Hawaiʻi

What’s it Going to Take?
Forums on Making Life Better in Hawaiʻi

What's it Going to Take? Forums on making life better in Hawaiʻi

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Chambers

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
2020 Legislative Preview

 

What are the biggest issues facing Hawaiʻi’s state lawmakers in 2020? Raising the minimum wage from the current $10.10 per hour? Easing the lack of affordable housing across the state? Legalizing recreational marijuana? Climate change and its effect on our shorelines and lifestyle? Join the conversation with legislative leaders and community watchdogs as INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI returns with a 2020 Legislative Preview. 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

 

 

 

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]

 

 

HIKI NŌ 10|31|19:
Kauaʻi Resilience Project and Other Stories

 

TOP STORY

 

“Kauaʻi Resilience Project”
Students from Kapaʻa High School on Kauaʻi tell the story of their community’s effort to address a serious problem with Kauaʻi’s youth. A 2018 study showed that 9% of high school students on Kauaʻi attempt suicide, and 28% reported feeling sad and worthless over extended periods of time. In response to these alarming facts, the Kauaʻi Resiliency Project was formed to create programs and opportunities for Kauaʻi’s youth that help them navigate life’s challenges.

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

“Taiko for the Deaf”
In their HIKI NŌ debut, students from Hawaiʻi Baptist Academy in the Nuʻuanu district of Oʻahu tell the story of a taiko drumming class for the deaf held by the Taiko Center of the Pacific. The deaf students learn to drum through visual cues such as watching the person in front of them and through instructions from a sign language interpreter. Although they cannot hear the drums, they can feel the vibration of the drum beats through their bodies. They don’t consider their deafness as a limitation to taiko drumming and, as a result, their confidence and self-esteem are lifted through this activity.

 

“Martin Charlot”
Students from Konawaena High School on Hawaiʻi Island follow veteran painter Martin Charlot (son of legendary artist Jean Charlot) as he restores a mural he created 46 years ago for what is now called the Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium at Konawaena High School.

 

“Fire Knife Dancer”
Students from Kealakehe Intermediate School on Hawaiʻi Island tell the story of a fire knife dancer who is passing along this traditional Samoan art form to the next generation.

 

“Hawaiʻi Nature Center”
Students from McKinley High School on Oʻahu tell the story of a special place in Honolulu that connects family and children to nature: the Hawaiʻi Nature Center.

 

“Street Art Hawaiʻi”
Students from Sacred Hearts Academy on Oʻahu tell the story of a team of local artists who are beautifying the Kaimukī neighborhood of Honolulu with their colorful street paintings.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ also features a behind-the-scenes look at the 2019 HIKI NŌ Statewide Teachers Workshop.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
At Halekulani’s House Without A Key

 

NĀ MELE goes on location to document a traditional, cherished Hawaiian experience. Halekulani has a special place in the hearts of Hawai‘i’s people and everyone who has spent time there. PBS Hawai‘i captures a late afternoon at the hotel’s House Without a Key with hula dancers Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, and the musical trio Pa‘ahana (Pakala Fernandes, Kaipo Kukahiko and Douglas Po‘oloa Tolentino).

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jordan and Aaron Kandell

 

Jordan and Aaron Kandell are twin brothers who are best friends and Mānoa neighbors. As children, they were so close that they would finish each other’s sentences. As young adults, the brothers teamed up in a career in which they completed each other’s creative ideas: screenwriting. The ʻIolani School grads and college poetry majors are best known, so far, for their work as part of the writing team behind Moana, the 2016 Disney animated film. They hit it big after a solid decade of hard work, grinding out script proposals and receiving a litany of rejection letters. Says Jordan: “If you’re gonna take every ‘no’ personally, I don’t know how you move forward.”

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jordan and Aaron Kandell Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It takes a lot of energy and effort to sail across the vast oceans of life to get to where you want to go, and if your worry and fear are energy trains from the focus that you need for the energy of that voyage, you have to go after what you love.  What your curiosity leads you to, wherever that’s going to take you as courageously as you can. And that’s the only way you give yourself a chance of reaching that goal, even if it seems kind of impossible or not even crystallized for you.

 

Together, these Hawai’i born twin brothers continue to pursue their shared dream of making Hollywood movies. Aaron and Jordan Kandell next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou I’m Leslie Wilcox. I found it transfixing to listen to twin brothers Aaron and Jordan Kandell of Honolulu when they’re in spirited conversation they are very much in sync and that’s even when they don’t completely agree. You don’t know which one is going to finish the sentence. The brothers are almost inseparable in both their professional and personal lives. They joined the screenwriting team for the 2016 hit Disney animated film Moana, which features the voice of Dwayne The Rock Johnson. And they continue to write together as a dynamic duo and have recently begun producing Hollywood movies such as Adrift, which was released in 2018. Both twins have young families and they even live next door to each other in Mānoa Valley. Aaron and Jordan say their parents, Lloyd and Sherri Kandell, were hippies, originally from the U.S. mainland who once lived on the north shore of Kaua‘i, a near Taylor camp, which was a clothing optional alternative community of people living in tree houses. The couple later moved to O‘ahu and settled down in Kaimuki, and they were surprised when not one baby, but two babies arrived.

 

Being the hippie parents, they didn’t do an ultrasound. They had sort of a natural doctor who just did a stethoscope, and Aaron, had we found out later he’d gotten sort of pushed up, probably kicked by me under my mom’s rib. So that when they did the stethoscope, her heartbeat overpowered the sound of his. It was so close that they only heard one here and one here. So the doctor for her entire pregnancy said, you’ve got one.

 

But everybody, she was huge. I mean, we were like six pounds each. So she had this giant beach ball belly. And their joke was everybody but them and their doctor knew that they had twins.

 

Like, you know, o-

 

Aunties would come up to her at the beach or in the market and touch her belly and go twin when they actually had the births. She tried to do a home birth and it turned into an emergency. Rushed to C-section. And they pulled him out first. And their doctors were getting ready to stitch her back. They said, wait, we have another pair of feet in here.

