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Tribune-Herald file photo
Seats are filled in Edith Kanaka'ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in 2018 the 55th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.
Tickets for the 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival will go on sale Dec. 1.
Cost of admission for the three-evening competition, unofficially dubbed “the Olympics of Hula,” is being increased, but those fortunate enough to snag a seat inside the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo are still getting an incredible bang for their entertainment buck.
“The most expensive tickets will be $55 for one person to come all three nights,” Merrie Monarch President Luana Kawelu said Thursday.
That’s still less than $20 per night to see the world’s most prestigious hula competition, which will be held April 13-15, 2023. The decision to hike prices, however, is not one Kawelu made cavalierly.
“I struggled with that — struggled, struggled with raising the price,” she said. “But every three years, I change the boards on the stage for safety’s sake. And prices have gone so way up. That’s only one example. You know, Merrie Monarch pays for all the food for concessions. The price of food — the cooks have gotten quotes on how much it’s going to be — everything is so high that I could not go without raising the price.”
The $55 admission (up $15 from 2019) to see Thursday evening’s Miss Aloha Hula competition, Friday evening’s group hula kahiko (ancient hula) competition, and Saturday evening’s group hula ‘auana (modern hula) competition and awards ceremony is for six reserved seating sections.
Other reserved seating tickets are $50 for all three evenings (an increase of $15) or $40 to attend Friday and Saturday night (an increase of $10).
General admission seating — which is first come, first-served — is $30 for admission to all three evenings, or $10 for Miss Aloha Hula only. Those tickets cost $20 and $5 in 2019.
The stadium will be back to full capacity next year for the first time since 2019.
The festival was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, the competition was held in the summer as a made-for-television event with only the halau, judges, festival staff and TV production crew allowed in the stadium. The hula competition was broadcast a week later, and the results were announced at the end of the telecast.
Last year, the festival returned to Easter week, but only participating halau and their families and supporters were in the audience.
About half the seats in the 4,200-seat venue are available to the general public for 2023, with the remainder reserved for the participating hula halau.
Public ticket sales are mail-order only, with each person allowed a maximum purchase of two tickets. Tickets must be paid for with a cashier’s check or money order made out to Merrie Monarch Festival. Personal checks will not be accepted. And the ticket request must contain, in addition to payment, a ticket request form — available at merriemonarch.com, as is a seating chart and a fact sheet — plus a self-addressed, stamped, legal-size envelope to receive tickets.
Ticket requests have to be postmarked Dec. 1 or later.
“Anything that is postmarked before Dec. 1 will be returned to the sender, just to make it fair for everybody,” Kawelu said.
According to Kawelu, there will be 23 participating halau with 19 wahine groups, nine kane groups and 12 Miss Aloha Hula candidates.
Three halau will represent Hawaii Island, including Halau Ka Lehua Pua Kamaehu of Hilo, under the direction of na kumu hula Kasie Kaleohano and Brandi Barrett.
Kaleohano and Barrett were students of legendary kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho, and will present mele he composed and dances he choreographed for wahine and a Miss Aloha Hula contestant.
Lum Ho, the last living kumu from the first Merrie Monarch hula competition, had agreed to participate in the 60th annual festival, but died in April at age 81.
Also bringing wahine and a Miss Aloha Hula contestant is Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani of Hilo, under the direction of kumu hula Nahokuokalani Gaspang.
And representing Kailua-Kona with wahine is Halau Kala‘akeakauikawekiu, under the direction of kumu hula Aloha Victor.
The trappings of Merrie Monarch week, such as the Royal Parade, Ho‘ike and the Merrie Monarch Hawaiian Arts and Craft fair, are returning — as is the free, all-day Ho‘olaule‘a, which kicks off Merrie Monarch week on Easter Sunday, April 9, at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“We’re going back to normal, as normal as can be,” Kawelu said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
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