production

REEL WĀHINE OF HAWAIʻI

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

REEL WĀHINE OF HAWAIʻI: On the cover, clockwise from top left: Connie Flores, Heather Haunani Giugni, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, Ciara Leina‘ala Lacy, Victoria Keith and Anne Misawa

 

Since the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017, a spotlight on gender inequity in the historically male-dominated film industry has been shining brighter than ever. In April, PBS Hawaiʻi shines a local spotlight on our Islands’ own women filmmakers with a month-long presentation of their stories.

 

The presentation is anchored by the statewide broadcast premiere of PBS Hawaiʻi Presents: Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi on Thursday, April 30 at 9:00 pm. The hour-long compilation of six locally produced short films tells the stories of these Hawaiʻi-based filmmakers, taking them from behind the camera to out in front:

REEL WĀHINE OF HAWAIʻI Begins Thursday, April 30 at 9:00 pm. This presentation is sponsored by Waimea Valley, Hawaiian Airlines, DUNKIN' and PASHA HAWAII
CONNIE FLORES
Founder, Hula Girl Productions

 

HEATHER HAUNANI GIUGNI
Producer, Family Ingredients
Founder, ʻUluʻulu: The Henry Kuʻualoha Giugni
Moving Image Archive of Hawaiʻi

 

VICTORIA KEITH
Producer/camera operator, The Sand Island Story

 

CIARA LEINA‘ALA LACY
Writer/producer/director, Out of State

 

ANNE MISAWA
Director/cinematographer/producer
Associate Professor, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa-
Academy for Creative Media

 

JEANNETTE PAULSON HERENIKO
Founding Director, Hawaiʻi International Film Festival

The six short films recount each woman’s creative philosophies, challenges and triumphs in contributing to Hawaiʻi’s film industry.

 

The shorts are produced by Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking, a nonprofit organization with a mission to redress gender inequity in the film industry. The organization’s executive director, Vera Zambonelli, directed the short film on Paulson Hereniko.

 

Anne Misawa, Jeanette Paulson Hereniko and Connie Flores

 

“In Hawaiʻi, we have a strong history of women behind the camera, including Native Hawaiians and women of color,” Zambonelli said. “Most of them have never told their stories before, and their accomplishments are great. We need to research, record and disseminate this knowledge to counter the ways that academic and cultural histories regularly neglect women’s authorship and work in film and in the arts in general.”

 

The series was also a training opportunity for young graduates of Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking’s educational programs. A team of veteran filmmakers guided the graduates along the production of the six short films. “We envisioned the series as an intergenerational project, where we put our active women filmmakers to work, documenting the stories of veterans of the field, while mentoring and training the next generation of Hawaiʻi women filmmakers,” Zambonelli said.

 

Victoria Keith, Hether Haunani Giugni and Ciara Leinaʻala Lacy

 

Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi producer Shirley Thompson sums up the importance of showcasing the stories of these and other women filmmakers. “[They] aren’t getting the same opportunities as men, in terms of hiring, pay, access to financing and access to gatekeepers,” she said. “Film is a powerful medium that shapes our very society. If we exclude women from writing those stories, or deciding which stories get told, we are excluding women’s voices from shaping our society and our future.”

 

As part of our month-long celebration of Hawaiʻi women filmmakers, PBS Hawaiʻi will air these encore presentations:

 

PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall
Directed and produced by Marlene Booth
Thursday, April 2, 9:00 pm


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX

Heather Haunani Giugni
Tuesday, April 7, 7:30 pm


PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS

Under a Jarvis Moon
Co-directed and co-produced by Heather Haunani Giugni
Thursday, April 9, 9:00 pm


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX

Ciara Leina‘ala Lacy
Tuesday, April 14, 7:30 pm


PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS

Out of State
Directed and co-produced by Ciara Leinaʻala Lacy
Thursday, April 16, 9:00 pm


PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS

Strange Land: My Mother’s War Bride Story
Directed by Stephanie Castillo
Thursday, April 23, 9:00 pm


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko
Tuesday, April 28, 7:30 pm


 

 

 

JULIA CHILD:
Best Bites

 

Celebrate the first lady of cooking with Martha Stewart, Jacques Pepin, Vivian Howard, Marcus Samuelsson, Jose Andres, Eric Ripert, Rick Bayless and more. Chefs and celebrities share personal insights as they screen Julia’s most-beloved episodes.

