Hawaiʻi

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Chambers

 

She’s built a reputation as “Hawai‘i’s presentation coach,” but in her youth, Pam Chambers was far from that. The former wallflower reveals how a turning point in her career helped her blossom as a public speaker. For more than 30 years, Chambers has helped local professionals and students on their presentation skills through feedback that she describes as honest, gentle and clear.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Pam Chambers Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I was in the third grade, and Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report. As I began to read, I stumbled on a word, and one of the girls in the class led the group in laughing at me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity.

 

It took twenty years after that incident for her to feel comfortable standing in front of an audience again, and she made a career of helping people get over their fear of public speaking. Meet this presentation coach next on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one, engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. It’s one of the biggest fears of many Americans: public speaking. For more than thirty years, Pamela Gaye Chambers of Honolulu has been coaching Hawai‘i residents, from children to CEO’s, in how to develop presentation skills. Not just public speaking, proper etiquette, dressing for success, preparing for a job interview, and learning to work more effectively in a workplace environment are only some of the many skills she teaches. Her career began with wanting to help people with speaking disorders. She avoided work that involved public speaking until she took a job that she wasn’t aware required it.

 

You grew up in west Los Angeles.

 

Well, my father was a professor at UCLA. He taught the classics: Greek and Roman history. And my mother was a stay at home mom, which I so appreciated. Some of my friends would go home to an empty house. My mother was always there finishing up a painting or something. And so we were…we had a humble beginning. I mean, I-I teach dining etiquette now, mainly because I had to learn what fork to use ‘cause we only had one fork. Well, we each had our own, but we didn’t have two forks.

 

And you went to public schools in LA?

 

Yes.

 

Where you had your third-grade experience –

 

Yes.

 

– That, that scarred you until you recovered from that?

 

Yes, yes. Emerson Elementary School. And Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report, and I was an avid reader, so I instantly knew I’m gonna do Charlotte’s Web, and I was excited and I wrote it all out, and I couldn’t wait to get up there and read my book report. And as I began to read, I stumbled on a word and one of the girls in the class, her name was Wendy, was a leader of the group, and she led the group in laughing at me for my mistake, and I became flustered and my glasses slid down my nose and my face got hot and I just choked. And Mrs. Zimmerman said, “Go on!” That was her way of supporting me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity: being in front of the room with all eyes on me, being vulnerable, being laughed at. This is something I will avoid. So, for the next two decades, I avoided being in front of the room.

 

How did you get out of presentations for the next twenty years?

 

Oh, by being very cunning. If, if there was a school play, I would be absent the day that they were aud-you know, assigning the, “You be the rock, and you be the lead.” And, and I would volunteer to do extra credit work behind the scenes so that I wouldn’t have to be in front. I got very good –

 

Did anyone notice that – what, what you were doing?

 

I don’t think so. No one called me on it; no one said, “Hey you – “

 

You majored in something called Communication Disorders?

 

Right. I was going to be a speech pathologist. That was my plan, to help people who stutter or who have a lisp, or who nasal and they want to change that, or they’re too breathy.

 

And that comes from what? Because you liked helping people, and you were looking for –

 

It came from taking a class in linguistics that fascinated me. It was a class that told you, taught us how to write not phonetically, but in the symbols and – well symbols that allow us to know how to pronounce a word when we look it up in the dictionary. So, the world ‘length’ has a symbol for the ‘ng’ sound, and I was really good at that. I could listen to the teacher say a word, and I could write it in that language –

 

Diagram it.

 

Yes. Yes, and then I thought, “Well, so where do I get more of this?” And someone said in the communications department. So, I joined that department.

 

And found out there was something called Communication Disorders to major in.

 

Yes, yes. And I was able to work with a child who stuttered. I was able to work with an aphasic woman, a woman who had – very elderly woman who had a stroke who could not find her words, and I was supposed to find an aphasic person to work with for my term paper. So, it took me to really interesting places, but then I took a job that required me to stand up in front of groups.

 

Why did you take a job requiring you to stand up in front of groups?

 

I didn’t know they – I, I didn’t know that I would have to. They, they left out that part. I was working for a company called Actualizations, a self-improvement company in San Francisco. That’s where I was the sales manager, mostly doing one on one sales or very tiny groups. But once a month, I would have to stand in front of 300 people and introduce the seminar leader. So once a month I would have to be on a riser in a fancy ballroom introducing Stewart Emory, was his name, and once a month a minute; it’s just not enough to get over anything. So I would quiver and tremble and shake visibly.

 

How did you get over this?

 

Well I, I did the unthinkable. I said to them, “I want to conquer my fear. I need more speaking opportunities, please.” And they said, “Okay. Once a week, you can lead a preview about this seminar, and we’ll get hotel rooms and we’ll maybe attract 20 people that you can speak to.” And that’s how I got over it.

 

That is so smart, because if something is unnatural to you, it’s hard to feel natural, so you do it until it feels natural.

 

Exactly. And I knew and loved my subject. I loved the seminar. I knew the seminar. I knew exactly what I was talking about, which is key. And once a week was all it – was what it took. We were in four cities on the mainland, and Stewart Emory and Carol Augustus, the owners, said, “Who wants to go to Hawai‘i to see if we can get the seminar going there?” And I said, “I would.” I was the only one who raised a hand. Well, if I had known how hard that was gonna be, I wouldn’t be sitting with you right now. it was not easy, coming from the mainland with a bunch of registration cards expecting people to sign up for something they had never heard of. But I got 80 people in the room.

 

How’d you do that?

 

Oh, ugh, it was so hard. I, I was here for three months, and so I was here – they paid for me to rent, you know, a little apartment, and they paid my paycheck and I got the people together. I had a lot of help. I had some support. And at the end of that three months, I realized I don’t want to leave here. I want to…I, I –

 

Even though it was hard to do your job here?

 

Well I, I had made a number of really good friends and I loved everything about it. So, but I didn’t have the courage to quit, so I went back to San Francisco and I misbehaved.

 

Purposely, I take it?

 

Un – subconsciously. I, I can look back, and I look back at the mistakes I made. In my right mind, I would never have done those things that I did. They were egregious. I got fired.

 

You did get fired?

 

I did. My – Carol called me. She said, “It was clear to me by your behavior at the Women’s Workshop last week that you don’t want to be here anymore. So we are releasing you.”

 

How were you acting at the Women’s Workshop?

 

Oh, I left her out of the group photo. There was a group photo of all the people in the workshop, and I had the photographer take the picture without waiting for Carol Augustus to be in the picture. How passive aggressive is that?

 

But you’re not regretting getting fired?

 

No, I, I cried for about ten minutes, and then I said to my boyfriend, “Doug, let’s go, let’s go to Hawai‘i.” So we packed fourteen boxes of things, came here, no place to live. Uh, someone lent us a spare room for a while. No job, no, no nothing. Fourteen boxes of stuff, and we, both of us has – have been here ever since. That was forty years ago.

 

Pam Chambers secured a job in Hawai‘i that continued to put her in a public speaking role. It eventually led her into creating her own business.

 

I ran the Winner’s Circle Breakfast Club in the eighties, maybe you’ve heard of it? It was a weekly motivational meeting held in various places over that ten-year period, and I was the director of it, and I was the emcee. So, every single week I was in front of a hundred people running the breakfast. It was so much fun, and then one day a man named Howard Wolf said, “We have architects who need to be better at presenting their work. Do you think that you could help them?” And I said, “I don’t know. I, I don’t know a thing about architecture. Let’s give it a try.” So we had one pilot class with twelve people, and I talked to them about body language, voice, words and image, and they loved it. So they hired me for several more classes, and that was the beginning of my career.

 

Did it grow because you got feedback and then you would change and evolve?

 

Yes, I always, I always listen. Sometimes I get feedback that’s painful. Oh my goodness, I, I don’t love critical feedback any more than anyone else does, but sometimes I get it. And I vow, ‘let me not make the same mistake twice.’ I got feedback about handling my lei too many times. A woman in the audience counted the number of times –

 

You’re right. you are judged, aren’t you, when you’re speaking?

 

Oh, yeah. She said, “I thought you might want to know that you handled your lei thirty-seven times.” And that is the moment I decided to say to people, “If you plan to give me a lei, which is lovely, I would prefer to have it when I’m done speaking,” because I know myself. I know that I’ll be handling it.

 

This is a really interesting subject because we know that public speaking is the, is probably the number one fear, right, that people have.

 

Right.

 

And um, and so just, just, um, being there for lessons is probably pretty daunting.

 

Yes, it takes a lot of work for me to fill a class. It is a very hard sell. People will go to Toastmasters because that’s very, very easy, and very safe, and they’re not gonna get the level of feedback that they’re afraid they’re gonna get from me. I have a reputation of being, “She leaves no stone unturned.” And that’s not true. I don’t turn over stones that can’t be fixed.

 

Well it is very personal.

 

It is.

 

Even if it’s not – I mean, what’s personal to one is, you know, no big deal to another.

 

Right, that’s right. One man came into my classroom and he sat down and spread his arms; his tall and long arms. He spread his arms. He took a lot of space, and after about forty-five minutes when enough rapport was there among all of us, I said, “I want to give you some feedback about your body language.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “Just freeze. Freeze just as you are.” I said, “Notice how much space you’re taking. Notice that you’re encroaching on the space of the people to either side of you.” And he pulled his arms in, and he said, “Thank you. No one has told me that before.” And I said, “I know. That’s why we’re here.”

 

Because sometimes people just don’t know.

 

They don’t know.

 

And, and it may be obvious to everybody else.

 

They don’t know what they don’t know. And they’re usually very grateful that someone finally told them about something that they can easily fix. Now the voice, that’s not easy. But pulling your arms in, that’s easy.

 

You know, I thought that most people would know, ‘I, I don’t like to speak. I’m fearful.’ But it turns out that some people don’t know they’re bad speakers, and you have to tell them. And, and you’re considered an expert in this area because you, you have to identify, and give them feedback, and get them to change. I, that’s, I, that’s, that’s pretty sensitive stuff.

 

I could laugh for an hour about this, but I won’t. Uh, yes, there’s one woman who I have to break it to her that she talks like Minnie Mouse. She, or a chipmunk. She has a, has a very nasal, up here way, nasal high voice and she does up talk, and so she sounds like a eight-year-old.

 

What’s up talk? Oh, you end up at the sentence.

 

You end with a – with a question. “So like I was at the mall and I met this really cute guy, and like, I wanted to go up to him.” That’s up talk. And she does that, plus she’s nasal, plus her voice is high, and –

 

And she doesn’t know this?

 

I don’t know if she knows it. I, that, that’s something I need to find out. I need to say to her, “So what kinds of feedback have you gotten about your communication skills?” And if she says, “Well, I’m told that I fidget too much.” Then I’ll say, “Okay we can work on body language. Have you ever had any feedback about your voice?”

 

And she says? What if she says, “No, no, not at all” ?

 

Then if she says no, then I’ll say, “Well I am going to give you feedback about your voice, because your voice is one of your four instruments. We have our body language, our voice, our words, and the way we look, and I’m going to be giving you feedback about all of those.”

 

Are people threatened, or do they say, “Oh good, help me.”

 

Yes, most people love feedback because I’m gentle but clear when I give it, and I never give feedback about something they can’t change, and I tell them the benefit to them of changing this.

 

Can you change a nasally voice?

 

Yes.

 

How do you do that?

 

You – it takes a lot of work, but you can do it. I mean, why are there vocal coaches if we can’t change our voice. There, there wouldn’t be vocal coaches if our voice weren’t changeable.

 

You can know you’re not doing well, but you don’t know how to change it.

 

Right. Well, luckily for me, I’ve been in business helping people who want to be helped for thirty four years, and it’s really astonishing because Hawai‘i is, is a place where we’re kind of not supposed to stand out a lot, but those who want to get somewhere in their career, if they realize that there are things that they’re doing in their communication that are holding them back, they want to know what that is and they want to move it out of the way. Resistant people are defensive people, so if people are defensive, they’re most likely to be resistant to any new idea that comes their way about what they could be doing different. So, so resistant people…I don’t get a lot of those in my public classes because usually those are people who chose to be there.

 

It is really, um, I mean, it seems like in most jobs you would have to – even if it’s to ask for a raise, you need to, you know – any, any…it could be a small, seemingly small human interaction with just another person, but it’s still a presentation skill.

 

Yeah, it is.

 

And you still have to tell a story, and, and, and uh, and be able to present.