 

Ohh…

 

Imagine not knowing that there is suddenly the doctor saying we see an extra pair of feet in there after they pulled me out. And so fortunately, it was him and he was healthy and they pulled him out. And for the first two weeks, we were baby A and baby B because they didn’t know that, they didn’t have names picked out. They had to get all of these se- new crib, new sets of clothes. It was just all a surprise.

 

Are you identical twins?

 

We don’t know-

 

–Because of the surprise birth.

 

Yeah.

 

We never had the all of the you know, there’s varying kinds of tests that you can do with the placenta or DNA when you’re born that identify if you’re identical or fraternal that we never had done in the rush of the emergency uhh, delivery. So we never actually verified-

 

Yeah, we don’t know.

 

-to confirm if we’re identical or fraternal. I assume we’re identical.

 

Well, how do the dynamics work between the two of you? Was there a time when you didn’t get along or that you I mean, how-

 

I mean, we’re kind-

 

-has your relationship evolved?

 

I mean we’re kind of Peter Pan and his shadow. Like if one of us gets too far away, the other chases them down and stitches them back to their feet. Uhh, we’ve always been that way. I mean, we’ve- We- all we know is collaboration. We’ve just had to share everything from the same room until we were 18. I think, you know, we were roommates in college. Uhh, we wished we had been able to take the same classes in school. Umm, and the first chance we got, we did. We’ve always been interested in the same everything. Same sports, same books, same girls, same career.

 

Ohh that sounds dangerous.

 

That was dangerous.

 

Same girls.

 

Yeah.

 

Sounds like that’s the real story.

 

Yeah, well we had a- we’ve been, because everything’s been collaborative. We’ve never really fought. It’s just been like having a best friend all the time who thinks like you and looks like you, which you know could be narcissistic, but-

 

Yeah.

 

it’s outside of you. So it’s not.

 

And interestingly, the two girls I think we weren’t both interested in at the same time became our wives like-.

 

Thats right.

 

His high school sweetheart is who he married. And I had a high school girlfriend. So I was never interested in her, any other girls at that time. And so that one ended up working out. But before he met his wife in senior year of high school-

 

Yeah.

 

Umm, one of our good friends set him up on a date in high school with, who became my wife. And they did not hit it off at all.

 

No.

 

They had like the worst date of each of their lives.

 

So this is good right?

 

Well, it’d worked out. Yeah-

 

This is a good thing.

 

Well, then two years later, when the same friends tried to set him up, I was like, its- whats- it’s oil and vinegar. It’s not going to work. What are you thinking? And then they just sparked-

 

Instantly.

 

-instantly.

 

Wow, who would’ve guessed that.

 

So it was a weird.

 

Yeah.

 

You know, a weird dynamic, how that worked.

 

This has been such a strength for you to have your friends, your family, you’re professional collaborators. Is it ever a weakness?

 

Being twins?

 

The way you are twins,-

 

-okay, that’s a good question. I-

 

–Because not all twins are as close.

 

I- I don’t want to speak for other people that I would say it’s probably more of a weakness, for everybody outside of the weird lynchian twin bubble that is our existence, because for us it’s all we know. So anything that’s not sharing and having it- like us going to a movie theater by ourselves to watch a movie feels weird. There was a moment, I think, when I was twenty seven where Jordan moved back here with his wife and I was still living in L.A. and I had uhh, and it was a year and I had a year of oh, this is what the human condition is, is being by yourself and having to find community. And like a deep sense of loneliness because I didn’t have this like shadow attachment to me that I’d always had of everything is a shared experience. So anytime you’re sitting and eating a meal, that’s with somebody else.

 

Right.

 

Umm, And- and so I think for other people to- Not y’know for our wives at first, like dating and having to get used to the fact that we were already born with our soulmates, so finding a second soulmate and bringing that into the mix is a weird alchemy. Uhh, that becomes, I think, challenging.

 

They’re probably cringing hearing you call me your soulmate

 

Probably.

 

From a young age. Aaron and Jordan Kandell were very close and shared friends, sports and activities. But what influenced them the most was their shared love of reading and writing.

 

Whenever we had free time, whether it was at recess or a lunch or a soon as-

 

-eating-

 

we got home after school, we were just like this.

 

Yeah. Umm, We- I think we read a book a day and-

 

-And did ‘Iolani homework?

 

Well, we didn’t have homework until like fourth, fifth grade.

 

Yeah.

 

So those first y’know four grades was just our bookshelf literally collapsed from the weight of all the blocks we were reading. It was a lo-

 

Yeah, we’d read like 300 bucks a year.

 

It was crazy.

 

So you spent your early years reading, reading, reading, reading. At what point did that turn to writing?

 

Early too. Yeah.

 

Pretty early, I think from like second, third grade.

 

We have- I have a memory of getting an assignment that was write a three page, double spaced, huge kid print story that would take, you know, 15 minutes when you got home. And we each separate of each other went and just started writing and both turned in like a 30 page single spaced story the next day, because we just got lost in the world that we started to-

 

-And also we couldn’t charge. So it was easier for words.

 

We still can draw. But umm, and so I have a very distinct memory of going, oh, like that was fun. And I just go where did the time go? And that was second or third grade. And ever since then, we-

 

What did your teacher say?

 

They were like, oh, wow, cool.

 

Future screenwriters and film producers Jordan and Aaron Kandell of Honolulu both pursued their love of literature and studied creative writing at the University of Southern California. However, they did not start off working together on screenplays.

 

Over the course of college, we discovered uhh, something you would think you would have known right off the bat, which is we loved writing- both of us. We wanted to work together. We both majored in poetry.

 

Which is not very collaborative.

 

No it is not.

 

We discovered very quickly that poetry is probably really the least collaborative form-

 

Right.