 

 

 

Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2

 

Celebrate the legendary musical with a stellar cast including Alfie Boe, Nick Jonas, Lea Salonga, Colm Wilkinson, Norm Lewis and Ramin Karimloo. Staged by producer Cameron Mackintosh, the concert was filmed at London’s O2 Arena.

 

 

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Princess Johnson

 

Princess Johnson, whom our team welcomed at PBS Hawaiʻi for this conversation, is Creative Producer of the PBS KIDS series Molly of Denali, which follows the adventures of 10-year-old Alaska Native Molly Mabray and her friends. Johnson, of Fairbanks, Alaska, had no idea that she was preparing for a perfect opportunity when she earned a master’s degree in education while pursuing a passion for the performing arts and staying rooted to culture, with her maternal ancestry from the Neets’aii Gwich’in tribe. This combination of training, skills and culture equipped her to produce a curriculum-based Alaska series. “This is something really awesome, a life lesson: to trust where you’re at,” she says. “You do have to be ready when the opportunity comes.”

 

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

 

Princess Johnson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My mother and my grandmother are very strong women with very strong, you know, very strong spiritual foundation. And that is a lesson, you know, passed down to me, is just to – we have to be comfortable and confident in our own skin and grounded in our relationship with the Creator and with the elements around us, and humor!

 

Her mother wanted her to grow up knowing her Alaska native culture. Today she is a creative force behind PBS Kids’ Molly of Denali, the Nation’s first nationally-distributed animated children’s television series featuring an Alaska native lead character. Meet this filmmaker and community activist next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou I’m Leslie Wilcox. Princess is her first name, not her title. Princess Daazhraii Johnson of Farebanks, Alaska is the creative producer of Molly of Denali, a PBS Kids’ animated series that debuted in 2019. The concept for this show originated with producers from Boston PBS Station WGBH. The producers wanted to create a children’s show about Alaska that would involve native people on every level of production. Princess Johnson led the Alaska native advisory group that developed the characters and stories that would showcase the native cultures of Alaska.

 

Hey, there you are! Ready to sing?

Ready! And maybe you will be too because…

Oh, Molly!

Tooey and I found your friend in the picture and brought back your drum. Do you have your songs again?

I left them so far behind. They’ll need to find their way back to me.

That’s okay Schada’a. I’m just glad we could find it for you.

Molly, we’re next!

 

Princess Johnson was born to an eastern European Jewish father and a mother from Alaska’s  Neets’alii Gwich’in tribe. They met in Los Angeles. When Princess was seven years old her mother decided to raise the children in her family’s culture and language and moved them to Alaska. She left behind her husband, who didn’t care for the cold climate.

 

My mom was a single mom and we just – I just really had a transient childhood. We went a lot of times from urban to rural areas. My grandmother was living in Gwich’yaa Zhee or Fort Yukon. She had a cabin there so sometimes I’d spend a couple of my summers up there and then we were in Farebanks, Anchorage, we lived a little bit on a homestead in a place called Sterling, Alaska. We are Neets’aii Gwich’in and my mother was born in Fort Yukon. But my grandmother is originally from Stevens Village and my grandfather, Teho, was from Arctic Village. A lot of our – my generation wasn’t taught the native language and a lot of that is because the history of the Beureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. So I heard the language, I heard my grandmother and my aunties and everyone speaking the language fluently, but of course they would only really yell at us in the language or repremand us in the language, but they didn’t teach it to us. So we weren’t really immersed in it, they didn’t speak it to us consistently. I never went to a school for more than two years, so it was very weird. I always joke, like my mom didn’t get the memo that we stopped being nomadic. [LAUGHTER] At the turn of the century.

 

Even though you moved schools a lot, you did well in higher education – a masters in education. How did you manage that, to just kind of be able to move – you know, you moved around and you had continuity too?

 

I think my mother really – and my father while he was around – instilled in us a sense of curiosity about the world and also to, to be creative and to honor that creativity. And my mother and father both were writers, and my mother’s still a writer. And my grandmother wrote the first dictionary in the Gwich’in language. And so I just, I come from a long line of storytellers and people that I – that value knowledge so – and it has helped me in my life, understand the world around me and I try to keep that curiosity going all the time and I really believe we’re all life-long learners.

 

What were some of the native, the Alaskan native beliefs in your group that you hold to this day, things that perhaps Americans don’t think about.