 

Right. and I tell people if you’re shy and you’re like the way I was, if you don’t want to speak out, at every single meeting, do three things: ask a question, make a suggestion, and offer your opinion. You don’t have to be an expert to do any of those things, but slowly but surely you will be perceived as a participant, not a wallflower. So, do those three things and then be silent if you want, and if you do those everywhere you go, you’re gonna gain confidence. You’ll, you’ll – you won’t mind the sound of your own voice entering.

 

What’s the, the most, uh, startling transformation you’ve been part of?

 

Startling, what a great word. Okay, the one that comes to mind was a woman who was, still is, the CEO of her own company, and she looked like she ran a plant nursery. That’s what she looked like, and when it came time – one of my sessions is about image only, session two. I always ask them, “On a scale of one to ten, how much feedback do you want?” And I tell them what a five would sound like, and I tell them what a ten would sound like, and everyone chooses the ten.

 

They want to hear it all.

 

They want it, ‘cause they realize the ten isn’t unsafe, it’s more complete. So I said to her, “If I had to guess what profession you’re in, I would say you either work at a preschool or you work at a nursery. Maybe the nursery in Kailua.” And she said, “Really? Why?” And I said, “You don’t look like a CEO.”

 

So did you, did you give her styling tips?

 

Yes. She – actually, she asked me to take her shopping, and, and I did. I recommended a hair stylist to her. Here’s the sad part: her husband didn’t like it.

 

Her hair or her new image?

 

Her whole new beautiful, powerful, leader-like image. He said, “I thought you were fine the way you were.” And he was a chauvinistic, sexist, old-fashioned guy that didn’t want a woman who turned heads.

 

What’d she do?

 

She stayed good. And they’re still married.

 

Very good.

 

Yeah.

 

What about a, a man’s transformation?

 

A man – there was a man, also a CEO dressed very poorly: shabby, sloppy, pants too long, unshined shoes. Just, just a wreck. And his HR person, it was, said, “I’d like you to clean up your image, and there’s someone in town who can help you.” And we met, and I said, “I want to take you shopping.” And, oh, it was so much fun because he was so open. I said, “Wear – get this pink shirt. This pink shirt. Not fuchsia, the pale Ralph Lauren pink shirt. Women love it. Get this shirt. Here’s the tie to go with it. Get these pants.” And he put them on in the dressing room and he stood taller and he was so proud of himself, and he, he…those changes stayed. He didn’t go sliding back.

 

Pam Chambers of Honolulu conducts workplace training, holds her own classes, does individual coaching, and writes books on self-improvement. She’s operated her own business for more than three decades and has always done everything herself.

 

You prefer to be solo?

 

Yeah, I really like it. I really like being single and solo and making my own decisions. I am considered – I’m a polite, very polite person, but I don’t want to have to compromise on how I live my life. I think I’ve witnessed many, many people not being able to do what they want because their boss wouldn’t let them. For example, there is someone who wants to come to my class but his boss won’t let him. And I don’t want to have a life like that, so I don’t have a paycheck, I don’t have a pension, but I have freedom. And I just, I value it more than anything else.

 

That is a hard way to live, though. I mean, it, it really takes enormous, uh, uh, I mean you’re always thinking…you, you not only have to plan your content, but you’ve got to get your own business, take care of your own finances.

 

Oh, I know. I have to do my marketing. I have to do my own social media. I have to make my own nametags. I mean, I could probably hire someone to help me, but it would take more time to train them to – than to do it myself. So yes, I do do it all.

 

Really, what you do is a lot because you’re doing different subjects and you’re doing very different groupings.

 

Yeah.

 

And they come to you different ways.

 

Yes. Yes. I love it.

 

May, maybe that’s why you like being solo because you have so much interaction and stimulation in your, in your job.

 

That’s true. I love living alone. I, I love my alone time and I give myself a lot of it. A lot of it, and I, I’m sure it’s because of all that I put out.

 

Right, because you’re…essentially, you’re teaching people how to be more social.

 

More social, more considerate, more aware of others. I teach them don’t be walking down the sidewalk and stop smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Do you think that you’re the only one on the street? Or I’ll say, “Do – are you aware that you just interrupted her when she was trying to give you helpful feedback?” There’s no – nothing that I won’t say if it can be changed.

 

So, I do think that comes from a place of abundance because you’re, you know, you’ll share it, but on the other hand, it’s, it’s expertise that you, you know, that you take a lifetime to build up to get.

 

I – It took me thirty-four years to know what I know now. So, so if you think I’m charging too much for an hour, you’re not paying me for that hour; you’re paying me for all the blood, sweat, and tears I suffered learning how to do this.

 

You like to fly solo and, and you’ve, you built this incredible business, um, and, and basically, you’ve done it a long time so you could retire –

 

I could.

 

But you, but you keep working. What is it that – what is it that’s special to you about Hawai‘i?

 

Oh, so many things, but mainly the diversity: the languages that we hear, the different cultures, the different values. I love it! And, and when I have someone in my class who is fretting because she has an accent, I say, “No, I am not helping you get rid of that accent. We like it. We like to hear something that’s different.” The weather, except it’s been too hot lately. The, the plumerias; the, the weather, the seasons that we have…the roots I have here, the people I know. I know thousands of people, and, and I feel like I belong here. And you’re right, I could retire, but I don’t want to. I want to do what I’m doing.

 

Mahalo to Pam Chambers of Kaka’ako, Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You’re known for wearing hats. I wonder, I mean, and all kinds of hats for lots of variety, which is not common in Hawaii nei, so tell me about that.

 

Well, I have a – I sent your staff a picture of me at the age of three wearing a beret. Somehow my mom, or maybe my grandmother, put that beret on me, and I always liked that picture. But I didn’t wear hats my whole life. I started wearing hats probably about twenty years ago, and I don’t…I think, oh I, I do know why: because I was really into vintage at that time. I still am. And I bought vintage hats, and I liked wearing them because they got so many comments. “Oh, your vintage hat. I always wonder what hat you’re gonna wear.” Well, I got out of the vintage stage, but I got in the habit of wanting something on my head, so if it’s not a hat, it might be a scarf. If it’s not a scarf, it might be a bandana. There needs – I need something on my head.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit pbshawaii.org.

 

 

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patricia de Stacy Harrison

 

Asked who her mentors are, Patricia de Stacy Harrison starts by naming her beloved childhood home, Brooklyn. Growing up in the noisy, opinionated, caring New York City borough taught Harrison about the demands and challenges of the real world – and about developing the right skills, positive attitude and thick skin to deal with life’s complexities. The President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting shares her views on public media’s role in bringing us all together, even in a divisive social and political climate, and reveals how a hip-hop mogul introduced her to a wellness practice she uses every evening.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patricia De Stacy Harrison Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

From that moment on, that my little childhood world was not that safe, that it depended on a lot of different things, um, and to put it on a – I didn’t think this then, but for democracy to really survive and thrive, requires work.

 

Meet national public media executive Patricia de Stacy Harrison, next on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one, engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Patricia de Stacy Harrison is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, CPB, an organization you might recognize from the credits for many programs on PBS Hawaiʻi. The corporation is a private nonprofit that distributes about 450 million dollars in federal funding every year, as enabled by Congress to public television and radio stations across the US, including PBS Hawaiʻi. Harrison grew up in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Now known for hipsters and skyrocketing real estate, the Brooklyn of Harrison’s youth was a different story – a small, densely populated neighborhood where she says everyone knew everything about you. Harrison calls Brooklyn her mentor, and its lessons informed her outlook on life at a young age.

 

It was a great neighborhood, and um, just how people expressed themselves. So, you would – when I was older, I had a job in the city – that’s what we called New York, the city. You were going to the city. And we would be on the subway, and people just had opinions about everything. It, it was sort of like surround sound. I thought that was normal, and then in our family, the same thing extended, uh, where everyone had an opinion about your life and what you should do, and so I grew up around very strong, opinionated people who didn’t listen to the answer, you know. That’s why someone said, ‘Conversation in New York – it’s talking and waiting to talk.’ So –

 

Listening is really important.

 

No – I figured that out later, but uh, uh…

 

Are you entirely Italian?

 

I’m half Italian and half Scottish. So, I’d like to say one half says have a great time, and the other half says you can’t afford it, so…um, but mostly the Italian side took over very early. My mother, um, encouraged dreaming, My mother was great storyteller, and um, where my father always thought I had delusions of grandeur, my mother always encouraged that kind of thing. And I remember, um, when I graduated from Midwood High School, um, and it was a very protective time then. This was before internet and that kind of thing, and we were going into the city to see a movie, and we were going to this one restaurant, and I said to my parents, “I want to sit alone.” And my father said, “What’s the matter with you?” You know, “You’re not sitting alone. We’re together.” I said, “No, I want to know how it feels to sit alone in a restaurant and order what I want, and, uh, pretend that I’m on my way now.” My mother said, “Great idea.” And so, they sat at one table, and my father goes, “You, you indulge her too much. You know, she’s got you, you would say, buffaloed.” And uh, it was the best time I ever had, and you know what, years later when I traveled all over the world and I was by myself, I remembered that 16-year-old girl sitting by herself. And the thing is, always have a book or a Kindle with you when you’re alone. And um, my mother always said, “Yeah, it’s a great idea. Let’s try it. Yeah.” I was a very, um, curious kid, to the point where my parents just got tir– “Because we said so.” They just got tired of answering the questions that one question led to another, and um, so I was informed. I like to say that Brooklyn was my mentor, the most important impact on my life because everyone was so diverse. Um, I, I went to school with Jackie Robinson’s niece, um, Asians, um, African Americans, and then we’d go to my grandmother’s neighborhood, all Italians, and a high Jewish, um, population. My friends didn’t have any relatives, so at a very young age, I didn’t understand why they didn’t have grandparents, uh, or aunts or uncles or cousins, and I remember asking my parents, and they were explaining, “Well there was this terrible man, uh, Hitler, and um, he killed everybody.” I mean, that was the shorthand approach, and I thought, “Well, why didn’t anybody do anything?”

 

What did they tell you about why they didn’t have any family?

 

They didn’t want to talk about it because some of them, uh, had been living in Brooklyn for a long time, but they lost – well, that’s a euphemism. Their relatives had been murdered, and they were my friends, we were all young kids, so they didn’t know what happened, and I couldn’t figure out why nobody would talk to me about this. My parents didn’t really know what to say, and they just didn’t want this to come up, but it had such a profound impact on me that, uh, that quote that ‘evil happens when good people do nothing.’ So, I was kind of wary from that moment on that my little childhood world was not that safe, that it depended on a lot of different things, um, and to put it on a – I didn’t think this then – but for democracy to really survive and thrive, requires work. We can’t just go lie down on the Barcalounger and think it’s gonna be here in the morning. And uh, so constant vigilance I think is required sometimes.

 

So uh, Brooklyn, there was a time, as much as you loved it, as much as it raised you, you, you wanted to go?

 

I wanted to go away to college, and you have to understand at that time, Brooklyn was a very small place, even though there were millions of people there, and the neighborhood was very small. So, the person who was on the corner with the candy store could tell your parents, you know, when you came home. Everybody knew everything about you, and I couldn’t wait to get out. And so, we always had these big family Sunday Italian dinners, and my mother announced that, uh, Patricia wants to go away to college, and that’s when it started. “Why? Why do you want to go away? This place isn’t good enough for you? Where do you want to go?” “Well, um, school in Washington, D.C.” “Washington, D.C.? Where is that?”  You know, I mean, “Why would you want to go there? What do they do there? They take our money away, they spend it. Why would you – you have good schools here. Why, you’re too good to go to NYU or Brooklyn Coll-”

 

These are tough questions for a young woman to be dealing with, or a young man.

 

Yeah, yeah. And I just stared into space, and waited ‘til it was gonna be over, the beating would be over.

 

Because you knew it would pass?

 

I knew I was going, you know.

 

Why did you decide Washington, D.C.? You lived near New York City…

 

Um, because it was close enough to fly, but at the time it was like, 25 bucks to fly. Uh, the train…and that’s as far as they would kind of, you know, willing for me to go.

 

But you wanted to be some place…

 

I had to leave.

 

…with – but it wasn’t just any place. You could’ve gone to, uh, you know, like, Rolling Hills College…

 

Oh no, uh, no, I didn’t want to do that. I had to – at the time, uh D.C., my parents drove me down, and I remember we went to the Safeway, and the person loaded up some groceries, and my father always had these bills with a rubber band, and he was peeling them off, and I said, “Daddy, they don’t tip. You don’t tip here.” He said, “What the hell kind of place is this? They don’t tip? This is where my daughter wants to go to college?” And, he was just talking to the air, you know, “Washington.” And so, um, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I love New York and I love Brooklyn, but there’s a time when you just have to, you know, see other places.