 

-of poetry you can do unless you’re like- your entire [INDISTINCT] of work is Renzos. Which is a form training lines back and forth. Uhh, but there’s very limited styles of poetry that are collaborative.

 

Right.

 

Screenwriting and TV writing especially are the most collaborative form of writing I can think of. Umm, and so we were studying those as well and started to write our first screenplay in college together and thought, this is- this is so much fun and this is so natural-

 

Yeah.

 

-and combines kind of the best of what we loved in reading growing up. All these novels and these long form umm, stories-

 

Mhmm.

 

-with what we’ve been trained and are pulled towards in poetry, which is saying as much as you can in as few words as possible, which is very much the limitations uhh, that the screenplay form has about things with which words often are, you know, struggle to capture. And that’s the visual medium of- of film and TV.

 

Yeah.

 

And so it kind of combined everything we loved into one form.

 

What did you do after you left USC? Having decided to become screenwriters, which is an almost impossible job-

 

Yeah.

 

–to get in Hollywood if that’s where you’re heading.

 

We ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.

 

Yeah. No. We came straight home and became teachers. Yeah.

 

That is true.

 

It is what we did. Umm, so we taught at Punahou and ‘Iolani. Umm-

 

What did you teach?

 

I taught tenth grade English uhh, for a year.

 

And I taught ninth grade Spanish.

 

And then in the summers we taught and- and that was the first year. And then we started substitute teaching pretty much every subject you can think of.

 

Every grade, everything from kindergarten to like conducting the full orchestra without any orchestra experience.

 

And- but a lot of moviemaking and a lot of S.A.T. prep.

 

Yeah.

 

You’re saving money, I’m taking it with all these teaching jobs.

 

Yeah. So we were- We- We would teach all day that first year and then write all afternoon when we were done grading and lesson planning and all weekend. Uhh, and then when we went to substitute teaching, we would try to maybe-

 

Just enough to survive. So like teach one or two days a week and then write the rest of it.

 

So we very much saw from the beginning writing as our full time job and teaching was something we loved and we’re very passionate about. But our first and foremost uhh, pursuit was writing, and so that was allowing us to do the writing.

 

And were you also looking for those all important contacts to get you to the screen?

 

No.

 

No.

 

-Because we were here. I mean, there wasn’t- We didn’t- We were not guys born into it, connected in any way, had any uhh, knowledge or access for who to talk to to get there.

 

Even USC couldn’t say, hey, lets- lets-

 

-I mean, USC was-

 

–Lets reach out for you.

 

-USC was great in giving us sort of the launch pad for what the screen writing format looked like. Umm, you know, but most of your teachers at USC were like, don’t become screenwriters because that’s what we want to do-

 

It’s so hard. Yeah.

 

–And it’s so hard. And, you know, if you love anything else and do that. That was their advice. Umm, so you- you had a sense of how daunting the mountain you had to climb was ahead. But you also, you know when you’re 22 to 26, you have that sort of naive, I’m going to climb Everest and I can do it without oxygen or ropes. And here we go, which you need. And it’s important to have that. And if we knew better, looking back, you know, in the 10 year climb, it took us to get to the top of Everest uhh, and the frostbite fingers that we have as a result. Like, we probably wouldn’t have done it. But, you know, it’s good to have that.

 

How many years exactly, teaching and writing?

 

The first screenplay we sold was after four years of writing and we sold it, like we got the call. We just started an S.A.T. quiz and there was a summer course we were teaching at Punahou. And we gave the kids the quiz and then we got a phone call and it was Fox and Disney were both bidding on our first screenplay and we had to go out and close the deal in the 15 minutes they were taking this quiz and come back in feeling like very both excited and like we were maybe going to throw up-

 

-Panicked. Panicked.

 

–And then had to run the class as though nothing had happened and finish out the day.

 

After four years of working as teachers in Honolulu and writing screenplays eight to ten hours a day, Aaron and Jordan Kandell sold their first screenplay to a Hollywood studio. But that show was never produced and it would be another six years and several other un-produced screenplays before the Kandell twins finally saw their work on the big screen with the 2016 release of Disney’s Moana.

 

As anyone who’s done anything creative, countless rejection for years and years, thousands of no’s before someone says yes. And if you’re gonna take every no personally, it’s how- I don’t know how you move forward.

 

How many rejections did you receive?

 

So many.

 

A lot. It was so- It took four years to sell our first thing. We’re like we made it. And then it took another four years till we sold anything else. Umm, and it took ten till Moana, which was the first thing that actually got produced and made, umm, came onto the screen. And so all of that, that whole ten year journey uhh, was informative and challenging, umm, before you kind of figure out how to read the swells and- and steer the canoe. Umm, it took that long to figure that out.

 

Do you think that that period of discipline and- and without a lot of- uhh, a lot of inst- no instant gratification there right?

 

Yeah.

 

Do you think that helped you make it for the long term?

 

I think we would have honestly-

 

-Preferred getting instant gratification.

 

Yeah, I wouldn’t care. I would’ve loved-

 

And you can still do-

 

I would’ve loved the rocket launch straight into-

 

–I-

 

–the stratosphere.

 

Yeah. That would have been great. I think we would have done it anyway. I think we were succ- The success or financial success or any kind of recognition was never our motivation. Uhh, getting it is nice because it allows us to continue to do what we loved and not have to second guess and question how are we going to feed our families? Umm, because we are now getting paid to do what we always loved and were doing since second or third grade. Umm, but we would have done it anyway. For Moana we felt uhh, as fortunate to be called to it because it was not our idea. It was a project that existed for years, three years before we got the call to come and be a part of it.

 

Were you- Were you there to rescue it, to do trouble fixing?

 

Yes. So they had and it’s not just the- it’s typical of the Disney Pixar process, is that over the course of three to five years, usually four to five, they’ll put the movie together anywhere from eight to ten times internally before it’s shown to an audience, and-

 

All hand drawn.

