voice

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Arciero

 

Hidden beneath the antics of Sesame Street characters, you’ll find a principal puppeteer who hails from ʻĀina Haina in East Honolulu. Pam Arciero has been with the children’s series for nearly 40 years, primarily as Oscar the Grouch’s girlfriend, Grundgetta. Arciero got her start in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. There, she joined a summer program in puppetry – one that would change the course of her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Pam Arciero Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

How would you describe how you were in class?

 

I was kinda the loudmouth.  I mean, I spent a lot of time being told to be quiet.

 

Surprise!

 

And you built on that for your career.

 

I built on that. Yeah; that really made it … you know, it’s—it’s who you are. And really, every puppet is a part of you. You have to find that part of yourself that connects directly to the character in order to make it believable and real.

 

Meet this Honolulu native from ‘Āina Haina who is now a principal puppeteer on Sesame Street… next on 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. The characters of Sesame Street have become iconic staples of children’s programming – but have you ever thought about the people beneath the puppets? One of them, a principal puppeteer of the longtime children’s series, was born and raised in East Honolulu, and she’s my fellow Kalani High School grad – Pam Arciero. For more than three decades, she’s played Oscar the Grouch’s better half — or shall we say, grouchier half? – Grundgetta.

 

What are some of the great moments between Oscar the Grouch and girlfriend—your character—

 

Grundgettta.

 

–Grundgetta?

 

Um, well, we were gonna get married.  That was very exciting.  And then, we thought that uh, getting married would make us happy.  And being grouches, we don’t want to be happy. And so, we decided to call off the wedding at the last minute.  And then—but little did we know that actually, most people are not happily married, and so, we would have been perfectly happy. Who’s not a grouch; right?  There are times when you just a really grouchy.  And she—uh, she—also, she says exactly what she’s thinking at any given time.  You know, so that’s kind of a … in a world where you really do need to be circumspect a lot, you know, not … to offend anybody.  She just says what she’s feeling.  You know.  [GRUNDGETTA VOICE] That’s a hideous outfit.  You know, she’ll just go there.  So …

 

I know you took over that role from someone else.

 

Yeah; Brian Muehl had done it for one year, and I’ve done her now for thirty-four years.  So …

 

Did he give you any advice?  I mean, on how to play this woman grouch?

 

No.

 

He said: You’re—you’re the perfect person for this; you—I’ve seen you be a grouch.  And he handed it to me.

 

Oh, that’s it.

 

Basically.

 

Thank you for mentoring.

 

And I worked with him, yeah, on—on different shows, so he knew, he knew me a little bit.  So, he says: Yeah, it’s totally—y—you do it your way, ‘cause you know her better.

 

And you do other puppets as well.

 

Yeah.

 

Background, and who else?

 

Right.  That’s part of the—there are two skillsets you have to have.  Besides just doing a main puppet and a character, you do have to be able to um, do backgrounds.  And backgrounds are just like every dog, frog, cat, fish, bat; you name it, you get to so that stuff.  And then, there is assisting.  And assisting is actually a pretty major thing, and I actually love assisting.  Because you watch the other performer figure out how to do all these things.  And that is because some of the characters have um, two hands, like Ernie and um, Telly Monster has two hands.  And I consistently have been Telly Monster’s right hand for about 30 years.

 

Is that the important hand?

 

No, not really.  But it’s a balance.  Because your hand is in the head of the puppet, and then, your other hand is here—the left hand, usually.  And then, the right hand comes in, and you have to match and do everything in synchron- synchron- synchronicity with the other character, the other hand.  And it has to look natural.  It can’t look like this hand is doing this.

 

Right.