 

While studying at American University in Washington, D.C., Patricia de Stacy Harrison met her future husband, E. Bruce Harrison. Together they would establish a public relations agency that became one of the top 10 owner-managed PR firms in the U.S.

 

I was gonna be a writer, and um, my kids were little, so I was home with them and I was writing the – the Evening Star, which is no longer around, and um, the Washington Post, and I was a freelance, which meant I wasn’t really working for anybody. And uh, the only way I could write is I would lock myself in the bathroom because it was the only room that had a lock, and my kids would pound on the door and you know, want something. I wasn’t in there for like, days, just so I could get three thoughts together, and um, all of the writing – no matter what I’ve done, my – if I had to quickly describe myself, I would say I’m basically a writer. And so, when we founded our company, it was an opportunity to really write and prepare things and think things through in terms of, uh, issues and challenges, and um, we had that firm for 20 years, and then we sold it, but I learned a lot. You got to know people and issues, and then you, you – one of the things I think, which may be lost today, is I really think people should read publications that have opinions different from the ones you already have, just so you understand, or you can build your own intellectual capacity about saying, ‘Well, I agree with some of it. Uh, some of it I don’t agree with.’ But why? Because if you’re always taking in something that validates what you think from the beginning, how are you going to develop? How are you going to get that brain working, you know? You’re just gonna be stuck in some sort of status quo thinking?

 

And that’s actually the premise of public media, the, bringing together diverse perspectives in one place.

 

It’s wonderful; it’s just wonderful. And David Isay has, with StoryCorps, which is on NPR – he has this new initiative called, uh, One Small Step, and he brings people together in a safe place, you’re not allowed to hit each other – we have to say that now. Um, and they have different perspectives on different issues, and they talk about, ‘Well, this is why I believe in this.’ And the other person talks about that, and it’s not one big kumbaya moment where they leave and they’re holding hands like a Hallmark card, but there’s an exchange. ‘This is why I feel this way.’ ‘Oh, well this is why I feel this way.’

 

It’s, it’s, it’s – you don’t demonize people as easily as when, when you sit down and you maybe break bread and trade, trade viewpoints.

 

Yeah, Lidia Bastianich – who’s very famous on PBS – Lidia’s Kitchen and cooking, and she talks about food diplomacy, where you bring people in and you have this, you know, lovely food and you talk. And I said, “Well Lidia, in my family, Italian family, you bring people in and they yell at each other, but it’s not really yelling. No one ever changes their mind about their opinion. But somehow it all works, you know.”

 

You had to be strong to deal with other people’s strong opinion of you. I mean, your family was always telling you what to do, right?

 

Yeah, but I, I think that it prepared me for the world. The world was a lot easier in uh – when I talked to the New York Times, they picked their own headline for the article, ‘After Brooklyn, it’s all a piece of cake,’ because um, no one cuts you any slack in Brooklyn. It didn’t matter if you were five years old. You know, if you were playing a game with your grandfather, he didn’t let you win. Um, that was the mentality they – the parents at that time wanted their kids to be strong, to be able to survive. Um, a lot of them were working class, and they had no faith in um, you know, things are going to work out. They wanted everyone to be a teacher so you’d have something to fall back on, and I thought, “Well that’s great to be a teacher, but I don’t want to do it to have something to fall back on. I want to be passionate about doing the thing I want to do, and not as sort of a security blanket for the future.” So, they were very security-focused, um…

 

And, and I, I hear iron sharpening iron, the idea that you give, you know, you call people on what you think they should improve on.

 

Yeah, I think so. Um, I think that you help your children – I have three children, and I really want them very much, uh, and they have, um, be able to negotiate the world but be a good person at the same time. And um, I mean that’s, that’s really what a parent’s supposed to do.

 

After 20 years in public relations and getting to know people in the corridors of power, Patricia de Stacy Harrison served as an Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell during the George W. Bush presidency. In a post-September 11th world, she traveled to Iraq for cross-cultural exchanges. Before that, she served as Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee. Harrison didn’t think she had a chance at becoming Co-Chair, but her growing concerns for the Republican Party fueled her.

 

I just felt at the time that I didn’t really have any chance of winning, but I felt that the Republican Party, in my opinion, needed to listen to women and minorities, and I felt I wanted to talk to this group, and one thing led to another, and then I’m running for Co-Chair, and I remember at the time Hotline came out, and they had the other two people who were running against me, and they said, “There’s somebody else, but she has no votes.” I thought, “That’s me! I made the paper!” I thought, “Wait, I made the paper, but it’s bad news.” And then I did win and created um, the new majority council to um, really indicate that it was going to be a minority majority populations, and if the Party was going to thrive, they had to listen to new people coming in with um, their issues, and um, it was a wonderful, wonderful four years.

 

Then you became a diplomat. Was that part of the plan?

 

Well that’s – that is so bizarre. No, I don’t think anybody, um, would, uh, anticipate that would happen, but um, I was so, so very fortunate, again, really, really lucky, and uh, to become Assistant Secretary of State and work with this –

 

Oh I mean, but you – it had to be more than luck. What, what did it?

 

I really don’t know, um. I did not, um – my parents lived uh, I live in Arlington, and um, my parents were getting older and I did not want, uh, to leave the country for any kind of, uh, post, assuming I could have that as a choice. This was an opportunity, um, educational-cultural affairs, and uh, you would have an opportunity to actually see how your worked played out, what kind of impact, and then to work with Colin Powell, and um, so I don’t know. That happened. And I traveled, I went to Iraq – I went everywhere. I learned so much.

 

So, you were putting together partnerships?

 

Well, exchanges are the core where we, uh, bring people to this country, all ages and all levels. And then you have the database that shows so many people who came on these, uh, high-level professional exchanges go back. They wind up government or senior-level jobs. The whole idea, really, is to create mutual understanding between people in the United States and other countries. And then I created something called Culture Connect, where I identified and worked with a lot of people who were in the entertainment industry or they had written books, and we had Frank McCourt, who had written Angela’s Ashes. And we sent him to Israel. He, he worked with Israel – Israeli and Palestinian kids, and he started out talking to them. He said, “You think you have a lousy childhood.” And then we gave cards out with um, um, an internet address, so these kids could get in touch. So, you had virtual mentors, and they could talk to them about what do I do, how do I get into what you’re doing. We wrote – brought Yo-Yo Ma over with the Iraqi National Orchestra to perform here. And um, so many incredible things, the people that I met and listened to around the world, and I came away with the feeling that everybody is just connected. It’s like Henry Gates, “Skip” Gates, uh, “Finding Your Roots”, and you find out your roots are connected to somebody else’s roots. So be careful who you hate. They may be you know, your, your long lost great-great-great grandfather.

 

As the head of the private nonprofit corporation for public broadcasting, Patricia de Stacy Harrison holds the purse strings to federal dollars earmarked for public media. The money goes to more than thirteen hundred public TV and radio stations across the country. Here at PBS Hawaiʻi, the funding amounts to fifteen, one five, percent of our revenues. Like many other stations, we raise far more private dollars than we receive in government funds.

 

It’s a public-private partnership, and I think from the beginning, public media had to prove itself. We have to prove how we are fulfilling that mission every year, and report to Congress how these, these monies are spent, and report to the American people, and I think that’s fair.

 

And you do get hit in Congress with some, uh, broadsides of, you know, “Why’d you do this? Why’d you do that?”

 

We do. Um, I’d like to say sometimes uh, what offends, uh, someone on one side of the political aisle is the same thing that offends somebody else, and they both come at it from their own perspective. And we will get, um, responses and emails sometimes about a particular show, and someone will say, “Well that – that’s very left-wing.” And somebody else will say, “That was very right-wing.” So overall, we are the most trusted um, in terms of media and journalism and our content because, I believe, the American people own public media, and we’re responsible to them, and we relate to them and we connect to them. So, the idea that we’re just going to serve part of the public, um, we wouldn’t be around. We wouldn’t be relevant in the way we are today in their lives.

 

And this idea that, um, public media is slanted, I mean – the, the, the appropriations are voted on by the entire Capitol Hill crowd, right?

 

Absolutely.

 

And then how does – what, what is the support, uh, on, on, when you look at it on, on a partisan basis?

 

Well we have – we’re very fortunate. We have the, uh, Public Broadcasting, um, Caucus, and it’s headed by a Republican and Democrat. And you don’t have to like everything we do, but if you go around that table to this very nonpartisan group, or very bipartisan group, who serve their communities in appropriate ways, they will let you know why they specifically value public media. And it can be very, very different. Um, one person, one member of Congress said to me, “Frontline – to me, that’s the gold standard. I can turn to Frontline and I know they are dealing with the facts. They haven’t inserted their opinion. How do I know this? Well, they put their source, uh, availability on, um, online. You can check everything that they have referenced.” And he talked about after September 11th how he turned to Frontline because they had done this series on Bin Laden, and he said there was no emotionalism. There was no pushing for one idea or another. It was pure journalism, it was informative, and it gave me a sense of what was happening at a time when, really, everyone was terrified and confused.

 

And at a time when the – when Congress, sometimes Democrats dominate, sometimes Republicans – does public media spending pass regardless of who’s in charge or who’s in the majority?

 

Well I don’t take anything for granted. So – they cannot lobby. We have an association, American Public Television apps – they do lobbying. But I take the opportunity to meet with members and let them know what we’re doing specifically in their district. They’re Republicans, they’re Democrats, and um, I would like to say, because I believe it’s true, there’s consensus that we bring value to American life, and that’s – that’s the theme that runs through these conversations. They may differ on what kind of value, maybe it’s early childhood education or it’s journalism, but um, they have their favorite shows. And I remember someone said, “Don’t ever get rid of Antiques Road Show.”

 

Everybody has their favorites.

 

Everyone has their –

 

And actually, that has been, you know –

 

Everyone has their favorite, and um, so I think we’re at a point today where we have wonderful bipartisan support, and we’re really grateful for people on both sides of the aisle for that support.

 

Common ground and collaboration are important to Patricia de Stacy Harrison. Recalling a meeting she had with hip hop mogul for a public media project, she says being open and listening have changed her life.

 

And I said, “But um, you know, I’m too busy to do that.” And he jumped up from the seat. He said, “I’m a billionaire, and you’re too busy? You’re too busy? You’re not too busy. Get on the phone, call this person, Bob Roth, who has since become a great friend.” He said, “I got somebody here, Pat Harrison. She’s too busy to meditate.” And uh, he said, “Look, I’m sending you over there.” Suddenly my whole life is going over here. And um, I thought, “Well I can’t not follow through. What a gracious offer.” So, I went to meet Bob, and Bob has been working with the David Lynch foundation, and Lynch talks about meditation as you are in the water and you go down different levels to this area of calm. Up here are all the waves and the turmoil, and, ok. And he said, “Okay, Pat, Russell has called me so, uh, this is a gift that he’s giving to you, and um, you have to stay in New York – I think it was four days. And every day, we’ll take you through the training.” I said, “I can’t stay for four days. Here’s what I can do: let’s do the four days in like, the first day.” And he said, “Well you’re missing the whole point. It’s transcendental meditation.” I said, “Well, okay, maybe a day and a half.” He said, “Alright, well, boy, this is a hard case. Alright, we’ll try to fit in the four into a day and a half.” And um, I found that it was so helpful. At the time my mother was so ill, and eventually she died, and that’s what I turned to, um, so that I could continue to work, and um, at the same time have the necessary emotion. But to just find that place of, um, peace. And so, I don’t meditate twice every day, which you’re supposed to do, but I do it every night, uh, no matter what time.

 

For how long?

 

20 minutes.

 

And it works?

 

I don’t know what it means, ‘it works.’ It just makes me feel better. It’s not a religious experience. It slows your breathing in a way; it’s, it does something to your brain. And, um, it enables you to, well, for me, I just sleep eight straight. And uh, if I don’t get my eight, uh, it helps me do that.

 

So that’s another example of you, your being open to a discussion and then you follow some dots, and then –

 

Suddenly I’m with this person. I mean it’s…my life is just, uh, like the Wizard of Oz, except the wizard’s real. It’s available to everyone if you seek him out.