 

-Hand drawn and all, you know, every- every three months. They’re basically rewriting, re scoring, rerecording, redrawing and editing up a version of the film, not as animated as you see. It’s sort of your old school sketch, flip book animation where Mickey’s hand will move like this as you put the pages, but a whole rough cut of the movie. And so they’ve done that for three years and the story had lost its way. And so they needed to find new writers to help them steer a course towards what the story was. And they had a lot of the tent poles- we’ll call ’em- of the story. They had the girl named Moana. They knew that she lived on Motu Nui. They had all the characters kind of drawn and animated. Umm, so we knew that cast. Uhh, she was going to meet Maui. She was going to sail out and try to restore- Spoiler alert- Teka, Teka into Tefiti. But they didn’t know why she wanted to leave. They didn’t know why Tefiti had become Teka, and what would turn her back? They didn’t know what the relationship with Moana would- and Maui would be or where she would find him or what they were sailing out to do. All of that was up in the air. And so we had to come in and help create all the story to connect those dots.

 

Isn’t it interesting the storyline got lost along the way?

 

Mhmm.

 

Yeah.

 

After all that technical work and artistic work?

 

Well, a lot of animation is that same- They’re all amazing artists, like the best artists you’ve seen. You’ll be sitting talking story like this and they’ll be drawing a caricature of you and showing it to you or you’ll be talking about we’ll say, well, what if they encounter these little coconut pirates? We’ll call them the Kakamora and they’ll be like, well, will they look like this? We’re like, uhh maybe a..

 

Wow.

 

-And they’ll, more like this? Yes. And they’ll just be tossing photos behind them. They’ll be just sheets of paper-

 

Drawing. Drawing.

 

–and drawing. And throwing, which is amazing because we can’t draw. So for us. That was like magic of Disney come true before our eyes. Uhh, but-

 

-But yeah it’s [INDISTINCT]-

 

–they start- they start with the visuals because they’re all artists. So they get really excited about visual ideas. And then it’s trying to find… We almost had to come in and be the story way finders and the navigators of the story to connect what these visual motifs and ideas could be through the character work, through the thematics and through the values of the experiences that we had growing up on the islands.

 

And this wasn’t a Hawaiian movie.

 

No.

 

It’s Polynesian.

 

[Both]Yeah.

 

But you really had a role to play in terms of making it authentic and not putting in the wicky, wacky cellophane hula skirts and- and language.

 

We tried. Umm, yeah. Uhh, we came in hoping to- There were characters that existed in earlier versions that we will not mention uhh, that were culturally insensitive, if not offensive, that we- we threw out. We said, you- you can’t do this for- for these specific reasons. Umm, and we then tried to bring in kupuna and advisers like Nainoa Thompson to make the way finding elements as accurate as possible uhh, and to speak towards some of the cultural values we just grew up with that might drive Moana through her journey and in her interactions with Maui. And so, yeah, we played that small part as- as we weren’t the only ones. They had uhh, a board, an oceanic adviser trust from all different island cultures of professors and performers who helped advise. But we did come in as-

 

-We banged the cultural-

 

–story tellers, yes.

 

We banged the cultural drums very loudly.

 

Do you think in words or pictures when you’re a screenwriter?

 

That’s a-

 

–That’s a really good question. Uhh, both. I mean, I think-

 

-It starts with pictures.

 

It starts with pictures-

 

We have to see the movie in our head in order to put it on the page. And then basically the process of writing for us-

 

–Is recording. It’s almost, you have to visual- you almost have to sit in the audience. You have to direct the movie and then you have to be able to edit it, and watch it. And once you can see a whole sequence or a scene, then you’re just essentially reporting what you’re seeing. But you have to go through that process-

 

So you have a story that you-

 

-Then you have to visualize it.

 

–But the pictures have to- you have to lead with pictures.

 

Yeah. I mean, it’s such a- we’re such uhh, visual creatures as humans. And the world has become so much more, like visual focus. There’s so much media.

 

You know, you said you’re collaborative. I assume that each of you has a role. Do your roles remain constant in terms of putting together a screenplay?

 

Uhh, it’s pretty fluid. Yin Yang, We have different strengths. I’d say as writers and that depends on the day. Sometimes one of us is stronger at one thing than the other.

 

And you both recognize that that day one is stronger than the other at something?

 

[Both]Yeah.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

And in general, we have different strengths uhh, and- and weaknesses. I think Aaron is stronger with character and dialog and getting into kind of the core of how somebody expresses themself in a unique, interesting, believable… Just getting at who those characters are and what they want. And my strength is sort of seeing the bigger picture of a story and structuring out what’s going to happen and how we get there. And then writing-

 

-He’s more of the architect. I’m more the interior designer.

 

Uhh, sorry, everyone who’s not a twin. But it helps us be objective-

 

-Right.

 

Because we’re constantly questioning each other’s work, uhh, storytelling choices, quality of what we were putting out and just saying, can we make it better. We’re poking at it.

 

And why are we doing this-

 

-That’s right.

 

–And what do we want to get out of it?

 

And if you’re by yourself, it would help to find somebody who can serve that role.

 

We’ll break out a whole story. We’ll sit and we’ll talk or we’ll go hiking through the forest and just talk and talk and talk and talk and figure out how we both see what the grand vision of it is. And then it’ll usually be architecting it out, which he’s very good at in terms of breaking an outline and detail. And then I’ll come in and be, well, let’s make this is kind of a cliché. Let’s make this more original or fresh or have somebody say something in a way you wouldn’t think. And so and then it becomes sort of breaking out and tackling sequences or scenes on the page.

 

Aaron and Jordan Kandell remain close in their everyday lives. If they aren’t working on their next screenplay together, they’re together surfing, hiking, watching a movie. We’re spending time with their extended family.

 

It works. I mean, you both are married. Each of you has a child.

 

Yeah.

 

And then how do you- and you live next door to each other?

