dragonfly: Community Engaged Theater
Helping Hawaii’s Children-In-Need.

PlayBuilders in collaboration with The Foster Care Training Committee, presents “Dragonfly”, a community engaged play based on story circles and interviews with former foster youth, therapists and social workers conducted and collected by Terri Madden between January of 2016 and 2017. The Foster Care Training Committee is a public-private partnership of organizations committed to enhancing the lives of foster children by providing nurturing, support and training for their caregivers. The play will be performed at various venues between April 22 and May 28, as a means of helping to educate the public regarding Hawaii’s children-in-need.

Madden and the PlayBuilders Ensemble met with former foster youth every Sunday night at the ARTS at Marks Garage in 2016 to study theatre and share stories about what it is like to grow up in the foster care system. Sometimes social workers, therapists, and foster parents joined them.

Former foster youth, Layla Kilolu and Apu Turano wrote original songs for the play.

Directed by well-known local actor and director, William Ha’o, “Dragonfly” is choreographed by PlayBuilders Ensemble member, Becky McGarvey, with music direction and arrangements by Ruth Shiroma Foster.  The play is made possible through the support of The Hawaii Community Foundation, The Victoria S. and Bradley L. Geist Foundation, The Hawaii People’s Fund, Chinatown Soup, The Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, and East Oahu Realty. Organizations who have donated their venues for the free performances include The Mayors Office on Culture and the Arts, Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church, Dot’s Restaurant, Wahiawa, and New Hope, Leeward.

The title of the play, Dragonfly: The story of a young local girls journey through foster care, came about after a former foster youth shared her story about a dragonfly she encountered.  We later discovered that in almost every part of the world a “dragonfly symbolizes change and the change in the perspective of self-realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.”

Based on real life experiences of Aunty Allene and Uncle Arthur Uesugi of Waianae, who fostered over 300 children in Waianae during their foster care years, Terri Madden weaved other stories collected, based in truth, into a fictionalized account of Tara, a young girl who is removed from her birth home at the age of 4 and then struggles throughout her childhood to find love and acceptance.  Through her childhood journey of constant change and loss as a foster youth, Tara eventually learns that only forgiveness and self acceptance can lead her to an ohana of her own making, and her true purpose in life. This is a beautifully raw story performed by 22 performers, several who are former foster youth. Here are some reactions to the play shared by audience members from the foster care community who attended the first reading of the play last November:

"I honestly think this play will make a difference."

"(Dragonfly) humanizes the system: gives hope, shows how resilient the youth are and the incredible amount of changes they go through."

" I love that the play honors a long time caregiver and her late spouse and their dedication to these children."

" Music and lyrics are awesome. The feelings, stories, and diversity displayed."

" I loved the music! I loved Danni’s dance."

"The original songs written by former foster youth are amazing"

"I very much loved the play... It was touching and emotional."

Watch PlayBuildersʻ 2 year creative process - start to finish of creating "Dragonfly, A Young Local Girlʻs Journey Through Foster Care" in just 44 seconds! (Video by Karis Lo) Please share with your friends!

Opens at the ARTS at Marks Garage on May 18th! 

PlayBuilders’ “Fostering Ohana”
A Play for Hawaii’s Children in Need
By Terri Madden

PlayBuilders is the only exclusively community collaborative theatre company based in Hawaiʻi, and during our first five years we have worked with the geographic communities of Chinatown, Wahiawa, and Waipahu, as well as with identity specific communities such as Hawaiiʻs homeless population, LGBTQ community and now currently with the foster care community.

“Fostering Ohana” is the first time we were approached by a community, asking us to collaborate with them on the development of a play, rather than the other way around. Vernon Viernes of Queen Lili’oukalani Children’s Center and Alan Costello of Partners in Development Foundation, approached me with the idea while we were working on “The Waipahu Project.” They were both involved as members of the Waipahu Community Coalition and were very happy with how that play came together. They saw the value right away. These two gentlemen encouraged the Foster Care Training Committee to participate and as a result many other organizations have partnered with us.

As you might guess, those of us involved with “Fostering Ohana” feel pretty passionate about what we are doing. We strongly believe this play is going to make a difference to many children currently in need. Our primary objectives for this project are to provide a platform for the Foster Care community to tell their stories, to educate local audiences about the difficulties foster youth have and the need for more resource caregivers, especially for those who are over 11 years of age, and finally, to help build a sense of connection between this often fragmented, disparaged, and marginalized population and the rest of Hawaii’s population.

Back in January, we invited former foster youth to come and audition for this show. I learned then that for many former foster kids, anything with the word “Foster” in it can serve as a repellant. However, 4 former foster youth have been meeting and working with our PlayBuilders Ensemble once a week over the last 8 months. Together we have held story circles and interviews with other members of the foster care community, and participated in dance classes and acting workshops. We have had some amazing discussions and although I am writing the script based on the information collected, we are currently working on honing the script together. A private invited reading of the new work will take place in early November for our community partners, as well as those who have shared their stories. At that time, we will get feedback and permission to go forward with the play and if one person that night tells us it does not ring true, we will go back to the drawing board.