 

Patricia de Stacy Harrison says the three biggest influences in her life are Brooklyn, her former boss, Colin Powell, and her mother, Marguerite, whose curiosity, zest for life, and care for others continue to inspire her. About her time as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Harrison says she loved meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Mahalo to Patricia de Stacy Harrison, visiting Hawaiʻi from Arlington, Virginia, for sharing her story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

People look at their life sometimes as a resume. ‘I, I did this, or I failed at that.’ But everything goes into that sort of vessel that is you, and sometimes the things that you think, um, that didn’t work out so well – you learn something from it. Nothing is ever wasted. I remember, um, when I was at the State Department, and um, working, the honor of working for Secretary Powell, and I don’t remember the exact issue, but evidently, I had not, um, provided, let’s say, all the information about an event, and what I learned is you prepare, you prepare, you overprepare. And uh, I learned so much working for him and his team, and uh, how you could achieve things and still retain who you are, your values.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit pbshawaii.org.

 

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Workers Wanted

 

Hawaiʻi continues to report one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the country – a little more than 2%. Many open positions in the market means that job seekers can be picky, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors. For employers, the situation is complicated: Hawaiʻi’s workforce is shrinking, with an older population at or near retirement and a younger population leaving for better opportunities on the Continent. Join the conversation about Workers Wanted on INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI. You can phone in or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Ledward Kaapana and Family

 

On most Friday evenings, slack key artist Ledward Kaapana gets together with his neighbors to share potluck dishes, laughter and music. For Ledward, it’s a tradition that goes back to his younger days in Kalapana on the island of Hawaii. “When I was growing up, we used to have kani ka pila…everybody sit down and enjoy, listen to music,” Ledward remembers. This special Na Mele features Ledward and his sisters Lei Aken, Lehua Nash and Rhoda Kekona, playing their music in Ledward’s garage. Ledward’s falsetto voice leads off with “Nani,” and Lei, Lehua and Rhoda take vocal solos on “Kaneohe,” “Kalapana” and “Holei.”

 

 

 




INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI – What’s it Going to Take? – Affordable Housing Crisis

 

PBS Hawaiʻi continues to ask What’s it Going to Take? in a continuing series of live on-air/online forums seeking to engage the community-at-large and policymakers in authentic conversations about making life better in Hawaiʻi.

 

Data compiled within the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s CHANGE Framework, as well as in reports commissioned by the State of Hawaiʻi, demonstrate that we truly have an Affordable Housing Crisis. There are far too few homes that residents can afford to rent or buy, causing families to double and triple up and even leave the Islands. This continuing crisis is the subject of our next special edition of INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI – What’s It Going to Take?. We expect to hear from developers of private-sector housing, a State agency charged with generating low- and moderate-income housing and a non-profit advocacy group for affordable housing. Join the conversation by phoning in or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Josh Tatofi

 

As a young child, Josh Tatofi thought he had an ordinary life. “I thought everyone’s dad was a rock star, and I thought everyone was playing music,” he says. His father, Tivaini Tatofi, was a founding member of local island music group Kapena. “I didn’t really know that my childhood was special until way later,” says the younger Tatofi.

 

Download the transcript of this program

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song – Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

 

Born in Honolulu, Tatofi grew up on Windward O‘ahu, in Kāne‘ohe, before moving with his family to Maui in his early teens. It was in Kāne‘ohe that Tatofi would have a breakthrough moment, when his friends of the Hawaiian music group Hū‘ewa invited him onstage at a bar to sing a Hawaiian-language song.

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi's performance includes a Hula performance

The program also features hula dancers from three different hālau: Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua and Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea.

 

Read more about Josh Tatofi in our June program guide cover story here.

 

More from Josh Tatofi:

 

Kaleohano, commentary

 

Kaleohano. Written by Louis Moon Kauakahi

 

Kāneʻohe

 

Kuʻu Leo Aloha

 

Kuʻu Pua Ilima

 

Lei Hala, featuring Hālau HiʻIakaināmakalehua

 

Leolani

 

Pua Kiele, featuring Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine

 

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

 

With partners and clients from around the nation and the world, Oceanit employs out-of-the-box thinking, finding solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering and creative thinking. Oceanit founder, CEO and President Patrick Sullivan speaks about his approach in bringing together curious minds with very different skillsets and why he feels Hawai‘i’s diversity and isolation help cultivate a culture of innovation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’re working on a project to help with elderly. What’s needed is a very inexpensive but effective robotic assistant that can just be there to help them out, and if they fall, if they’re in trouble, if they’re in pain, if they just need help. Just something as simple as recognizing an object is critical.

 

This fearless innovator finds solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering, and innovative thinking.  Nothing new for him; he’s been problem-solving since he was a teenager, when he concocted enterprising ways to pay for college.  Patrick Sullivan, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is president and CEO of Oceanit, an internationally recognized company he founded in Downtown Honolulu in 1985.  He calls is a mind-to-market company that turns scientific principles into real world applications for real world problems. His company says he’s raised more than $475 million to develop cutting edge solutions.  Oceanit’s clients come from around the nation and the world.  The company is also entrepreneurial, sending products it developed to the marketplace through spinout companies, partnerships, or direct manufacturing.  Patrick Sullivan employs an intensive process, bringing together curious minds with different skillsets and encouraging what he calls intellectual anarchy.

 

Would you give us some examples of what products have come about as a result of this very dynamic process?

 

Well, there’s a couple.  One of our spinouts, Ibis, which is doing energy management in commercial buildings.  So, we just had a board call on the way in, and I was on the call.  And that started out with a … it’s a healable wireless mesh network, which was a legacy of a technology we built for a military group to look behind walls of concrete and steel, and to communicate in really weird places.  And so, we built that technology.  Then we thought: Okay, how do we do something that’s gonna make a difference?  And so, inside the organization, we have people that are really concerned about energy, greenhouse carbon.  We thought: What if we could use this as a way to mitigate and inform people on energy?  And commercial buildings turns out to be the market we focused on.  We didn’t know what the market was in the beginning. So, we kinda pivoted from this thing. We built all these tiny antennas and all this kind of electronics, and all this stuff, and this software, and a wireless mesh network.  And it’s become a technology that is—like, California’s using it in a lot of their schools, universities, commercial buildings—there are some commercial buildings here, where it’ll save fifteen, twenty percent of the energy in a commercial building.  It starts with the interesting question, and it cascades into these things.  And as we gain insights, it opens up these vistas of things that were not thinkable.  When you map that process, which I’ve mapped and call the intellectual anarchy process, it will bring you to some really interesting points, and create lots of opportunity.  But they’re things that don’t exist.  So, people have asked me, like in … we had this meeting with like, thirty, thirty-five of these science advisers to Office of Naval Research, and we kinda walked through how we do this.  Because I try to show people what we do; it’s not a secret.  And they said: Well, how do you do this?  Because they always start with a requirement.  We start left of requirement.  We don’t start with a requirement.  And I told them, I said: You should try this.  I said: If you actually ask yourself what’s important and what’s interesting, you will find the thing that you should be doing.  And I said: We do this fourth quarter of every year.  We have these broad conversations in the company, and we ask ourselves: What should we do with our time on the planet that’s gonna make a difference?  Because we’re here to impact humans and society. How do we make the world better? What should we be doing?  So, we pick a few things, and every year we do this, and those things cascade and it creates all the stuff.  That’s what intellectual anarchy is.

 

Wow. And it seems like all these problems that have resisted answers for time immemorial—common cold too.  I mean, there are so many.  You’ll never stop with thinking big kind of projects, because there are a lot of big things that are unanswered.

 

Yes.  And so then, it comes down to: What should we do?  What might be possible?  And so, we spend time exploring these things, and then we try to pick a few.  And it takes time as these roll out, but what it does over a period of time, it literally creates a pipeline; a pipeline in all these different subjects.  So, it’s not limited by subject; it’s limited by what’s important and what’s interesting. This process, again, of intellectual anarchy, there’s a exploration and discovery phase where you have to be pretty open-minded to where it’s gonna lead you.  It moves into the product phase, you’re building real products. And then, those have economic value, where you can sell, license, you know, do all kinds of things with it.

 

A project you might have thought was silly at the time, and you’ve also talked about weird ideas.

 

Right.

 

But they have to be respected, right, because they can go somewhere.

 

Exactly.  And the insights from this silly early stuff turned into … you know.  I mean, it’s funny; we just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter.  We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And … it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.

 

So, it’s interesting, ‘cause it’s a fascinating blend of, you know, just sky’s the limit, whatever you can do, run with it.  And then, there has to be some some balance in it.

 

Right.

 

What an art that must be.

 

It is.  And it’s funny, because my wife is the COO, Jan is.  So, she was an attorney for about fifteen years, and then we started doing some spinouts and I asked her if she could help.  And she’s really good at it.  And there’s a whole operating team that manages stuff.  But it is an art, because you’re dealing with things that are messy.  Innovation is messy.  Right? But it’s trying to understand people.

 

And people are very invested in what they’ve done, too.

 

Right.  But she does a really good job of that.  And I tell people; it’s like businesses are either built to manage, or built to innovate. But if it’s built to manage, innovation is love.  If it’s built to innovate, management is hard.  If it’s built to innovate, the way you manage is really important.

 

I can see how it’d be hard to find the right fit at your company, because so many people who are very bright and educated are into control.  You know, they want to control their world, and they’ve developed a lot of tools with which to do so.  So, those are the bright, educated people that you don’t want.

 

Well, it depends if they’re gonna become agile and flexible.  If they’re inflexible, that’s a real problem.  But if they’re flexible, they may learn a tool set today, but there may be a better tool set tomorrow.  And if they say, Well, I can’t do that, that’s real problem.

 

Patrick Sullivan, resident of Kailua, Windward O‘ahu, works with partners and clients throughout the global community, including universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses. His staff of more than a hundred sixty scientists and engineers hails from around the world.  He says that living and working in isolated Hawai‘i, with our Hawaiian culture and multiculturism, is a plus, inspiring his team to think outside the box.

 

For manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places.  For the magic, this is the place.  See, innovation comes from differences, not sameness.  So, getting different people with different perspectives. And we live in this environment here, where all kinds of different people live together.  That’s our strength.  So, our big strength in Hawaii is the people.  Okay?

 

Because you don’t think you’d be able to get this assortment of people in another place feeling comfortable about living here?

 

It’s the culture.  So, the business culture is Native Hawaiian.  It’s real Hawaiian by culture as a business, the way we work together.  It’s organically built here from scratch.  So, it’s a unique culture that is collaborative.  We respect each other, but there’s lots of debates on the science, on the facts, on the details, on those kinda things.  But the culture wouldn’t work in other places.  It works here.  The DNA of the culture is Hawaiian.  It doesn’t exist in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t exist in the Beltway. It’s just kinda different.  I think in the culture of Hawai‘i, is innovation. And I think we forget that sometimes. But the Native Hawaiians that came to Hawai‘i, they innovated to get here, they innovated when they got here. They were the first in the country with electricity, they did all these innovations.  They were not afraid of electronics, or I should say, afraid of technology, afraid of change.  They embraced it.  And to this day, culturally, they embrace people from everywhere.  It’s just part of our culture.

 

I know you do have to bring in a lot of people.  I don’t know how hard it is for you recruit locally, but I bet you do have some limitations there.  What if you did have a whole bunch of PhDs of this mindset you could hire; would that affect your diversity in innovation?

 

The people that grow up here, who get the good education, have a skillset to work with people from all over, because they grew up here.  It’s kind of an experiment, but we found it really, really works, and so, it seems kinda crazy.  To bring a technology to market, you’ve got technology risk, execution risk, and market risk.  We focus on technology and execution.  Execution risk, we’ve discovered that if we take sort of local kids or people that grew up here with a good education, we can put them anywhere in the world.  And like, we did this scale-up in Pennsylvania to put steel casing in the Marcellus Shale, which of course, we’ve never done. But we did.  And we did this in three months.  But to build something like this, you need the welder, the forklift guy, the truckers, the roughnecks, the roustabouts, everybody who maybe never went to college; right?  Here, we’ve got all these really educated people that work as part of the company. But I told the guys; I said: Look, bring aloha, get to know these people like they are your relatives at Christmas or whatever.  Don’t be afraid, they don’t see guys like you ‘cause, you know, it’s Pennsylvania.

 

And respect their skills.

 

Right.  But we work with them, they work with us.  And if you do that, it’ll be successful.  They crushed it, because they brought that human element.  And so, with the education, which is essential, they were able to bring the cultural piece to work with people that are totally different, and be very successful.