 

Yes.

 

Next door.

 

Very close, walking distance of-

 

-Like-

 

-back back fence kind of thing?

 

Yes.

 

Back fence.

 

Share. Share the same boundary line.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah.

 

So how does it work? I mean, because you’re working together every day. And even if you weren’t working, you’d be seeing each other every day.

 

Yeah. We’re together almost all the time.

 

Yeah.

 

All day. We’re usually together most of the day working, writing, meetings. Umm, and then at night we’ll either all go to his house or he’ll come to my house with his family to have dinner. We kind of trade back and forth. We trade taking the kids to school and picking them up.

 

They go to the same schools?

 

They don’t yet because one, his is-

 

-Younger.

 

–too young, umm, but hopefully they will. Umm, and they very much are like sibling-cousins, we call them. They’re so close.

 

And I’ve heard that the children call each of you uncle daddy.

 

Yes.

 

Daddy. And then Uncle Daddy.

 

Yeah.

 

That’s right.

 

That’s funny.

 

Yeah.

 

So what happens when a spouse wants to do something different than what you two want to do?

 

They usually win.

 

They win.

 

Oh they win?

 

Yeah.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

You defer.

 

Yes, definitely.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah. Because we’re together so often-

 

-Yeah.

 

-that it’s only fair.

 

Yeah.

 

So you figured-

 

-Well-

 

–a way to make all of it.

 

Yeah.

 

They’ll win the battle because the war, they already, know is lost.

 

Kind of seems too good to be true that you know, the wives would be happy and- and get this relationship and then- and then you two would get along so well.

 

That we would get along so well?

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah-

 

–Yeah, I mean, I- I don’t know. I would attribute that to nature and nurture. I think-

 

Yeah, ’cause our parents were very uhh, they created an environment. We never really fought with our older brother. He was always super supportive and loving. And we just kind of-

 

-Closed it with him. Yup.

 

They just created a dynamic where it was you were all, y’know, on the same canoe paddling together.

 

As of this conversation in the spring of 2019, Aaron and Jordan Kandell are involved in a multitude of screenplays and film projects, including their dream project called The Golden Record, The True Story of Carl Sagan and his Creation of a Record of Life on Earth for 1976 NASA’s Space Mission. Mahalo to Aaron and Jordan Kandall of Mānoa, O’ahu. And thank you for joining us for this edition of LONG STORY SHORT on PBS Hawai’i. I’m Leslie Wilcox, Aloha Nui.

 

Our mom has just followed her curiosity wherever it’s led her for her entire life. So she’s been really like-

 

The jack of all trades.

 

Yeah.

 

She’s had- she had a different career every three to five years most of our lives.

 

And would you put that under the fearless category?

 

Oh, for sure. Yeah.

 

I think the two things we learned from our mom more than anything, is she always said growing up, the only thing you can control in your life is your attitude. Just everything else is a variable that you can’t predict or control.

 

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

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mark Fukunaga

 

As a child growing up in Honolulu, Mark Fukunaga said he was certain he would never join the family business. He now serves as the third generation Chairman and CEO of Servco Pacific, a company whose mantra, he says, has always been “to follow the customer.” Learn how he continues to grow and diversify the multi-billion dollar business by embracing risk and reinvention.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Mark Fukunaga Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you consider yourself a, a big risk-taker?

 

In business, you either grow or you die. I like to think even in life, you either grow or you die. You expand your knowledge, you, um, learn more about yourself, you try new things, or you die. And so…um, because everybody else is growing, so you’re receding if you don’t grow. And I think that is true of our business. So, you have to take risks. Anytime you grow, growth is risk-taking.

 

He continues to grow and innovate his family business, now in its third generation. Meet this Hawaiʻi executive 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. Mark Fukunaga of Honolulu is the third generation Chairman and CEO of Servco Pacific. The family-owned business celebrated its 100th year anniversary in two thousand nineteen. It has grown into one of Hawai’i’s largest privately-owned companies, with revenues in two thousand eighteen reported at 1.8 billion dollars. Servco Pacific is known in Hawai‘i, Guam, and more recently, Australia, for its auto dealerships, with brands including Toyota and Lexus, and its home appliance sales. Consider the business’s humble start: Mark Fukunaga’s grandfather, Peter, an immigrant from Japan, put down a twenty five dollar down payment on a two-stall auto repair shop in the rural town of Waialua on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Mark Fukunaga was just four years old when his grandfather passed away in nineteen sixty. He learned about his grandfather’s life when he read the transcript of a nineteen forties radio show that was recently discovered tucked away in a family safe.

 

My grandfather was Peter Fukunaga, and um, really an amazing guy. I mean, I….and I-I-I realize this belatedly, but he was just, um, an extraordinary, um, risk-taker, resilient, um, far-sighted, um, just an amazing guy.

 

Was he an immigrant?

 

Yeah, so he came over from Japan. Uh, he, uh, uh, was from the Hiroshima area. His father, my great-grandfather, apparently, uh, started off with some money. He apparently owned something like nine mountains up in the hills, and uh, uh, unfortunately also liked gambling, so he blew it all, and uh, I think the sons were, uh, sent away to make money. So he emigrated at the age of seventeen, um, and came to Hawai‘i, and-actually the Big Island, and um, took a job with one of the plantations; uh, a place called Kukuehaele Plantation up on the North side. So he was doing that, and then he got a job at Parker Ranch as a cook…I think probably a dishwasher and a cook, uh, and, and did that for a bit. And then he, um…I guess because he was sort of engineering-oriented, he, um, became what’s called a powder, a powder man. He basically was the guy to blow up dynamite charges to create the flues…irrigation flues through the mountain. I think he was being paid twenty dollars a month, of which he would send ten back to Japan in those days.

 

And was he intending to go back?