 

Well one of the things is that from the time I was really little, my mom always asked me what I dreamt about and so therefore, I understood inherently that dreams are really important. And also, that ability, all of our traditional stories,  talk about how we as human beings – the animals actually felt sorry for us and would teach us how to do things better. And so we spoke the same language as the animals and in the Neets’aii Gwich’in tradition, you know, we have an origin story that talks about a man who became a vs’ai, a caribou and in that manner was able to teach, when he transitioned back into a human being, tell us how the caribou wanted to be respected and treated. So I pull on that a lot and I think that those indigenous values of keeping humility in tact as human beings, we are absolutely dependent upon clean water and clean air, and soil and these rich ecosystems that have evolved over millenia and we – we have to keep that humility and that balance going and that is especially relevant for us today.

 

I know there’s a real treasuring of the caribou, and I know the – I know the Alaska natives say that it’s a – you protect them. And you also eat them.

 

Not only with the vs’ai, with the caribou, but also with the salmon, or the whale, or any animal that we’re harvesting, there’s a spiritual belief that that animal is giving itself to you so that you can survive. And again, there’s that tie between – in the, like I’ve mentioned in the Gwich’in tradition of – we actually were able to shape shift into those animals. So there really is, um, a part of us – they say we retain a part of the caribou heart and the caribou retain a part of our heart, and we really do have this spiritual um, relationship that goes back thousands and thousands of years.

 

You don’t take more than you need.

 

Exactly. I think that if we listen, that the animals are messangers, that they are – they bring messages and signs. There’s a lot of stories about them also teaching us, like I mentioned, how to make things better. Um, I think that the animals, you know right now, are sending a very strong message that we need to change our behavior as human beings because we are literally destroying their habitat and ecosystems, especially when you look at the oceans, which of course we in Alaska and Hawaiʻi, and all around the world are so connected by that water body. I mean we’re all connected. We’re all connected by what happens here or by what happens in Alaska. We have very little sea ice left. That sea ice is what the rich plankton – and grows underneath and what the whales eat, and this whaling season for my Iñupiaq brothers and sisters in Utqiagvik, they usually have landed about twenty whales and they haven’t – they did’t land one. Where are those whales? Those are our brothers and sisters, those are our relatives and that’s very troubling, and it should be troubling to all of us becaus of course, those are the same whales that come here.

 

Princess Johnson of Alaska grew up steeped in the stories and traditions of her native Gwich’in culture. She bristled at restrictive government and policies that she said, failed to value indigenous culture and protect Alaskan lands. And she developed a passion to safeguard her heritage.

 

My mother and my grandmother are very strong women with very strong, you know, very strong spiritual foundation. And that is a lesson, you know, passed down to me, is just to – we have to be comfortable and confident in our own skin and grounded in our relationship with the Creator and with the elements around us, and that resilency um, is something that you know, and humor can’t forget the humor!

 

Cause sometimes, that’s all you can do, right, is laugh?

 

Exactly, Exactly! Is keeping, you know, not taking ourselves too seriously.

 

Did you ever feel as you grew up, that you were less than because of your native, indigenous background?

Honestly I did and that is because of the history of colonization and the U.S. assymilation as policies that engrained in us as native people, that we were less than, that we should be ashamed of our language and our culture and who we were. And when I was very little, I didn’t know the true history, it wasn’t taught in public schools. I didn’t know about the Bereau of Indian Affairs schools, that my mother was sent away and hit with a ruller by the matrens for speaking Gwich’in until I asked her when I was in middle school: “Mom, why didn’t you teach us the language?” And then she told me that story and it was such an eye-opener.

 

She was told you must be a Westerner, you must be –

 

Yeah!

 

You must get out of this routine of the tribe.

 

Yes, exactly. And that what we now know in turn, historical trauma is a real thing. And I feel like a lot of my childhood in Alaska, I was carrying around a sadness that I had no explanation for why am I so sad? And that depression – that only made sense when I learned the true history of what had happened to our people and how we had um, you know, a Western education and the Missionaries, etc. had literally came in and said “This is of the Devil, this is – you’re savages. You need to start acting like civilized, um, people,” which of course, you know, was the worst thing that could’ve happened to us as indigenous people. So that’s really, um, to be able to um, learn those true histories and to think critically about  um, about those histories and how relevant that is today, is really, really imporant.