 

Who are the rock and rollers?  How do you find them?

 

Oh.  They can go between cultures.  Right? So, the culture of deep science and the culture—

 

Oh, they’re the translators.

 

Right.  Technology Sherpas.  So, he’s gotta go from dealing with the deep science guys and translate that to how it impacts humans and society as a product or a device.

 

And they are different languages?

 

Absolutely.  Each industry has its own culture.  So, they’ve got to learn the culture and the language of an industry, and then translate that back.  ‘Cause usually, the scientists and the engineers working on the problem, they may think they know what it should do.  They’re almost always wrong.  Because when you start talking to real customers, it’s like: Oh, that’s what you do. And until you get in front of them, until you spend time with them, you just don’t understand it.  You’ve gotta have those people that are out talking to humans, and people in the industries, and all that kinda stuff all the time. So, we do.  Those are those people.  The human element and the culture of Hawaii, I think, enables a lot of that to happen, too.

 

Running a business that’s based on innovation and fearlessness can be daunting.  Patrick Sullivan knows that not all brilliant hardworking scientists and engineers who are interested will be a fit for Oceanit.

 

When your colleagues describe you, I notice things tend to end in less. Fearless, limitless, endless.

 

And relentless.

 

Those are nice things to hear.  See, especially the older I get, the more I see things are connected; the fields are connected.  People are taught for the convenience of teaching, but in the real world, there’s much more things that are connected.  And methods and materials change.  So, think about like, the Wright Brothers were kinda bicycle guys, and they had canvas and sticks, and they eventually built a thing to fly.  And then, people thought: Well, what if we use aluminum.  Right? Or what if we use carbon.  And over time, what was impossible became possible. And so, what I’ve learned is that, you know, the fields are really connected, and as methods and materials change, what was once impossible becomes possible.  And so, we do a bunch of that kinda stuff now at Oceanit.  And it’s a lot of fun; sometimes it’s a little crazy.  But it unlocks the … you know, what I find is that we hire really bright people, but what drives things is what’s in here.  So, we try to connect what’s in here with what’s in here. And so, it’s not just the education; it’s that connection to doing something that really matters, that makes the magic happen.

 

How do you teach that?

 

Well, that’s a really, really good question. Because a lot of the time … we’ve got this way to work with uh, PhD recent grads, and I will usually have a talk once a year with the new ones.  And I say: Look, you know, we’re proud of you, and your mom’s proud of you, and you did an amazing thing; but now, nobody cares, so what are you gonna do? Because now, it’s all about the rest of your life, and it’s not limited to that field; it could be anything.  So, we purposely put them in a field or a problem where they may not have any expertise.  And a lot of the time, they go through like, of course, fear. They’re worried because here, they’re the smartest guy; now, they know nothing.  But we’re trying to get them to get comfortable in the fundamentals.  So, we kinda drive them through this process, so they go back to the basics, and they can look at any problem and start understanding how to think about the problem.  And we do that with a lot of these young PhDs.  Usually, it’s easier if they’re right out of school, then we kinda unscrew a couple things, and then we teach them how to do this.  And when they learn to do this, they’re a force. And we started with a couple young PhDs in aerospace who really learned to get the moves.  Right?  But they have to get comfortable in going into something that is way out of their field, or whatever, without being afraid, with the fundamentals and, you know, full grasp of the fundamentals so that they can actually go forward and figure out: Okay, I can think about it this way or that way.  We can look up research information on pretty much anything.

 

So, once somebody gets their PhD, then you send them through boot camp.

 

Right.  And if they like it, they love it; and if they don’t, they hate it and they’re terrified.

 

And you usually can tell pretty quickly.

 

And we try to find out sooner, than later. Because there’s no right answer. We’re looking for an answer that works for us, and we want the ones that are just excited.  It’s kinda like surfing or anything; right?  You learn to love it because, yeah, you get hammered sometimes, but when you get the right wave, it’s a blast.

 

And I notice when you talked about your background and having to go through things, you know, I think what you were saying is, you sometimes made a mistake or messed up in business or in some area, but you don’t say that.  You say: I learned a lot.

 

Right.  Yeah. And the way I look at it, as long as you’re learning, you’re making progress.  Because especially when things are really, really hard, it’s not gonna be straightforward.  The reason they’re hard is because it’s just not that easy.  So, you’re gonna get some hits.  Like, when we’ve done some of these startups and we’re interviewing people, I say: Look, I just need to know, when you get hit, are you gonna get up?

 

Right.

 

Because that’s the question.  Was it Rocky Balboa or somebody; it’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit, and then get back up.  And getting back up is a really big deal.  Because when we’re in this kind of … especially the stuff that we do, people are gonna take hits.  Nobody wants to, and it’s always painful.  So, anybody that says, oh, failure, whatever.  No; it always smarts.  But you gotta get up.

 

You’ve been described as an eternal optimist.

 

Are you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  I think you gotta be, to do this.  But I feel blessed in so many ways.  Yeah.  I think I have a very good sense about our future in Hawai‘i, and for Hawai‘i, and for the country and other things.  You know, there’s issues, always gonna be problems.  But problems are maybe opportunities in disguise.  So, I think in general, things move in the right direction, but to get there, sometimes we take a bunch of turns and tacks in directions which seem kinda crazy.  But yeah, I’m an optimist.

 

Your entire business is devoted to problem-solving.  So, other people may come home and say: I have a lot of problems today.  Whereas, that’s what you went to work expecting as what’s on your plate; right? I mean, it’s a different way to look at problems.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But we found that … for example, if we did what everybody does, why would anybody care about what we do in Hawai‘i, in the middle of the Pacific.  And we do things that nobody thinks are possible. And we have a way to do it, it’s a interesting, challenging, and disruptive.  So, we break up the world into these three buckets.  The disruptive stuff, we’re just really, really good at. But that’s what draws the attention from a lot of big companies that we work with, because we’re thinking way outside of the box.  You know, the groupthink that they’re all stuck in, and the functional fixedness that, you know, they can’t see it any other way, we’re able to kinda get way beyond that and come up with different ways to do things.

 

Patrick Sullivan was always good in math, which started him on the path to becoming an engineer.  Growing up, he took whatever job he could find, often convincing prospective employers that he could build anything they needed.  After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a Bachelor of Science degree, he attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he earned a doctorate in engineering.

 

What did you do in your childhood that helped you become who you are today?

 

In my childhood …

 

I mean, did you learn good habits early?  Did you develop some specialty that helped you along the way later?

 

One thing I learned maybe older than growing up, and what I tell young people, that especially as we’re doing tech things here is, I tell people they have to be comfortable in their own skin.  By that, I don’t mean the color of their skin, but who they are.  So, from Hawai‘i, there’s a sense of saying in trying to hide the fact that we’re from Hawai‘i.  People go out, try to raise money, try to do things, and they want to say: Well, you know, we’re here in Palo Alto, we’re doing all this stuff.  And I tell them: Look, own it, and you’re gonna find out right away, the people that it doesn’t matter to are gonna work with you, and the people that it does aren’t gonna help you anyway.  So, you might as well be comfortable in your own skin, because when you are, the authenticity of what you’re doing will come through, and you’re gonna find those people that are gonna work with you.  And the irony is in building the business over the years, I’ve found that there’s this kind of Hawaiian network in the world.  So, whenever you come from Hawai‘i, pretty much no matter where you go, there’s people who used to live in Hawai‘i, or grew up in Hawai‘i, and they’ll always try to help.  It’s the craziest thing.  But they always come out to help.  And they’re everywhere.  So, it’s a special thing to be from here.  And for what we do, it works great.

 

You do so much with automation and artificial intelligence.  What do you think Hawaii’s gonna look like in 2025 when it comes to AI?

 

Well, there’s gonna be change.  Not all of it, people are gonna like.  I think the biggest issue is in jobs.  For example, drivers.  Autonomous cars are, I think, gonna make it.  And so, people that earn a living with driving, that’s something we should be thinking about as a community.  The things that we do here that are unique and special to Hawaii are still gonna be unique and special here.  And the human contributions in creativity, imagination, are still gonna be really important.  But in the future, we see ag tech, for example.  Agriculture in Hawai‘i could be very successful, but instead of low-cost labor, it’s gonna be technology.  You know, we have terrific sunshine, water, and soil.

 

Then, what are the low-cost laborers going to do?

 

People need to get educated.  Education becomes a big deal.  So, making education more available, more affordable, is really important.

 

He was named Hawai‘i Business Magazine’s 2016 CEO of the year for outstanding contributions to Hawai‘i’s economy. Mahalo to Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of Oceanit in Downtown Honolulu, and a resident of Kailua, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us, and giving us a back-of-the-house tour of your offices.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

How do you relax?  Or can you relax?

 

Well, no, of course, it’s really important, and there are so many things to do here.  But obviously, one of the big one is surfing.  So, surfing is a way to reconnect to the world.  And it’s a totally different environment.  Everybody is the same; right?  And we started this when the kids were small, but my mother-in-law would cook dinner, and everybody would show up, and we’d go surfing.  And so, the Monday Night Surf Club, we’d call it. And so, we did that for years, and years.  And it’s a great way for everybody in the family to get together, but to go out and do something and have some fun.  But yeah, the ocean is still a great teacher, and I get in the water, gosh, four or five times a week.  Right? So, I still enjoy a lot of that.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver

 

Patrick Sullivan has been a problem solver from an early age; creating enterprising ways as a teen to support his pursuit of higher education. Learn how his hard work and resourceful nature helped pave the way for his successes in life, and how he has made a career out of problem solving with his Honolulu-based company Oceanit.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember I flew over, and I met some people on the airplane, and I put a couple jobs together, sort of on the airplane. So, I did a bunch of apartments.

 

Coming to Hawai‘i?

 

Yeah; I did apartments in Mokulē‘ia, and I did some renovations in Waikīkī.

 

This is on the way here during a college break?

 

Yeah.

 

‘Cause you had to pay for your hotel.

 

By the time I landed, I had put together three projects that, you know, I did in a week or so.  And then, I had spare time and a little extra money.  So, I kinda had a knack for doing this kinda stuff.

 

This ability to create jobs for himself on the fly got him through college, and he continues to amaze with a large business that welcomes international clients with very difficult problems, and works to solve them.  Patrick Sullivan, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is the founder and chairman of Oceanit, a Honolulu-based company that has raised more than $475 million in research and development funds since it was founded in 1985.  A staff of about one hundred sixty scientists and engineers combines their skills in a mind-to-matter process to create solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.  Sullivan’s path as a fearless innovator started when he was young, wanting to pursue higher education, and knowing that he would need money for that.  By the time he entered college, he was already comfortable with bidding jobs and hiring workers.

 

My parents didn’t have education.  And there were five kids, so it was about feeding the kids.  And that was pretty much it.  My dad worked, my mom didn’t.

 

What did he do?

 

Well, he started out doing aircraft maintenance kinda stuff in Los Angeles, and then he started doing some kinda landscaping work. And then, we moved up north to Seattle, and when they started the very first 747.  So, he got recruited to work there as a mechanic.  And I remember going through the mockup on plywood.  It was really interesting, because the whole aircraft was made of plywood at that time.  And so, the whole family moved, which I thought was a big, traumatic thing. Turned out it was a really good thing. But I thought, well, everything in the world is right here in L.A., and then we move, and I thought, there’s nothing here.  But it turns out there was a lot there.  So, I mean, I learned a lot from that kind of an experience.  But then, Boeing went through a down cycle, and it was just devastating.  So, everybody was out of work, and everybody got laid off.  So, living through those kinds of thing; right?  So, that’s what led him to: Okay, there’s no more work, so we’re gonna move.  And you know, and that’s kind of what—

 

And where did you move to?

 

So, we went from there … I think we went to Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas.

 

And you were switching schools as you went?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went to four different high schools, which brings its own challenges; right?  Because …

 

You’re the new kid in the room.

 

Yeah.  So, the first thing is, within the first thirty, sixty days, you’re gonna get in a fight.  Just get over it; right?  Do it sooner than later.  But every school was like that.  So, you go through these things, and you learn a lot.  And so, that’s why we moved around so much.  I mean, they tried to keep everything together, but it was just really hard.  And I think from my perspective … that’s why an education was so important.

 

You were living paycheck-to-paycheck, or job-to-job.  Did you ever go hungry?  Did you ever not be able to pay your rent?