 

You know, you can’t be talking with this hand so… And movement is so important in puppetry.  In order to get a believable character, you have to break down the movement and take everything you do with the whole body, and do it between your elbow and your fingertips to make it … you believe that this is alive.  And you know, Bert—Bert moves differently than Ernie; right?  Bert’s very stiff when he walks, and Ernie’s kinda lumbering, and cute, and funny.  Um, and so, having a movement background is very great for puppetry, because you are breaking down the movement all the time in your head, and putting it, again, between your wrist and your elbow, and making people believe that Ernie is walking this way, and Bert is walking this way, very stiffly.  So, that analysis, the ability to analyze movement, and then put it into the character, is huge for me.

 

To be a puppeteer at your level, you also have to have lots of physical agility and strength.

 

Yeah; yeah.  We—we keep up.  I mean, when you work—when I first started working, and I first started working with Jim Henson, we did a hundred and ten shows in six months.  So, you were working every single day.  And I remember the first week I started, I was working in New York, and it was cold, and I was gonna get a cab home, and I’d been working all day.  And now, we work eight, ten hours a day with our arm like this, right?  We were walking, try and get a cab, and going… Somebody else, could you hail the cab?  I can’t lift this arm.

 

Oh …

 

I couldn’t do it, ‘cause it literally was that- that challenging.

 

And then, the focus to have everything between your hand and your elbow …

 

Yeah; that’s—it’s directing all your—all your energy—

 

Effort there.

 

Yes, right.  And it has to be alive, and all your acting goes into that little piece.  You know, so it’s—you learn it, and it takes a long time.  Really.  Uh, I—nobody walks in off the street and becomes um, um, a television puppeteer.  You just can’t.  Between the fact that we have three cameras, and—

 

Taking close-ups. 

 

Close-ups, and wide shots, and far shots, and you have to ride those three cameras looking at the monitor.  And the focus of the pup—the reason we do that is, the eyes don’t really see.  So, I’m looking at you right now, but a puppet might not be in the shot, because the eyes are stationary.  So, you have to learn to do that with each camera.  And every camera cut, you have to adjust the focus just enough to be alive, and looking down the barrel of the camera.

 

Right; all those intricacies.

 

So, that just takes time.  It just takes exposure um, to—to the process to being … all the details of what we do, it’s very, very—

 

Well, it also doesn’t look physically comfortable when we see you— I mean, and you’re right up against other puppeteers.

 

Right.  If you’re comfortable, you’re doing it wrong, is the rule of thumb [CHUCKLE] that we have among the puppeteers.

 

And yet, you love the work.

 

Oh, I love the work.  Uh, there’s nothing I’d rather do.

 

When you work with your gang on Sesame Street, everybody knows you’re from Hawai‘i, even though you haven’t lived here for many years.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

But you certainly visit.

 

Yeah; uh-huh.

 

But how do they know?

 

Well, I often have a flower in my hair, and I—I often dress in Hawaiian clothes.  In the middle of winter, you’ll see me in a Hawaiian print shirt with, you know, sweater underneath, and tights, and … And I kinda talk about it a lot.  And sometimes, I’ll slip into a Hawaiian accent—you know, I’ll do a Pidgin accent when they’re giving me a hard time. Eh, what; I owe you money?

 

And you also created a character who speaks Pidgin.

 

Yes, I did.  Um, we had an outreach kind of Baby Muppets series.  And um, so it was Baby Big Bird, and Baby Cookie Monster, and Baby Abby Cadabby—different ones.  So, I played Auntie Nani, Big Bird’s auntie who took care of him as a baby bird.

That was very exciting, and I was able to push that Hawaiian influence in.  ‘Cause then they said: Well, maybe we’ll go Jamaican.  And I go: Well, you gotta get a Jamaican person, because I can’t do that one, for sure.  But they liked the idea that he was from Hawai‘i.

 

Nobody around you could really relate to the dialect, right?

 

Not too much.  But they could understand it.  That’s the advantage to Pidgin; it’s quite understandable.

 

M-hm.

 

Jamaican Patois—‘cause I worked in Jamaica a fair amount, is almost—if they speak quickly, you will just not—you can’t believe it’s even English, ‘cause it is so fast.  And so, they also do much more in-words; you know, words that only they understand.  But Pidgin is pretty understandable, by most—

 

And that was the whole point, right, in the plantation days, so that everybody could understand each other.