 

Well how do you claim, or reclaim your heritiage?

 

By learning the language, keeping it alive, and we have so many people that are doing that right now, really working at revitalizing and maintaining our languages, ther’s – there’s been some exchanges actually, between my tribe – people, tribal members um, coming here to Hawaiʻi to learn from the immersion schools and the success of immersion schools here and now they have, my son is actually in a Koyukon immersion program that just started a couple years ago. And how do we really know who we are and where we’re going if we don’t know where we came from? And keeping that tie – regardless so, you know, we have a tie to our ancestors, and I think keeping that alive and acknowledging it is a good thing. We honor those that came before us and we really need their wisdom  and that experience to figure out what is the way forward. So it’s not unique to indigenous people, that pressure to homoganize and become American, I mean I think everyone that came to this country felt that.

 

But not everyone was colonized.

 

Most people around the world – indigenous people.

 

I mean, most of the people came in through Elis Island, I think

 

Right

 

were not – I mean…

 

But I would say the common colonizer mentality and the worldview of looking at nature as something that is outside of ourselves and “othering” nature. This sense of removal of “Oh, who cares if they’re going to drill for oil in the north slope of Alaska, what does it have to – how is it going to affect me? Thereʻs hardly any people up there.” That mentality is so damaging and it – I believe it’s the reason why we’re at this precipice right now. You know, I’ve worked a lot with my community, um, over the years, um, on protection of the coastal plane, the birthing ground of the porcupine caribou herd. And if you look at the language that has been used in the past, a lot of it has to do with “there’s nothing up there, it’s barren land,” which of course is the opposite of what’s actually happening up there – is that there’s all this life happening there and literally calving grounds where up to 40,000 calves are born in a two-week period of time, and my community, that’s how we’ve sustained ourselves, is having this sacred relationship with that caribou herd.

 

And yet it’s a hard sell when a large percentage of America defines wealth as money and also sees the land and animals for dominion.

 

Exactly, and we can go back to the doctrine of discovery in the 1400’s, which really dictated and is still um, valid today, it’s related to manifest destiny and this sentiment that you know, we have to go develop these resources. The timber’s there for us – the woods are there for us –

 

Control…

 

To control. And so that, that mentality has been very damaging for us.

 

You did very well in Western school and while maintaining your culture. But that must be really hard to do.

 

It is, I mean I think it’s a constant challenge and I don’t think you magically get to this place where you’re like, “I am decolonized and I’m totally…”

 

I’m making my own choices

 

Yeah

 

whatever I want to do.

 

Well I mean, it is a constant learning and balancing act and so, there’s things that you know, you take and you go, “okay, that’s relevant for me and I can utilize that in my life and it is in line with my values.” So I think that, as long as you’re like, you know – and that’s the wonderful thing I think about our indigenous values, is that it’s not just about the individual, it’s about the entire community and we have an obligation to our communities, wherever we live, um to keep in mind um, the good of everyone and not just ourselves. And I think in American society and culture, there’s been so much emphasis on just the individual and um, and again, that’s part of the predicament we’re in right now.

 

And that’s binary, right, those two things don’t go together. Yeah, it’s so hard to balance when one excludes the other.

 

It is, it is. And um, which is why I really am excited about any opportunity that we have to share our values about the world and to live those values, um, is really necessary right now, to tell these stories that include a sense of hope for the future.

 

Princess Johnson’s values, stories and concerns about the future have all come together in her role as Creative Producer for Molly of Denali. She says this national PBS kids’ show is an opportunity to change stereotypes rooted in the past.

 

It’s been such a blessing to be involved with the production of Molly of Denali, you know because of being able to incorporate our Alaska native values. Because we get to inform, for really the – for me, on a big scale – the first time that we’re saying: “Well, this is what we’d like to do,” you know, “This is who we are and this is how we appear to the world.” Not this stereotypical, um, maybe negative stereotype that everyone is used to, but this beautiful, joyous, curious, um, little girl who is part of a community that loves and embraces her, and gently steers her in the right direction when she goes off course. So it’s been amazing and – to be a part of that.

 

And Molly is clearly navigating both worlds. She’s checking out online, she’s doing maps and she’s talking with her indigenous elders, and I mean, she’s just making use of resources available to her in the modern world.