 

Well, so, they struggled with that stuff, and my parents used to buy food in bulk.  So, like half a cow; right?  So, you carve it up, or powdered milk by the box.  Right?  So, it wasn’t regular milk, but it was powdered milk.  So, you always had something.  And of course, lots of potatoes.

 

Do you eat many of them now?

 

My wife really likes potatoes.  I still do.  But you know they kinda made do.  And then, when I was about seventeen, I started living on my own.

 

So, you left the house and were not supported by them at all, didn’t live in the home?

 

Yeah.  I bought a car.  So, I started working when I was thirteen, and I saved up all my checks.  And then, I just went out and bought a car when I turned sixteen.  And the funny thing is, I didn’t have a driver’s license or anything, but I brought all the paychecks, I got the cash, and I just went in and bought a car.  And then, I drove the car to the driver’s license thing, ‘cause I needed a driver’s license.  But otherwise, what are you gonna do; right?  And then, when I started, you know, living on my own, that was it.  Right? I had the car.   So, my friends in college called it The Dodge Hilton…

 

You slept in your car at times?

 

Yeah; a lot.  Because, you know, it was out of the rain and out of the snow, and it would sometimes get cold.  But you know, when I think about it, I was mobile, and I could do all kinds of things, so I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.

 

Did you have a discussion with your parents before you took off?

 

Well, I wanted to go to college, and so, I … drove to college.  And that was it.  Right? And I was able to get into the dorm. This was in Boulder.

 

How did you manage that?  Since you came virtually without money.

 

So, I did some loans.  And the only thing I could do was math, but I got into engineering. And I applied to a couple schools; I got into a couple schools.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned out that was a good idea.  So, it was School of Mines, which is for mining engineering, which is the best school in the country for that, and then University of Colorado.  And then, at the time, I remember, I thought the girls were much nicer in Boulder, and of course, that’s where I met my wife.  So, that was probably a good move.  But student loans, grants, a work study.  So, I worked through all semesters in the lab, so I spent a lot of time in labs.  And then, I started a business when I was probably seventeen, ‘cause I started doing a lot of manual labor when I was probably fifteen, fourteen.  Originally at thirteen, I was working in restaurants; right?  So, I did everything from busboy, bellhop, dishwasher; did all that kinda stuff.  So, I was earning some money.  And before that, I was actually cutting yards.  So, me and this guy, E.J. Babitt, we would compete for houses and get like a dollar, two dollars a house, right, to go cut the grass, and do all the trimming—

 

You did the sales and the work.

 

Right.  So, we’d compete on doing these in the neighborhood.  But I kind of learned by, you know, seventeen, eighteen, that I could earn money in the summer by bidding on jobs.  So, I started doing landscaping and irrigation.  So, I learned irrigation from working; right?  So, I started out—you know, what happens is, I could dig a really good ditch straight; right?  And they’d say: Okay, we’re gonna show you how to lay pipe, right, and then we’re gonna show you how to do joints, and then we’re gonna show you—because everything I did, I’d try to do a good job.  And so, slowly, they would give me like: Can you do this?  And so, I learned everything from actually just doing the work.  So, by the time I was maybe seventeen, eighteen, right in there, I was able to kinda bid.  I’d bid jobs, and then I would put and do the installs.  So, I did, gosh, Denny’s, Sambo’s, we did Motel 6, commercial office buildings, these little chicken places.  And I would just knock on the door during construction and talk to the guy running the job, and say: You have anybody to do this?, and then give him a price. And then, I started it basically on a credit card.  ‘Cause I didn’t have any money.  I would do that to earn money to stay in college.  Right?  So, that’s how I would um, help pay for college, too.  So, loans, grants, work study, and doing these projects.

 

Did you hire people, or did you do all that landscaping yourself?

 

No, no; I would hire.  And so, it turns out, I ended up with a Hawaiian crew.  There are a lot of Hawaiians in Boulder, and they were in engineering; right?  So, I knew a lot of guys.  And so, I said: Look, you want to earn some extra money; you know, why don’t you show up. And so, I would put these guys to work, and you know, it would just be physical labor, but they’re young guys.

 

And pay them in cash?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Or sometimes, I would hire … you can go to like, these employment service things, where you got guys standing around that just need a job.  In some places, there’s like, corners where people that need work just hang out.  And you go by and you say: Okay, can I get this guy and this guy.  And you put ‘em on the job.  And sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re—you know, one of the problems with those guys in general, and it’s an oversimplification, but you know, they get paid, and then they go get drugs.  Or they get paid, and then they get alcohol.  So, some of ‘em are having issues.  So, I had guys like that, too.  But I would do that in Colorado, Arizona, and parts of Wyoming.  So, one of the first big jobs I did was a big restaurant in Cheyenne.  And I put the high school football team to work, literally.  So, I also worked in between jobs as a roustabout, so in the oilfield.  So, I worked at the time, in parts of Wyoming.  So, of course, there wasn’t much going on in Cheyenne, but Rock Springs was considered at the time the last boom town of the West.  It was like something out of an old Casper Rawlins. So, I was in a place, an abandoned house with a bunch of guys across from the Rawlins Prison.   And I put in a shower.  I said: I can’t stand this.  Right? So, I put in my own plumbing to make a shower.  But you can make a lot of money working in the oil patch; right?  But it’s just hard, dirty work.  And so, we were building the infrastructure.  This was in the summer.  So, you know, and I needed to make money.

 

How much time did this leave you for school?

 

I always studied.  I enjoyed what I did in school.  So, the goal was to make money to be in school.  That was always the goal.

 

And how did you manage that?  How’d you balance it?

 

You know, it’s work; right?  I mean, you just do it.  And so, I never really worried about that, but yeah, it does kinda add a bunch of other things to complicate things.  But in my view, school was the single most important thing.  And so, I just focused on that.  But by the time I graduated, I actually had put together a lot of money.  ‘Cause I remember when I got married, I thought I needed to buy a house, so I had saved up a bunch of money.

 

While you were in college?

 

While I was in college.

 

Paying for tuition on your own.

 

Yeah.  And I thought: Okay, I need to have money to buy a house if I’m gonna get married. And then, I went to grad school and I thought: Okay.  I didn’t know much about buying a house, but I did it.  I was probably about twenty-two, twenty-three; right?  And so, I learned a lot.  I learned how not to do it.  And later on, how to do it.  But yeah, I always kinda had a knack to make money.  I never saw it as an endpoint as a way to be able to do the things that were important, but I needed to make money because when you don’t have any money, and you know, I remember trying to qualify, I couldn’t get food stamps, ‘cause if you’re in college you can’t get food stamps.  So, I’d buy like big cartons of eggs and loaves of bread, and a box of oranges, right, and live on that for a while.  Because that’s it; right?  And you could buy subprime oranges.  They don’t have to be like the topline oranges, and you can get ‘em in Alberton’s, go talk to the produce guys in the back, and that kinda stuff.  So, that’s kinda what I did to make sure I had food.  Not all the time, but there were times; right?  So, that got me focusing on okay, I better earn some money.  So, the work study was good, the grants were good.  I paid off what’s called … there was basic educational opportunity grant, there was a thing called defense student loan, or something like that.  And so, when I graduated, I had some debt, so I was able to pay it off, too.  But it was never a question that I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was just trying to balance all these different things.

 

That must have been an enormous burden for a seventeen-year-old, eighteen.  I mean, you were juggling so much.  I mean, sleep must not have been a priority at that point.

 

I probably didn’t sleep a whole lot, yeah, I think.

 

When you look back, it was probably harder than you knew at the time.

 

Well, for a lot of these things, if you know how hard it’s gonna be before you do it, you probably wouldn’t.  So, better not think about it, and just you know, kind of focus on what’s the right thing to do.  And no, I don’t feel bad about it or regret it, but learned a lot in the process. Because it’s not just the education for the sake of education, but for the sake of learning.

 

Entrepreneur Patrick Sullivan was always good at math, and decided early on that he wanted to be an engineer.  Beyond that, he didn’t have a plan.

 

When I started in Boulder, I wanted to do aerospace, and they were laying off aerospace engineers.  So, I ended up pivoting into engineering physics.  Which was a good move for me at the time.  But you would think: Well, that’s crazy.  So, Boulder, you know, would educate most of the astronauts; they would all go through Boulder.  So, you can see that if you went through aerospace in Boulder, maybe you could be an astronaut.  But then, that whole thing kinda went down.  So, industries go up and down, but a good education is much more durable. And so, I thought engineering and physics is good.  You know, ‘cause it’s very broad, it’s applied, you know, hands-on.  A big emphasis in nuclear, so I thought at the time: Well, I should do nuclear engineering.  And then, I worked in an atomic and nuclear lab for a year, you know, during the school year.  And I thought: You know, maybe I need to get outside more.  Because we had a cyclotron which would produce these particles.  And that was really interesting, and I spent all my time going through the data; that kinda stuff.  But I think that was a good experience, because I thought: Okay, maybe I don’t want to do this quite like this.  And that was another thing I remember.  I walked by and picked up a sample of something that was radioactive. And you know, when you work with stuff, you think: Ah, no big deal.  I picked it up, and I walked by a Geiger counter, and the thing goes off, and I thought: Jesus.  You know, you get really comfortable, and that’s kinda dangerous; right?  So, I thought: Okay, I need to think.  So, I didn’t stay on the nuclear track, although did lots of atomic and nuclear stuff.  Which was good; it’s a good intellectual exercise.

 

Yeah; because all the way along, it sounds like you were looking and seeing where things were going, and re-tracking yourself.

 

Yeah.

 

You mentioned meeting folks from Hawai‘i at Boulder.  Was one of them your wife?

 

Mm; yeah, I did.  So, Jan was finishing up, and I kinda met her here through a friend of mine, Mike Ako.  He introduced me.  But then, she was going back, and I was just finishing.  I had a semester to graduate.  And so, she went back early, and I let her drive my car, which people thought: Wow, you must really like her.  She didn’t have a car.  But it was funny, ‘cause the car, I had built it from junkyard parts; right?  So, everything kinda got bad, so I rebuilt everything.  Went to the junkyard, bought all the parts, put it together.  And the dipstick for the oil pan, there was a dipstick, but the real one was a calibrated coat hanger.  Because all the parts didn’t match, but I made it work.  And so, she didn’t know about the coat hanger, so she went in, and they kept pouring oil in this engine, and said: There’s something wrong here.  So then, they had to put it up on blocks, drain it all, and do all these things. But later, they told her: It’s the coat hanger on the side.  Calibrated.

 

And she fell in love; right?

 

Yes. She’s amazing.

 

And you didn’t have a true home state to return to.  You’d moved around a lot, but she was—

 

She did.

 

–a person of Hawai‘i.

 

Right.  And so, in the beginning, so when I finished up, I got a job at Storage Tech, which is really a spinout out of University of Colorado, and created that whole tech corridor. So, I would go to work in the College of Engineering wing, actually, ‘cause there was no infrastructure, there were just kinda forms and stuff.  So, I started doing that.  I was gonna go to grad school, and I started applying.  But then, I thought we might stay in Colorado, but then realized that that’s not how it works.  And it’s a wonderful thing.  But, yeah. So, she said, you know: We can live anywhere, but just make sure it’s in Hawai‘i.

 

Got it. 

 

So, Patrick Sullivan moved to Hawai‘i, and earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Time for a new plan.

 

And at that time that you were going through the PhD program, did you know what you’d be doing with it?

 

Well, so that’s a good question.  Everybody said: Do you want to be a professor?  And I said: Not really; it’s too slow.  I said: Nothing personal, but you know, for a lot of this stuff, it’s just not moving fast enough.  And they said: Well, then why are you doing this?  And I said: Well, education; I’m trying to learn. And to this day, that’s exactly right. And my goal was to do things.

 

But you didn’t have a specific purpose; you wanted to just apply what you knew?

 

Yeah.  I was interested in all kinds of things.  And so, when I finished, the option was, I could be, you know, at the university level type of thing.  Which is good in a lot of ways, but again, for me, it wasn’t fast enough.  And there was the shipyard, which is some really good people doing important work, but I didn’t want to do that.  So, I created Oceanit.  But I kinda knew how to do that.  So, I thought: Yeah, okay, I can do this.

 

You mean, you knew how to start a company?

 

Right.