 

He was hoping to. he was hoping to become an engineer. I think at a certain point he said, “You know, I-I-I really need to strike out on my own.” So he moved to Honolulu after about five years on the Big Island. And all the time he, he used to carry a little English dictionary in his back pocket, so he was always trying to learn English. Um, he knew he had to learn English. He knew he had to learn about America, so um, he enrolled in Trinity Mission School. So he did odd jobs. He worked, uh, I think as a house boy, uh, and when he could he went to Trinity Mission School first grade ‘cause he didn’t know anything more than that level.

 

So he was willing to humble himself…

 

Yeah.

 

And, and risk a big move?

 

Right. At the age of twenty-two, he was in the first grade, first grade class, and…but he was a smart guy. So after a month, they promoted him to the second grade; a month later, third grade. So he went through six grades in, uh, in about, uh, six months, and then he, um, went to ‘Iolani, and unfortunately, um, because he was so, I guess you would have to say driven, he drove himself, I’m sure he wasn’t eating well or whatever, um, he ended up getting, um, tuberculosis. So he spent a year in Lē‘ahi hospital. Before that when he was a dynamite guy in the Big Island, he had a…he fell, like, thirty feet. Almost died, broke both arms, so he was in the hospital there once. He caught scarlet fever on the Big Island. That put him in the hospital. So he, he was, um, you know, he had all these setbacks but somehow he always came back.

 

Servco Pacific CEO Mark Fukunaga describes how his grandfather, Peter Fukunaga, came back after recovering from tuberculosis. He set his mind on getting into automotive sales and servicing, but he had no experience in this area, so he knocked on the doors of all three Honolulu auto dealerships in nineteen nineteen, hoping to learn the business from the ground up. Finally, one of them decided to give him a try based on his persistence.

 

So, he works there for about two months. Um, he was working on a car, and it unexpectedly, uh, pins him against the garage wall. Breaks…

 

Another setback?

 

Breaks a leg, so he’s back in the hospital; this time I think it’s Queen’s Hospital. So he’s recuperating, badly broken leg is, you know, it’s pretty, apparently a really bad injury. And while he’s in the hospital, he hears about this garage that is for sale in Hale‘iwa, what was then Waialua.

 

A garage meaning a place where you get your car fixed?

 

Yeah, yeah. So it was a two-car repair garage; repair any make. And um, um, so he says, “Great.” And he’s got twenty-five dollars in savings. That’s it.

 

That’s amazing, since he, he was in the hospital for a, twice already.

 

Yeah, right.

 

Hmm, so he saved money, too.

 

So he actually reaches out to the, uh, seller and they strike a deal. And it’s, uh, I think it’s sixteen hundred dollars and twenty-five dollars, all he has in his pocket, is the down payment, and he makes it. So he seals the deal. He limps out of the hospital bed on crutches because not healed, and he goes out to Waialua and starts running this two-car garage, and that’s the start of Servco nineteen nineteen. And uh, and apparently, so he gets this thing up and running, and then I’m reading, um, this transcript, and he says, “Then we faced a really bad depression.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, the Great Depression.” And he goes, “Yeah, the, things got really bad in nineteen twenty-one.” And apparently there was a smaller depression then, and he said, “We were faced with bankruptcy. Everyone wanted to quit.” And he said, “I just said no. We’re gonna continue. I will, I won’t get paid. I’ll do whatever it can, we can to stay alive.” And he struggled through that, and then, and then things got better in the twenties.

 

Even in nineteen twenty-nine with the, the real Depression?

 

Then he, he apparently, uh, so, again, a far, uh, sighted guy, and, he saw it coming so he started branching out into appliances. So he, he, he then started this business for, uh, electronics: Easy Radios and Easy Washers.

 

Mark Fukunaga’s grandfather, Peter, took his two-stall auto repair shop and diversified the business to include home appliances, musical instruments, financial services, and car dealerships in Wahiawa, Waipahu, and later Mapunapuna and Honolulu. He married a local girl, and as his three sons became of age, they joined him in the family business.

 

They were, uh, led by his three sons, you know, my dad and two uncles, uh, George, Ben, and Tom. Eventually, um, Ben left to do his own thing, and it’s George and Tom. And so they were a partnership that lasted, um, really thirty five years.

 

That’s pretty amazing, too…

 

Yeah.

To have family working together, I mean, that can’t be taken for granted.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It uh, you know, they, like all brothers, you know, they had their ups and downs, but they always, they always found a way to work it out, and um, and they had very different views, you know, on how to run a business, which I think was probably healthy. So they always, I think in some ways challenge each other. And um, and so they, they continue to have the Chevrolet, uh, dealership, but then um, uh, my grandfather, in, uh, really at the tail-end of his life, he decided he needed another franchise, a international, foreign franchise, and he actually, uh, went to, uh, try to get Opal out of Europe, and luckily, in retrospect, uh, he got turned down, thank God. So he then said, “Well I, I gotta…maybe I’ll go to Japan because I know they’re building cars there.” So, um, he, that’s when he went to Japan, and he, um…there’s an expression in Toyota called ‘go to the source.’ Genchi genbutsu, which is find out what you need to find out at the source. Don’t rely on other people’s words. So, he went to talk to the Tokyo cab, cab drivers and said, “Thinking of Nissan or Toyota to approach. Which car is better?” And the Tokyo cabbie said, “No, Toyota has a better clutch.” And he knocked on Toyota’s door, and they said, “Yeah, sure. We’ll give you the distributorship.” So, we actually started…we’re one of the oldest distributors in the world. Toyota really grew from about sixty-five, and that’s when the company really started to take off, but they had inherited sort of these other businesses, the appliance electronics business. My grandfather had started a finance business, became Servco Financial. Um, a music business: Easy Music. The second generation took all of that and they kind of went, you know, with, with this great success with Toyota and Chevrolet, then started really diversifying. So, um, they ended up doing everything. I, I don’t think there is a business we haven’t done. We, we, we built furniture: Hawaiiana Furniture.

 

What’s the most arcane business they’ve started or got into?