 

Exactly. So I think showing ourselves in that modern context when people want to relegate us to the past, or they have their notions of who we are, is really important because we are breaking down then, those old stereotypes of who we are as a people. And we are resilient and dynamic, and we’re absolutely you know, navigating all of those worlds.

 

[SINGING]

A lee ya o’hee a hey heeya
Eh hoo e hey e hey hey

A lee ya o’hee a hey heeya
Eh hoo e hey e hey hey

Lelghele hodee

Eh hoo e hey e hey hey

Seyeegg-ah sodelts’eeyh 

Seyeegg-ah sodelts’eeyh

Lelghele (La hey la)  hodee

Lelghele (La hey la)  est’aanh 

Eh hoo e hee e hee hey

A lee ya o’hee a hey heeya
Eh hoo e hey e hey hey

 

When Molly of Denali was created, it could’ve gone in a lot of different ways. How did you decide what her character would be like and also, did you decide at all to touch on, I know it’s a children’s show but, touch on painful and sensitive issues?

 

So really that is – was a collective um, decision, what Molly was going to look like – what, with the Alaska native advisors on our entire production team and really that is the beautiful thing about the project, is when you have all of those different voices, even though sometimes it seems like a lot of different you know, voices at the table, you get a end result that just resonates so much more. So really, um, the more people involved, the better. I come from a community organizing background and when we collectively come to the table and we value everybody’s input and not one person’s voice is better than the other, then I think we get that, that like, better end result that feels authentic to everybody.

 

Were you liery when you were dealing with the PBS people, the WGBH producers?

 

I was a little trepidatious at the very beginning but what I learned was that the people at WGBH and PBS were very – they were good at listening and hearing what we had to bring to the table as Alaska native people and what we wanted to see –

 

And they valued it.

 

They valued it and they acted on it. So as soon as we came and said: “We want native people involved, we really want – you know, we really want people involved at every level of production,” then you know, WGBH and PBS said: “Okay, let’s – how are we going to make this happen?” And it was really a matter of them – the producing part of it and how do we do this, how does it look like on the ground? And so in that way, my trepidation kind of went away and we were able to build trust, but you know, you have to be able to build that trust when you’re working in a fast paced, dynamic production.

 

I’m just wondering how you were prepared to jump into Molly of Denali, what was your training, did you know this is what you’d be doing one day?

 

I didn’t know that I would be in animation but I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I always knew some – inherently, that I was a storyteller and that I was drawn to the performing arts. So you know, I have a background in acting and theatre, and had done some independent films, I wrote, directed and produced a short film and had been exposed to – you know, Iʻve lived in Los Angeles and had been fortunate enough to be a fellow through the Sundance Film Institute, so I went through their writer/director/producers’ labs, so it’s something that I had been working towards, although somewhat circutously, because of course I left LA and came back home to work more in my own community –

 

And when you went to college, you majored in International Relations.

 

I did, yeah. At that point, it wasn’t until I got done with my undergrad that I really decided to go in the direction more of, of film and theatre, and storytelling. Um, so – and this is something you know, a really awesome, I think, life lesson is just to trust where you’re at and you do have to be ready when the opportunity comes. And I had given a lot of thought and steeped myself in that, in that education, I mean, I didn’t even know I was going to get my masters in education, but absolutely relevant to the work that I’m doing right now.

 

Absolutely! Curriculum-based. 

 

Yeah! I mean, I really wish I had a show like this growing up, it wouldʻve meant so much to me to see our children um, celebrating and feeling proud of who we are. My own sons who are four and nine, they’re kind of – one of them is more on the shy side and I bring them to, you know, traditional gatherings where there’s drumming and singing, they’ve always been kind of shy about it, but when we had our premiere for the show, they got up on stage with me and they were dancing so hard and they were so proud, and to see that, to know that I was not proud at their age, because at that time there wasn’t a cele – there wasn’t that big celebration – it just is um, it’s amazing, I just don’t even have words for how good that makes my spirit feel. We should all feel good about who we are and celebrate our rich heritage where, wherever that comes from.

 

The new national childrens’ series Molly of Denali airs every weekday on PBS Hawaiʻi at 10:00 a.m. and is also featured on our second on-air and online channel PBS Kids 24/7. Mahalo to Princess DaazhraiiJohnson of Farebanks, Alaska for visiting our studion in Honolulu and sharing her stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, Im Leslie Wilcox, aloha nui.