 

Because you …

 

‘Cause I learned a lot doing these kinds of projects and jobs when I was in college.  And you know, how to bid a job, how to run a crew, how to deliver stuff, how to execute.  That wasn’t really a big deal.  That always kinda came naturally.  So, the thing that was important for me was, I was very interested in learning the science and the applied science and engineering of stuff.  ‘Cause for me, that was really fun, and it was something that would allow me to build and do things; right?  Make things; which is really what I wanted to do.

 

And the sky’s the limit; right? 

 

The sky’s the limit.

 

Or beyond the sky.

 

Right.  So, it’s not limited by subject or field; it’s really limited by imagination.  And that really became Oceanit.

 

Which means …

 

Well, it’s a Greek and Latin derivative of ocean-dweller.  But see, the thing about the ocean, the ocean is a teacher in so many ways.  But when you do work in the ocean, it’s very interdisciplinary.  So, it covers everything from, you know, physics, chemistry, biology, hydromechanics. So, it’s probably the biggest mashup of all science, is the ocean.  So, for me, it was kind of like an applied physics PhD, focused on fluids.  And then, I did applied electrochemistry and a bunch of other things and materials, but it was a mashup.  And it turns out that mashup of fields and technologies is what we do today at Oceanit; right?  So, it’s in energy and aerospace and materials, and all kinds of things. But if I think about it, that is kind of what it takes to build in and around the ocean.  So, that worked out.

 

Not everybody who moves to Hawai‘i wants to stay.  Clearly, you do, and you have.  What was it like for you being the malihini in Hawai‘i, introduced to all kinds of new people and …

 

Well, I had a classmate, Eric Yee, who became a physician here; he’s Hawaiian-Chinese.  And I used to go surfing with his brothers.  They had a big house in Nu‘uanu.  And we had done this road trip, right, in the Dodge Hilton. So, I brought Eric—

 

In your old car.

 

In my old car.  We drove down to the Keys, we did all this stuff.  And Eric hadn’t been through the South, and we had this other guy from New York.  And so, it was a really interesting trip, where we’d dive in on the Keys, and Eric was amazing.  We were grabbing lobster, and we’d just cook on the fire, and doing all these things. But I would stay with him and his brothers, the Yee brothers, and we’d go surfing.  And so, it was kind of interesting, because we’d go out surfing—of course, they were all much better than me, and I was not that good.  I mean, I’ve gotten better.  But they would say: Okay, ditch the Haole, right, he’s gonna be the bait for the shark.

 

And they’d go out there, and I’m going: What?

 

But I learned a lot from them.  They were super, super-nice people.

 

That doesn’t sound so nice.

 

Well, they were just so nice, I thought.  But it really touched me that in the community, they’re so giving and so supportive.  That was before I met my wife.

 

You came to Hawai‘i for love.

 

And you started this business here.  Obviously, you are reaching far beyond here, but would it be easier to be somewhere else from a business standpoint?

 

Well, that’s a good question.  We just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter. We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.  So, for manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places. For the magic, this is the place.

 

One example of an innovative product Oceanit developed is the LifeBed, which has sensors to take vital signs without intrusive wires and electrodes over moving clothes.  It started out as a request from the Department of Defense to improve triage on the battlefields.  Since then, it’s been adapted for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and homecare, because it can monitor vital signs without touching the patient.  Thanks to Patrick Suillivan of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing his life stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

You’ve trademarked, I believe, something called intellectual anarchy.

 

It always starts with asking a basic question, a fundamental question.  Not necessarily a question that’s about a science thing, but maybe a life thing, but basic question.  So, getting the right question is a really big deal.  When you ask the right question, then you go on this sort of a journey in exploring an answer.  And that leads to a lot of interesting things.

 

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
George Kon

 

George Kon of Honolulu teaches teenagers how to rehearse for life. He co-founded and leads the T-Shirt Theatre, a performance group based out of Farrington High School in Kalihi, Oʻahu, which uses a low-tech, high-zest approach to their productions, forgoing elaborate sets and costuming, and relying on honest performances by the students. Learn how Kon’s approach to theatre helps his students navigate the challenges of life and translates to skills far beyond the stage.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

George Kon Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We have a delightful scene about road rage, and our grandest boy-very big boy, plays his mom, who has road rage. And he’s-he does this wonderful scene. This boy- He almost didn’t get a chance to because his teacher, and I didn’t know this, he’s in Special-Ed. And here he is composing five scenes.

 

And that’s the magic. This is not about training people to be actors-

 

No it’s not. We want contributing adult citizens.

 

He teaches teenagers how to rehearse for life. George Kon of Honolulu, next on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.Honolulu’s George Kon helps Hawaiʻi teenagers navigate that challenging time of life. He co-founded and leads the Alliance for Drama Education and its flagship performance group, T-Shirt Theatre. T-Shirt Theatre is based out of Farrington High School in Kalihi, Oahu and uses what George calls a low-tech, high-zest approach to its productions. The students dont use elaborate sets or costumes and their honest, raw performances resonate with audiences.  Many of the plays are written by the students and have helped young adults explore issues like racial prejudice, bullying, abuse, and teen suicide.

 

George Kons own path to becoming an educator and theatre director was anything but conventional.  He spent his early years in the sleepy plantation town of Puʻunēnē, Maui but his country lifestyle was put on hold for a few years.

 

You know uhh.. Growing up, I didn’t spend the whole time on Maui. Because-

 

What happened? You moved.

 

Yes, yes. After I was-when I was about 4, my sister was 8, my mom and dad decided that instead of being a nurse, she wanted to have a schedule that was closer to ours. So she wanted to go and get her teaching certificate from the University of Hawai‘i.

 

In Mānoa?

 

In Mānoa.

 

Honolulu.

 

Honolulu. So for a Japanese lady to take her kids to another island, leave her husband on, thats… Thats a no-no. In fact, we’re split right in half in our family. His parents thought it was a bad idea.

 

‘Cause she was leaving her husband.

 

What will people think? Right? It was like ‘hmm’ no no no no.

 

Did he consider going with her? I guess…

 

Well, how would, she needed to earn-

 

Oh.

 

Keep the money but, how would she gonna pay for the tuition?

 

And what did he do with the plantation?

 

Well he was an accountant.

 

Okay, so he had money.

 

Yeah he-he-not for the plantation. He was a-uhh, public accountant.

 

Oh I see.

 

He had his own business. So he couldn’t leave that business. He had clients, and-

 

And she-she had to leave the island because there was no four year institution-

 

Well yeah.

 

-on Maui at the time

 

No, not on Maui. Now they have one but you know-

 

Yeah

 

That was then…

 

So, that must’ve been the talk of the camp.

 

That was a big deal! But her mom-and dad-when they found out about uhh, the feathers being ruffled, I think they got on the phone with them and said “Mind your own business.”

 

Ohh.

 

She’s gonna do this because-

 

True family squabble.

 

Yeah, but they you know, they didn’t come to blows or anything like that but it was a rift. So dad obviously couldn’t go to his own parents house to eat dinner. So he went to mom’s house, mom’s family’s house. He would have dinner at there every night, and then uhh one of the neighbor ladies who did his laundry for him, would have him come over for dinner as well.

 

So he-

 

He got no support from his own family.

 

Wow. But-but, so he supported his wife and-and her-

 

—yes

 

-goals. And-and he apparently couldn’t cook or wash his clothes himself.

 

Or wouldn’t. Yeah, yeah but he was-he was uhh taken care of.

 

Well, four years is a long time.

 

It’s a long time. So we would go home at summer times, and winter.

 

What did you-oh so while your mom was in class you were in school.

 

So-so I was-

 

-But still it must’ve been hard.

 

Yeah I went to many schools. Y’know I went-I can remember being at Hickam, uh, Ben Parker, Ala Wai school. I think I was at-

 

Maybe because she was renting around town or-

 

Well, we were- y’know how it is right, you stay with family first before you rent. And then finally we rented our own place at Isenberg Street, and she walked up to campus-

 

Maybe 3 miles or so?

 

The healthiest she’s ever been in her life.

 

Wow, that-that was a big deal for you and your sister too because-

 

It was.

 

-this is Honolulu, and Kāne‘ohe

 

It was. Yes, yes, yes.

 

Great lesson, probably for your sister especially, that mom has a career goal, and actually the career goal was in order to be around you folks more.

 

Yes, yes yes. Y’know, she was a very effective teacher. She taught first grade.

 

Where at?

 

Lihikai.

 

Lihikai school.

 

Mhmm.

 

And did the two families come together after-

 

-Never

 

-this?

 

Never. No, it was-uhh-it never…It was never healed. It just stayed as uhh-as a rift.

 

After George Kons mother completed her degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and became a teacher, the family moved back to Puʻunēnē, Maui. 

 

What were you interested in, in high school?  What kind of interests piqued your—

 

Student Government. And, I don’t know how it happened ‘cause I came from this really small school, PuʻunēnēSchool. But when I got to Baldwin, I got right off, freshman class president. Sophomore student body president.

 

Student body when you’re a sophomore?

 

Sophomore. So that got me invited to Lexington Kentucky for a National Student Government conference.

 

You were a talker, weren’t you?

 

I was-

 

You could make speeches.

 

-I was, was. Yeah.

 

You weren’t shy.

 

I was not. So, here I am thinking, I’m gonna do something with public speaking, maybe be uhh…A politician or lawyer.

 

Mhmm.

 

And then I see this fabulous Chinese dancer named Al Huang. He came to Baldwin, and he’s dancing with a Caucasian partner in modern dance. Never seen modern dance before. And, when I saw it, you know I wasn’t attracted to the ballet, but modern dance had elements of gymnastics and martial arts-

 

And you were-

 

-which I had.

 

-You were into those things. You were into martial arts and gymna-

 

Those things. Yeah. Al Huang-

 

Okay

 

The modern dancer, gave me that idea that maybe I’d like to try this, so uhh-Often times when touring artists come, they’ll do a workshop on the weekend. I went to the workshop. I was the only boy. Not surprising right? But I stayed, and I said to myself when I go to college, it has to have modern dance. So Grinnell had modern dance.

 

And that’s where George Kon went after high school. A private liberal arts school in the middle of Iowa.

 

But very soon, l found that dance was related to theater; it’s in the same department. I started to take courses in both dance and theater. And then, year and a half into Grinnell, I got a chance to go to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. There, I met Rick Zank, who had just come back from Nepal.

 

Mhmm

 

He was a very, very accomplished professional actor who was kind of disenchanted with how theaters were run. And he had a book by Jerzy Grotowski called Towards a Poor Theater. You know, my low tech, high zest email address comes from that aesthetic. He said: Theater is too fat; it’s got way too many things that … film can do much better. You shouldn’t try to replicate reality, because what theater has that no other art form has is the live relationship between the actor and the audience.

 

Mm.

 

You can really discard everything else. Which was pretty revolutionary at the time.

 

Thats right.

 

So, here, with Rick … I created at Grinnell a piece called—uh, I didn’t even title it. It was uh, based on the character of Pentheus from Euripides’ The Bacchae. I don’t know if you ever come across that in classics. So, it’s a—it’s a movement piece with very words. And I show it to my dancer teacher, and I show it to my theater instructor at Grinnell, and both of them kinda pat my head and say: That’s very interesting. End of story. When I take it to Milwaukee Repertory Theater and show it to Rick, he starts directing me, and he starts to evolve and develop the character that I’d started. And he says: This is he kinda theater I want to be making; would you be interested in coming to join me and a few others at the University of Iowa, which has a center for new performing arts that’s just gonna start.

 

How far along were you at Grinnell in Iowa?

 

Hour and a half. And Iowa City is just an hour away from Grinnell, coincidentally. But it’s a world away. It’s where the International Writing Workshop, where Tennessee Williams got his start.

 

What did your parents think? ‘Cause you left—

 

Oh, here—

 

–college.

 

Here it is; yeah? Uh, I—I—I had trepidations about making that phone call. ‘Cause I’m the only son. My dad, eldest of five boys, the smartest of the litter, and he didn’t go to college ‘cause his father begged him to help send the other boys. So, all the other brothers went to college, but not him. So, his only son …

 

 

He’s gonna live through you.

 

You were gonna get your degree.

 

I was gonna get my degree. He said: Take business administration.

 

Uh-oh.

 

And here I am, studying drama and dance; right? And then, I call him and say: Dad, I got this opportunity to join this professional group; it’s a Rockefeller-funded, five-year project at the University of Iowa. If I’d gotten my degree, I would have to work for seven or eight years before I could even position myself to go for a grant like this. It’s being put in my lap here. And I’m not even finished college, but they feel I have what it takes.