 

Oh, wow. Cosmetics. Door to door cosmetics. Pola Cosmetics, like the Avon lady. Uh, growing plants in Waimanalo, Evergreen Nursery.

 

That’s a lot of bookkeeping.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

And a lot of experimentation. Mark Fukunaga is the only child of George and Alice Fukunaga. His father, George, took over as Servco CEO from Mark’s grandfather, Peter Fukunaga, in nineteen sixty. Mark says while growing up in Honolulu, he was sure of one thing.

 

Uh, one thing I was sure of, which was I was never going to join the family business. So, um, you know, you know, I think it’s just, you know, stubborn.

 

They did expect you to, right?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It wasn’t all that explicit, but it was high…you know, it was heavily implicit that, yeah, you know, etcetera. Everything was presumed that I would do that, and I just kind of said, “Yeah, you know, I pretty much did my own thing.” So, of course I majored in philosophy, political philosophy, which is totally inapplicable. And I kind of like school, so I figured what can I do to sort of prolong this so I don’t really have to face having to like, break with the family and do my own thing, you know, so…out of all the things out there, I, I think being a lawyer would kind of preserve the optionality to do stuff, you know, government, uh, teach, private practice, nonprofit impact litigation. So, and three years of, kind of, law school is kind of…it’s, it’s intellectually interesting, but you can, you know…it’s, it’s not a bad life. So I did that for three years.

 

In Chicago?

 

Yeah.

 

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, Mark Fukunaga landed a job in New York City at a top-tier corporate law firm on Wall Street. He represented countries, including Brazil and Argentina, which didn’t have the money to pay back their loans to the United States. Mark say he liked law school more than he liked practicing law. In nineteen eighty-eight, he returned to Hawai’i to fulfil family obligations…for a time, not as a career.

 

So, yeah, I had all this family, uh, expectation and you know, when you get the ripe ol’ age when I, I, I think at that time I was thirties, um, I…Asian guilt, family obligation. I said, “Look.” I told my dad, “Look, I know you always wanted me to work in the family business. I’ll work for five years, and then after that I’m gonna do my own thing.”

 

Because now you’ve repaid him for all of your raising.

 

That was the theory. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I came back.

 

Did you see that you would enjoy it, or did you think it would be an, a total drag obligation?

 

Uh, a little bit of both. I thought it’d be good. You know, I mean it was, it was the identity of the family, so I thought it would be a good thing to learn that and to work with my dad, who was, you know, frankly kind of a workaholic, so I didn’t really know him that well; as well as I, I, I might’ve on a, on a really personal level. So I thought, “Oh, that’ll be good.” And uh, but then afterwards I’d kind of find something else. So when I came back, uh, from New York, um, I was put in to kind of rotate through the company and do, you know, a bunch of jobs to kind of learn about. And my first job was in the appliance service department, and at that time, um, General Electric, which was our main brand…um, their refrigerators had a defect, and their compressors, the thing that cools it, were failing. So we had thousands of refrigerators that were failing full of food throughout O‘ahu, and, um, I was, um, I was in that department, and it was, we were…

 

You were taking the calls?

 

We were taking the calls, and then pretty soon it was like, you know, we were, we were just dealing with this tidal wave of stuff. So, anybody who could do anything was doing anything. So, um…

 

That must’ve been the family food for the week or more…

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So that’s, that was big money people were losing…

 

Yeah.

 

Rotting in their homes.

 

Right, right. So, um, we were taking these refrigerators full of food. Food was bad, and guess who got to clean ‘em out. And…but it was…you know, I loved it. I was supposed to be there for two weeks. I ended up staying for like, four months, and they had to actually yank me out.

 

You liked cleaning gross food out of…

 

Yeah, it was…well that part wasn’t so much fun. Although I did learn that if you need to take a really bad smell out of a refrigerator, best thing is fresh lemons.

 

Just squeeze it in there?

 

Squeeze it, and then wipe it all down with fresh lemon juice, you’re great. Good to go.

 

After nearly five years of working for Servco, the company that his company founded and his father was running, Mark Fukunaga was at a crossroads with his career. Would he stay in the family business, or move on to a different path?

 

Sad thing is like on the fifth year, um, so I was already thinking, uh, what I was…whether I was gonna stay, whether I move on. But, um, we were in Guam, and unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died in front of me. Um, we were there on a trip because we had expanded to Guam as part of those forty-two businesses, and, um, unfortunately he died. So, uh, and my uncle, Tom, who was the other brother in the business…

 

So there were just two at that point?

 

Two at that point. Had terminal cancer. So, they ended up dying. You know, they’re partners for life, and they were partners ‘til death, to death. I mean, they, um, died within a year of each other. So, all of a sudden you have two people who are totally unqualified, um, my cousin, Eric, who’s Tom’s son; me, being George’s son. We’re like, “What are you gonna do?”

 

You’re, you’re not gonna leave. You’re gonna stay the course, right?

 

Of course. Yeah, so, um, we took over.

 

What changes were made by you and Eric?

 

Well, uh you know, when we came in, we just, uh, we…we sort of saw what was there. It was like, you know, as I said, some forty odd businesses, um.

 

And were they doing well?

 

When they were acquired, or we entered into it, there was some sense because Hawai‘i was, was still its own economy that was separate from the U.S. mainland. And I think, you know, we all saw it in the late eighties when Costco came, K-Mart came, and then the wave of national retailers, national banks, you know, B of A was here, everything. You know, in all kinds of parts of the economy had all of a sudden national and global competitors, and uh, it was no longer local to local, where you could match up.

 

It was not a time to be selling cosmetics door to door.

 

Exactly, yeah, so uh, it, it just kind of hit in a wave in that, that…right around nineteen ninety. And…and so when Eric and I took over in ninety-four, it was like, geez, this isn’t gonna work. And um, so we had to do some really tough things, you know, we, we, um….

 

Let people go.