But even if that should happen, I would not consider what we have done as a waste of time. The process is more important than the actual product. Last week one of our former foster youth wrote a song about forgiveness towards her birth mother. This is a huge step for her to take. When we first started talking, there was nothing about forgiveness in her story.  It’s little things like that keep me dedicated to this kind of work. Looking at the world through plays like this is actually a pretty wonderful way to live. Community stories not only inform, but they transform and heal.

The reason why our plays can be so empowering is because through the process of talking, listening, devising and writing the play, painful stories become re-framed.  Community collaborative playwright Jo Carson said in her book Spider Speculations, “sharing stories and participating in community collaborative theatre, community members are creating within themselves the capacity to exert power or agency to act on their own behalf.” I love how she put that and believe with all my heart it is true.

If you have yet to see a PlayBuilders’ play, make sure you do not miss “Fostering Ohana.” We don’t do numerous plays in a season. In fact, our seasons are filled with workshops and story circles, and our actual productions are presented only about every other year.  My hope is that the theatre community will begin to understand that these plays written by, with, and for our communities here in Hawaiʻi are truly precious and rare, and if you miss out one, you miss out on coming to a fuller love and understanding of this place we call home.

You will soon start hearing more about “Fostering Ohana.” We will be holding auditions for more community members in January. We are going to be presenting the play all over Oahu and the outer islands next year. The play is being written by me, Terri Madden, with the support of the Foster Care Community and The PlayBuilders Ensemble, Music by Layla Kilolu, Apu Turano, and Michelle Martin, Directed by Wil Ha’o, with set and lighting design by David Griffith. We are also pleased to announce that Nanakuli High School Students will also be performing the play, under the direction of William Ha’o and drama teacher, Robin Kitsu, during the second half of 2017. Many thanks to the PlayBuilders Board of Directors, Chinatown Soup, East Oahu Realty, the Hawaii People’s Fund, The Hawaii Community Foundation and the Geist Foundation for making this project possible.

PlayBuilders of Hawai'i is now accepting, half an hour or less, one-act plays for its fifth Annual Festival of Original Plays. Newly established as “The PlayFestival,” this year’s festival will feature short one act plays focusing on the geographic place where playwrights live or work and will be held Thursday nights in March of 2016, at The ARTS at Marks Garage.

A panel of adjudicators comprised of professional theatre makers will judge the plays based on quality of plot, dialogue, characterization, structure, and originality. Several participants in the past, including Mark Tjarks (Houseless in Paradise) and Kirstin Trombetta (The Waipahu Project), have been commissioned by PlayBuilders to write our community-collaborative plays.  In addition, other theatre companies have selected plays featured in our festival to part as part of their seasons, including, Jan McGrath’s "Outage" and Nancy P. Moss’ "Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up," which was produced by TAG and Kumu Kahua Theatres in 2013.

This year, the festival features a youth night for students, grades 6- 12 and for the very first time, PlayBuilders is offering free playwriting workshops Sunday afternoons in October to help playwrights with basic playwriting skills and to  learn the process of community-collaborative playwriting.


PlayBuilders One-Act PlayFest Submission Guidelines

  • All submissions must be emailed to by December 15, 2015. Hard copies are unacceptable.   Plays will be judged and selected by a play reading committee. Playwrights will be notified of selection by January 15, 2016.

  • Playwright Divisions

    • Adult -One Act- (30 minutes or less)

    • Youth intermediate -6th though 8th grades- (15 minutes or less)

    • Youth upper-9th through 12th grades- (15 minutes or less).

    • For the youth divisions, plays may be submitted by teachers or by students with written permission from their parents. Classroom/ after school program submissions will also be considered.

  • Theme

  • “Place”– Plays must be informed by true stories, gathered through live interviews with people who know about the geographic place where you live or work.  When you approach someone to interview, explain, who you are and that you are writing a play. Request them to , “Tell me a story about this place” and see where the conversation takes you. To insure safety, students should not approach strangers without adult supervision. However, adults are encouraged to strike up a conversation with anyone, strangers included.

  • Adjudication

  • Professional theatre makers will judge the plays based on  plot, dialogue, characterization, structure, and originality. There will also be a special “Audience Appreciation Award."

  • Workshops

  • Free playwriting workshops will be offered Sundays in October. Details to follow soon. Instructors in PlayBuilders of Hawai’i Theater Company is an insured, 501 C3 corporation. Donations are tax deductible.


For more information, please contact Terri Madden at 808-218-0103 or email her at