 

Each other; right.  So, that was the basis for it.

 

 

It was here in Hawai‘i where Pam Arciero, a creative since childhood, got her first taste of puppetry, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa… and caught the attention of a visiting lecturer, a renowned puppet and costume designer.

 

 

I was getting a drama and dance degree at University of Hawai‘i. The gals I was hanging out with at the University had a puppet troupe called Mo‘olelo Ki‘i ‘Ilima.  And it was kinda- more or less sponsored by the University of Hawai‘i drama department.  That was Tammy Hunt was there at time, and she was wonderful uh, Theater for Youth teacher, and taught puppetry as well.  And so, she encouraged us to do shows…

…and we would do—go out into the community and do these little Hawaiian story puppet shows for umm, pretty much every elementary. I mean, I played every elementary school in the State of Hawai‘i.  I’d been in every auditorium at that time. That just sort of led me to saying: Hm, this is interesting, this is good; I can make a little money.  ‘Cause we made a little money doing it.  And then, they said: Well, this man’s coming to teach this summer; maybe you want to be in it.  And I said: What?  And they said: His name’s Kermit Love, he works with the Muppets, and he’s coming to teach this summer course, so you should take it with us. So, I said: Okay, sounds great.  And um, so I did, and he was wonderful. Kermit umm, was the man who built Big Bird, and designed Snuffleupagus, and he was a famous costume designer.  At the time, he was already long white hair, long white beard; it looked like you were taking a class with Santa Claus. But he’d already worked with Agnes de Mille, and Mr. Balanchine at the ballet, he’s built costumes and puppets for them.  So, he was just world renowned, and you were just like: Oh!

 

So, he was named Kermit before any other Kermit.

 

Yes. The story is—Jim Henson and Kermit Love lived in the same apartment building, and the doorman said: You know, Jim, there’s someone who’s named Kermit in this building; I think you should meet him.  And so, they met, and they realized that they had so many similar interests, and then Jim hired Kermit into the—

 

But there was already Kermit the Frog at that point.

 

Kermit the Frog existed, and Kermit Love was way older than that. So, that’s how they connected.

 

Oh …

 

And- and just- he was a wonderful influence; wonderful mentor.

 

And didn’t he want you to get into puppetry right away?

 

Who?

 

Kermit Love.

 

Yes, he did. Probably ‘cause I was really, like, gaga about puppets. Well ‘cause once I found it, when you find what you love, you just can’t stop, you know, obsessing about it.  Just like being in love with someone, you’re in love with what you’re doing, so you just keep every- every detail.  And then, I think because I was so willing to just learn, and learn, and learn, and practice, and practice, and practice, hours, and hours, and hours standing in front of a monitor and camera to get that right.  And I still do.  I will still rehearse when I’m not working.  If I haven’t been on camera for a month, I’ll pull out my video camera or—you know, now it’s so easy ‘cause you can flip up your computer and just work in, and make sure that everything’s working properly in your body.  Because the other thing, it’s reversed; right?  The monitor is backwards.

 

Oh, that’s right.

 

So, when you have your hand up and you move this way, it goes that way on the picture.  And so, if you don’t have your—there’s a point where you brain just clicks it over, and it makes perfect sense.

 

 

Physical agility, creative interpretation, and hours of practice – these qualities were instilled in Pam Arciero long before her time at the University of Hawai‘i. Since she was a little girl, Arciero loved everything about the arts.

 

 

I always loved um … dance and ballet, and play-acting was kind of what I did a lot of.  And I loved playing with dolls and small figures, actually, as a kid.

 

And did you talk—did they talk to each other?

 

Oh, yeah.  I—

 

Did you make the voices?