 

So, you substituted your capture of a college degree with professional experience.

 

Professional job. Fully paid. We didn’t have to wait tables, drive cabs. It was not fat, but we had a living stipend. Which is like, unheard of; right?

 

George Kon continued to perform professionally with the Iowa Experimental Theatre Lab which eventually relocated to Baltimore, Maryland and later toured in New York and France. Then George began to share his style of experimental theatre at New York University.

 

The company starts to fragment. You know. Uh, people start to leave. And I get picked up at NYU. They want me to head up um … what we do with the lab work in

something they called the Experimental Theater Wing.

 

You were hired to be a teacher.

 

I was hired to be a—

 

And you didn’t—

 

–teacher.

 

–have a college degree.

 

I did not have a—

 

And you worked for NYU.

 

I worked for NYU. Isn’t that something? Yeah. ‘Cause in the Experimental Theater Wing, it didn’t matter your certification. It mattered that you had—that you made theater.

 

M-hm.

 

And we had worked for, by that time, six or seven years, in this form, ala Grotowski.

 

And at the time, were you going to Broadway plays? Were you enjoying the city?

 

I got invited to try out for Pacific Overtures.

 

And did you?

 

No. But uh, somebody scouted me, and said, you know: I think you would be good for this.

 

That’s not the way you wanted to go.

 

Well … it kind of flickered through my mind, that that would be interesting to see if I could cut it, you know, doing that. But we hadn’t—we hadn’t finished—at the time that I was made that offer, we hadn’t finished with our work with the lab. I was still in the full course of creating plays for them. If that had happened … after, when I was in between things, I might have—I might have gone—

 

But there are a lot of people who had have said: Are you kidding? I’m gonna grab that. That’s a choice I may never get again.

 

Yeah.

 

But you said: No, I’m committed to what I’m doing.

 

Right. At the time, uh … the work that I was doing with the lab was uh … was really interesting and consuming, all-consuming.

 

While teaching at NYU, George Kon would reunite with an old friend, Walt Dulaney, whom he met back in high school. The two would go on to form a partnership that would span three decades.

 

You know, Walt and I had been friends since I was in high school.

 

Okay this is Walt Dulaney.

 

Walt, the famous Walt Dulaney. I met him-the way I met him was umm…I knew he did prom assemblies. I asked ‘would you come to Baldwin, do a prom assembly?’ That’s how I met him.

 

Wow, and this is a guy who would be your artistic partner for years.

 

Yeah; for years. So, Walt and I—uh, Walt went to m—uh, Rochester Institute of uh, Technology to um … get his uh … photo illustration degree at the same time that I was doing the work with the lab. And then, we reconnected in New York to teach the Experimental Theater when he assisted me. And then, when the first snows would come, we would relocate to Hawaiʻi. And Farrington was one—one of the first places that we anchored in.

 

Why is that?

 

We got—uh, Wally Chappell, who ran HTY, we—we got hired at HTY first as their education directors. And we suggested to them that they should … run drama education in the schools. HTY didn’t go for that project, so we decided to branch off on our own. So, Wally helped us meet Alfred Preis. Do you remember Alfred Preis?

 

Alfred Preis was an architect, and he—State Foundation on—

 

State Foundation—

 

–Culture and the Arts.

 

State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. But he was a czar; he was the art czar. And everything that went, he said: Go.

 

And he funded it.

 

He funded it. Right. So, Alfred gave us our first, first grant; it was called Suitcase Theater. And in that grant, wer—we were—our goal was to meet every drama teacher in the State.

 

Oh …

 

So, we went … with our suitcase, to every—and we didn’t have a car. So, we went by bus all the way out to Kahuku. Walt and I, from the Suitcase Theater grant, discovered that of all the schools, Farrington was most like the neighbor island schools.

 

Mm.

 

The kids were super-appreciative of what we did. Even if they had a hard time doing our Stage Fright Workshops, they loved—you know, they were—they had aloha.

 

Stage Fright Workshops; what are those?

 

Yeah; yeah. You know, audience manners.

 

Okay. And this is actually what got you a permanent role

 

at—

 

At—

 

–Farrington High School.

 

–Farrington. Yes. Audience manners.

 

So, we—

 

There was a need to teach the—

 

So, we—we—

 

–students manners at assemblies.

 

Yes; yes, indeed. So, we—we—our workshops uh, had a component called performer fitness, project—

 

Mm.

 

–pronouns with poise. Tchk-tchk; ah. And personality. Everything’s alliterated; right? Those four aspects are what we teach for the actors. And then, audience have to pay attention, uh, show appreciation, appropriate applause. That part is what Sherilyn Tom saw when she came to see our Midsummer Night’s workshop with the gifted and talented students. She said: I want that, because our kids are so rowdy, we can’t have assemblies; can you help us?

 

And when was this? What was the year when the audiences were so unruly?

 

  1. Early; very early. But Sherilyn Tom, English Department chair, was a visionary. She said: This is what you do. Teach Shakespeare four days in the classroom, on day five take them into the auditorium, just their class. Have each of them stand in the solo spotlight. But soft, what lychee in the window breaks? Right? One-by-one. They will earn empathy for the guts it takes to be onstage.

 

That is very—that’s a really brilliant idea.

 

It’s a brilliant idea.

 

Empathy.

 

Yes.

 

From the audience.

 

Empathy. So, four years later—shhh, we could open the doors because everybody knew how to be an audience.

 

That’s amazing.

 

Same lady says: You get these kids all excited; why don’t you take the most talented kids you saw during the year, and do a summer drama workshop. So, we did just that. Six weeks later, couldn’t let go of the kids. So, we go to Alfred Preis; right? State Foundation. Normally, it takes uh, a year to apply for a grant, da- da-da. We just asked him: Would you fund our dream project? We’re in Kalihi at Farrington; we’re gonna call it T-Shirt Theatre. What do you say? He gave it to us.

 

George Kon and Walt Dulaney co-founded T-Shirt Theatre in Honolulu in 1985. George estimates theyve touched the lives of more than 10,000 students.  Walt Dulaney passed away in 2011, and George continues to serve as Executive Director and Artistic Director of the program.

 

We are a private not-for-profit corporation. Alliance for Drama Education is the mothership, and T-Shirt Theatre is the flagship, the most visible and heartstrings part of the—

 

And you followed your mentors, and you didn’t go for the costumery. It’s imagination that really—

 

Yes.

 

–you know, basically—

 

Low tech, high zest.

 

Is T-Shirt Theatre an after school program?

 

Yes.

 

So, what-what hours is it?

 

It—it goes Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, three to five-thirty. And we go eleven months out of the year.

 

And can any child in the district—

 

Any child—

 

–participate?

 

–on the island, if they can get themselves there to rehearse with us, to participate.

 

And do they have to pay to enter?

 

There is no fee. How you pay is by coming promptly, and consistently to rehearsal, and giving it your one hundred percent. The first project is the envoys. That’s where we take small teams of actors to each of the … was it ten feeder elementaries to Farrington. They perform for each class. We do like, five classes a day. And then, they coach small groups of students to perform for their own class by the end of the forty-five-minute period. It’s an amazing process to see these kids, who sometimes are very, very shy, be able to do this. Very, very big project, they have to take a whole day off from school to do this. But that’s one project. Then there’s a fall show, and then there’s a spring show. And if they do two out of the three, we can—you know, you can take a pass. You can say: I need to take a leave of absence.

 

So, you do treat them as professionals in the sense—

 

I—

 

–that we expect you to be here—

 

Yes.

 

–here’s the requirements.

 

Yes. Because … and actually, if they don’t show up, then you’re left with …

 

–a real puka.

 

It is a puka.

 

Not kipuka, but a puka—

 

Yes.

 

–in your program.

 

It is a puka.

 

So, that’s a real world lesson. You know, there’s a real—

 

Yes.

 

There’s a real consequence when you don’t show up.

 

I think uh, why I love drama education so much, particularly when it comes to performance, even in elementary schools is, when you don’t say your line correctly, or when you don’t show up, somebody suffers, and they will let you know about that. You know. And I think … academics sometimes don’t have that real world consequence.

 

Do the students determine their own material in T-Shirt Theatre?

 

We work to a theme. And this last show actually came to us from uh, two of the actors. They said: George, can we do something with memories? I said: Memories, memories … let me think about that. I liked the idea, but I didn’t want to just be nostalgic. So, as Jonah and I were discussing it, I said: How about … memories to capture, or capture; capture is gonna be like our title. So … you know, well, can you distill it even to a moment, when you were changed. That’s—and that became the prompt.

 

That’s a good question. What came—

 

Yes.

 

–out of that?

 

Our show, Memories to Capture. That was our spring show. Th—the one that touches me the most is um … a scene we call In Due Time. And this boy is trying to figure out how he can come out. And so, he says—uh, in the scene, he—he converses with his—his conscience, and he’s kinda deciding who is gonna be the first one that I tell this to. Can I tell my parents? No. Uh, can I tell my best friend? Uh, she’s not really ready to hear this. Ha; can I tell my sister? Yes. So, this boy has a really good relationship with his sis, so he comes out to his sis. And then, he comes out to his good friend. And the good friend, you can see, really has trouble with this. And then, he comes home. As he’s opening the door, he overhears Mom and Dad talking. And Mom is saying: Stelthen, Stelhen; where are you? And Dad is saying: Where is that boy? Mom says: Maybe he has a girlfriend. I’ve never seen him with any girls; if that boy is gay, I will have failed in my role as a father. So, he never comes in the house; right? Stelthen chooses to do this at the public show where his dad is in the audience. He has not disclosed to his family.

 

Wow.

 

That’s some guts; huh? After the show, Dad gives him a big hug. Son, I love you.

 

That’s what you’re dealing with youth who are going through all kinds of—

 

All—

 

-changes—

 

–kinds of things.

 

-and adjustments, and very big struggles. Especially in a low-income area, where you just—you know, sometimes there is some dysfunction. I mean, some of the kids are really vulnerable.

 

Very, very vulnerable.

 

And your career is still going strong in this, and it’s all … you’re still following this course that nobody instructed you in. You know, you see where it takes you, and you make the best of it, and you’re looking to mold young people.

 

I am. I am. And I’m hoping that uh, Jonah and Primo are able to carry it. You know, I’m grooming them as a legacy. You know if- as a parent, if you form a business, you hope your son or your daughter will take it over; right? Primo came from the inaugural T-Shirt Theatre group. And now, he’s back coaching. He’s the one that sells Harleys. Story about Primo. Um …he’s closing the windows one day, and the windows in the room pops and cracks, and cuts him. So, he’s got this kinda scar on his wrist. So, remember that. He’s working at Zippy’s, and his supervisor comes roaring in on a motorcycle, coincidentally, very pissed off. He and his girlfriend are having some kind of fight, throwing pots and pans. So, Primo, who has played a number of counseling scenes in T-Shirt Theatre, starts to say some of the words from one of his scenes. Hey, what you doing, man? Chill. You know, he starts to try to talk the guy down. The guy doesn’t want to have anything. What? What are you talking about? And then, you know, he doesn’t give him the time of day. Primo keeps on talking about it, and at one point, he goes like this. He doesn’t say anything; he just shows him. And the guy goes— Whoa; you too? ‘Cause he’s suicidal, this kid. Primo says: You know what, you should go home; I got it covered over here. Go home; call me as soon as you get home. What for? Oh, just talk story. And he—he got the manager to go home.

 

That is a good life skill. And the manager is still with us today, I presume.

 

Yes.

 

Mm.

 

So … life following art. Script it, and then use it. Rehearsing for life; that is our mission.

 

In 2018, T-Shirt Theatre presented Kipuka, an anti-bullying project that explores the issues of bullying, cyberbullying, and teen suicide prevention. This latest production under the artistic direction of George Kon was original and drew from the true life experiences of his students. T-Shirt Theatre continues to serve as a kīpuka—like green growth in a lava field… for the next generation of students. And while George looks to pass on the direction of T-Shirt Theatre to the next generation, he told me during this conversation in the spring of 2019, he’s not ready to exit the stage yet. Mahalo to George Kon of Pālolo Valley in Honolulu. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaiʻi. Im Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

Take two. Very much. That came from Walt. T-Shirt Theatre, because we rehearse, is a perfect uh, environment for that. You know, and the kids learn that if they make a mistake, they can always take two. And I think if th—you know, if we can help them understand that that doesn’t just go for drama, that goes for anything that you’re trying to accomplish, there’s really almost always a chance to redo.

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

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