 

We let some people go. Um, we shrunk, um, you know, so we sold, spun off, and closed, um, at that time thirty nine out of the forty-two businesses, and it was just one after the other.

 

And not from a personal standpoint, but from a professional standpoint, you were comfortable with that.

 

Uh, it was really hard, you know. I mean, uh, Servco is incredibly lucky to have a great board, and one of the board members, um, said to me, Dick Gushman, he said, “You know, if you, um…if you can’t do the tough things, you have no business being a CEO. If you like doing the tough things, you’re not a human.”

 

And when you operate doing the things you do, you really have to be self-aware. You have to know yourself. What have you discovered along the way?

 

Oh gosh, um, you have to, you have to be able to forgive yourself for making mistakes, you know. That’s probably the first lesson. You’re gonna make a ton of mistakes. I can…if we had three more hours, I could go through all of them. Uh, but, but it’s, it’s that. It’s being comfortable with making mistakes. I think that’s a big one.

 

You know, um, when people talk about your company and the family, I mean, they may think, “Oh, they’re in the car business. They’ve been in the car business for years. They’ve got it made.” But it does…it probably doesn’t feel like that, does it? Because the car business has changed so much, and is it a sure thing now? We’re talking about all kinds of new transportation coming online.

 

Yeah, big time. It’s totally different. I think every business out there is facing disruption.

 

Is that the biggest disruption for…uh, digital-related, internet-related?

 

I would say, I mean, it’s particularly bad in the auto business in terms of, uh, the disruption we’re facing, because I think we’re facing four different ones, one is moving from brick and mortar to digital. But in addition to that, there’s autonomous cars that will come here.

 

Where people wouldn’t need to own a car…

 

Right.

 

They would just pick up a driverless car and take it.

 

Right, yeah. You’ve got sharing, Uber, and, and now we’ve launched our own sharing service, called, uh, Hui Car Sharing. So you’ve got sharing, the sharing economy, and you marry that with autonomous vehicles, and all of a sudden, do you need to own a car?

 

 

Does that phase you?

 

It’s fascinating and terrifying because we don’t know how it all is gonna pan out, how, how lucrative, you know, or profitable, you know, sustainably profitable it can be. Um, and…but we know it’s the future. And even though, you know, frankly, some of that stuff disrupts our core business of selling and servicing cars, we know that’s what customers want. So we’re gonna…we…that’s been our mantra for a hundred years. We follow the customer; following the customer, even at the possible expense of some of our business, but we know if we follow the customer, it’s gonna be successful in the long run.

 

Uh, what’s the fourth generation looking like?

 

Um, you know, we’re lucky. I think we have some really, really talented, uh, what we call G-4’s. The fourth generations. And, uh…

 

I didn’t know there was a nickname for it.

 

Yeah, there’s a whole…yeah, if you’re in the family business world, there is, you know, G-1, G-2’s, etcetera. But, um, no, we’ve got some really talented, um, people out there, and um, I think, you know, again, this was great counsel from another one of our board members, Warren Luke, runs a family business and he said, “You know, everybody in the family always worries about the family business, but you really have to worry about is, um, the business of the family.” You know, how do you make sure that, um, younger generations are constructive, engaged, uh, productive members of society instead of living off dividends.

 

You mentioned your daughter might be interested in going into the business?

 

Yeah, I mean, you know, I’m slightly biased here. I think she’s the best thing in the world. Um, and…

 

And you have one daughter. You’re…an only child, just like yourself?

 

I have one. Only child; I’m an only child, which, which could be horrible. But she’s actually a well-adjusted, giving, um, thoughtful, uh, unspoiled person. So uh…

 

And she’s a millennial.

 

She’s a millennial. Um, she, uh, graduated from b-school, just got out of Columbia, and is now working as a management consultant.

 

What was parenting her like as a, as a…when she was a child?

 

It, it, was, uh, uh, you know, um, completely unexpected. I, I didn’t know if I was gonna be a good parent or if even I was going to like parenting, and it turned out, um, that was the best…hands down the best thing I’ve ever done. I love being a father, and uh, and uh, it was incredibly rewarding for me on all kinds of levels, but it was also influential. I mean, I, I became a different person from being, um, from being, uh, an all-in parent. You know, I learn how to be tolerant. I learn how to be patient. I learn how to appreciate curiosity and encourage curiosity, and become more curious myself because of my interactions with her. Um, so she made me a better person, yeah. She’s, uh, she’s terrific. You know, like some other folks in the family, interested in possibly joining the family business.

 

And what if one of the G’s just could care less about transportation and cars but wants to do business? Then what?

 

Then I think that’s terrific. I think, you know, every business, you know…any business this long reinvents itself, and we’ve reinvented, you know. We didn’t…we don’t do, we don’t bake muffins anymore. We don’t build furniture. Um, so every business reinvents itself. And um, I’m sure we will do…the next generation will reinvent the business again.

 

One of the businesses in which Servco Pacific still has the controlling stake is Fender Musical Instruments, makers of legendary guitars used by rock and roll artists like the Rolling Stones and the late Jimmy Hendrix. In two thousand seven, under Mark Fukunaga’s leadership, Servco expanded its Toyota dealerships into Australia, which now account for half of its automotive business and its two thousand plus employee workforce. In two thousand eighteen, Mark was named CEO of the year by Hawaiʻi Business Magazine, and he continues to grow and innovate a sprawling and successful family business, founded for twenty five dollars in Waialua, Oʻahu. Mahalo to Mark Fukunaga of Honolulu for sharing his story, and thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaiʻi. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

It-it’s about being a custodian, a good custodian. It’s not like, okay, how much dividends can we pull out of it? You know, and, and I think we all take the position that we…our identities are wrapped up in Servco, and that our role in the community is tied to Servco, so we better darn well be sure that Servco is a really good corporate citizen that does good things. Um, and we try to just…try to perpetuate that.

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Assisted Community Treatment

 

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