 

Were there certain dreams that were considered revealing, insightful, a tipoff about something?

 

Yeah all the time. I think that um, I’ve had some really amazing um, teachers in the dream world and things revealed to me, and I used to be really diligent about writing my dreams down (and) as I’ve gotten more busy and have children of my own, that doesn’t happen so much anymore. But I think there’s something to be said, I mean, even daydreaming, finding that time, that quiet time to um, to meditate and to ask a question, and then be open for you know, what those signs are and messages, you know, we talked about the animals bringing those messages and I feel like if you are – keep that humility in your heart cause we don’t have the answers to everything, but we need to ask the questions.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes, a 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.

 

 

 

KEN BURNS:
Country Music

COUNTRY MUSIC: A Film by Ken Burns

 

Learn about the making of the epic documentary series devoted to the history of this truly American art form. Features interviews with Ken Burns, Rosanne Cash and members of the filmmaking team.

 

 

 

LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve 2019: Sondheim Celebration

LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER: New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve 2019: Sondheim Celebration

 

The New York Philharmonic and guest vocalist Katrina Lenk (“The Band’s Visit”) celebrate the orchestral music of Stephen Sondheim, performing suites from “Sunday in the Park,” “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd” and more

 

This program will encore at 10:30 pm.

 

 

 

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]

 

 

Jordan and Aaron Kandell
Hollywood Screenwriters in Honolulu

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

The Kandell brothers on the set of Adrift. Photo courtesy of Aaron and Jordan Kandell

 

Twins share DNA, but Jordan and Aaron Kandell share a whole lot more.

 

“We’ve always been interested in the same everything: same sports, same books, same careers,” says Aaron. “Anything that’s not sharing and having it, like us going to a movie theater by ourselves to watch a movie, feels weird.”

 

The Kandell brothers as young children. Photo courtesy of Aaron and Jordan KandellTo date, the brothers have never confirmed whether they are fraternal or identical twins, but they suspect they’re the latter. Their parents, the brothers say, were only expecting one child.

 

“The doctors said, ‘Wait, we have another pair of feet in here,’” Aaron says.

 

Jordan and Aaron now have their own young families, and live next door to each other in the Mānoa neighborhood in Honolulu. Despite so many shared interests and so much time spent together, the brothers insist that they never tire of each other’s company.

Jordan and Aaron Kandell on LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX premiering Tuesday, December 10 at 7:30 pm“It was always supportive; we always liked to do the same things,” Jordan says. “It was kind of better together. There was never any other version of it.”

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jordan and Aaron Kandell

 

Among everything else they share in their lives: Hollywood screenwriting credits. The ʻIolani School grads co-penned the 2018 drama Adrift, based on a true story about a couple stranded in the middle of the Pacific after a hurricane.

 

Disney’s Moana, released in 2016, was co-written by the Kandell brothersThey were also on the screenwriting team behind the 2016 Disney animated film Moana. The project existed for three years before the brothers came into the picture. They say that by then, the story had lost its way. The brothers helped flesh out the storyline and characters, and connect major plot points.

 

Disney’s Moana, released in 2016, was co-written by the Kandell brothers

 

Jordan and Aaron also got rid of previously written characters that Jordan says were “culturally insensitive.” They brought in cultural advisors to provide guidance on the film’s wayfinding elements, and “the cultural values we just grew up with that might drive Moana through her journey,” Jordan says.

 

The Kandells’ journey toward their dream career as screenwriters was not an easy one. “It took four years to sell our first [script],” Aaron says. “It took 10 [years] till Moana. That whole 10-year journey was informative and challenging, before you kind of figure out how to read the swells and steer the canoe.”

 

Says Jordan: “If you’re gonna take every ‘no’ personally, I don’t know how you move forward.”

 

The brothers credit their outlook on life to their mother, Sherri, whose curiosity and fearlessness they admire. Aaron says she would always tell them this when they were kids: “The only thing you can control in your life is your attitude. Everything else is a variable that you can’t predict or control.”

 

 

 

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
Harrisburg, PA, Part 1 of 3

 

Celebrate ROADSHOW’s new season with a first-time visit to Harrisburg. Treasures include a Pennsylvania Dutch coffeepot, an 1892 H. F. Farny painting, and a Rene Lalique necklace. Which is valued at $200,000-$300,000 during an emotional appraisal?

 

 

 

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