By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The end of an era is fast approaching for Hilo’s historic Palace Theater.
By the close of May, a new executive director is expected to replace Karen Moore, who is retiring, and by the year’s end, a new president of the Friends of the Palace Theater will take the place of Cheryl “Quack” Moore.
The unrelated pair has guided the 88-year-old theater through an unprecedented decade of restoration and growth.
Karen Moore completed interviews this week for her replacement, which she expects to be announced before she leaves.
Quack Moore, an Emmy Award-winning former musical director for TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” is completing her fifth consecutive two-year term as president of the FPT board of directors, the theater’s all-important fundraising arm.
The theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1925 and bought by Consolidated Amusement Co. four years later. Consolidated later converted the theater to a warehouse and by 1982, it was boarded up. But with County of Hawaii and Downtown Improvement Association assistance, a nonprofit was established that began the long period of theater restoration that’s continuing today. With additional state and county funds, the building was finally made structurally safe by 1996.
“These old theaters have a lot of heart and soul,” said Quack Moore.
Karen Moore said the response to the theater’s “help wanted” ad for her replacement brought an “incredibly encouraging and positive response.” Applicants came from Hilo, Honolulu and the mainland. “It’s encouraging that such a large, talented pool of applicants is interested in the Palace,” she said. “The job requires a broad range of skills, from writing grants to cleaning toilets.”
“It’s a very exciting time,” she said. “In a way, we’re at kind of a crossroads. It’s time to take it to the next level.” That will require a new director with strong grant-writing and fundraising skills, she said. “There is a lot of potential and room for growth.”
Moore, executive director since 2001, said the theater’s operating budget today — about
$400,000 — is four times what it was when she started. The biggest project — a $116,000 new roof — was completed in December. A $55,000 digital cinema system was recently also funded and is awaiting installation.
“In 2008, we fell back a little bit, everybody else did, too,” she said. “(But) we’re starting to grow again. Like any economy, it needs constant growth.”
Over the past 10 years, much of the theater’s focus was on restoration. “The big thing was the roof. But now it’s on and everything’s working.” And while a roof is critical, it’s also mundane. The digital cinema system, however, will bring the theater into the 21st century.
Marcia Prose, who is on the Palace board, said the two Moores have been the “major pillars” of the theater. The fortunate part (for Quack) is she’ll now be “doing what she wants to do,” which is the performance side of the business without the demands of being on the board.
Karen Moore had done a “tremendously amazing job,” Prose said, yet acknowledged that “this is the perfect time to re-evaluate all the tasks to see if there’s a better way. The job is going to be a little bit different.”
“We want the Palace to keep on being the Palace, and to build on the tremendous foundation that Karen has provided for us.”
The digital cinema system will open the theater to different sources of entertainment as fewer films are being distributed to theaters in the once-standard 35 mm format, opening opportunities for streaming of live concerts, major sporting events and performances from such venues as the National Theater in London to be shown on the theater’s big screen. “That’s the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Meanwhile, Moore plans to enjoy the summer and do many of the things she’s been unable to do while shepherding the theater, like eating properly, exercising, “taking care of myself.”
“The future is a wonderful open book,” she said. “(The theater) has been a wonderful, rewarding adventure, but also stressful. It’s a big load to carry.”
She and her husband aren’t leaving Hilo, either, and she’ll be available to help with transitioning. “It’s been such a close relationship for so long. I can’t just walk away.”
“Quack will leave the board but also continue to hover,” she said. “We worked so closely as a team for more than a decade.”
In line to replace Quack Moore as president of the Palace Theater’s board of directors next year is Wendy Peskin, currently the board’s vice president.
Peskin, who moved to Hawaii from Massachusetts three years ago, has a strong background in nonprofit fundraising and public relations. Upcoming projects include renovating the stage and the theater’s street-front facade, she said.
“(A) tremendous amount of work” has already been accomplished during the two Moores’ tenure “to make (the theater) a safe environment for art,” Peskin said. ”We’re so fortunate that Quack is not leaving town. Her musical talent will still be there.”
Peskin’s goal now is to establish the theater as an even “stronger icon in downtown Hilo.”
“For a small city, the offerings are fantastic,” said Peskin, who has already helped establish a donor database to assist theater fundraising efforts. “I hope the entire Hilo community will get behind the Palace.”
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.