 

Yeah, not so much.  But actually, I did; when I watched TV, I always imitated voices as well.  That was really fun to me, to try and copy voices.  So, of course, my parents thought that was an extremely odd thing, but they—you know: Go ahead.  Um, and so … as a kid, I never thought I would be anything—I thought I would be maybe a ballet dancer, uh, maybe an actress. I like to sing, I like to make stuff, art stuff, so I kinda just liked doing all of the arts.  That was very interesting to me.  Not so good on the math side, but—

 

What about singing?

 

Singing; I always sang.  Yeah; I always sang a little bit.  And you know, once I was in high school, I was in chorus, and all the different things.  Um, and we did uh, acting, a little bit of the plays at Kalani. But everyone said: That’s not a real job; what are you gonna do, what are you gonna do?  And I just went: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know; maybe I’ll be a ballet teacher, maybe I’ll be a schoolteacher,  maybe I’ll be …

 

I know your father was in the Army as an officer, and then he was a Matson executive.

 

Right.

 

Did he have any thoughts about what you should do?

 

His encouragement really would have just been—he was very much about being who you are.  Which was kind of unusual in those days; right? He was a very romantic and—uh, soul.  And I think—I think the war was very hard on him, which is why he would—you know, he’d often … he’d recite poetry and go off on these kind of tangents with me. But like many World War II people, they never spoke about what really happened.

 

Right, there are not a lot of details.

 

There’s no details about what it was, but you could just tell.  He’d just go: You know, life is really short, you just can’t.

 

That was that generation. They didn’t talk about it.

 

It was that generation; they did not tell you what happened to them.  They did not.  So, they would react.  And you know, like many men of his generation, they always—they would … tie one on pretty frequently.  You know, they’d get drunk, and they’d start rambling these different stories.  But not much detail of what those stories were.  But he would also do funny voices.  And part of—I think my ability to get funny voices was to make him laugh, while I made funny voices too.

 

Oh …

 

You know, and he loved humor and poetry, and dancing, and music.  So, it was a- umm, a very—he was a very interesting man.

 

And what about your mom?

 

My mom is also—was also in arts and crafts.  She loved Hawaiiana, she was always in a Hawaiian civic club or in a—um, what were they called, the U.E., United—they had ladies clubs in those days, and she was always starting one in the neighborhood so that they could learn how to make Hawaiian quilts, or they could make recipes and stuff.  So, she was very uh, involved mom, and active um—

 

And so, both artsy parents.

 

Somewhat; yeah.

 

Arts-oriented parents.

 

Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s true, in comparison to some others.  Yeah.

 

You know, our parents did lots of backyard hula, luau kinda things, you know.  Um … and … she was a very fun person.  I just loved being with her.  And she didn’t really sing, but she would try.  And like I said, she would sing with the Hawaiian Civic Club and do different things, and so, the inspiration was always, with her, the community that was happening.  And her neighborhood community, all her—all my aunties in the neighborhood, they would have coffee every day together, and it was that kind of, you know, old school style.

 

Was she a stay-at-home mom?

 

She was a stay-at-home mom until I was about thirteen.  And then, um … during the war, she um … her college education was interrupted by the war.  So—and we all know what the war in Hawai‘i ‘The War’.  Um—

 

World War II. 

 

World War II; the only war.  Um, and she always tells the famous story, I know many people have talked about this, being in boats and picking up on Pearl Harbor Day coming, picking up stuff.  Um, and in fact, my grandfather, who was half Japanese, um, was driving by Pearl Harbor.  He was a single guy, and uh, he had been at a girlfriend’s house and was coming home.

 

It was about seven in the morning when—

 

Yeah.

 

–the bombs came.

 

Right.  Um, and apparently, they spotted him and picked him up, and they arrested him.

 

Oh, for being AWOL?

 

No; for being a Japanese spy, they thought.  And so, my father had to go and bail him out two days later once everything settled.  They—they pulled him out of jail, took him home, and say: No, he’s just—he’s a dentist.  You know.  He’s a local Japanese dentist.  And he wasn’t even all, he was half Japanese.  So, um … but she’d always tell story about that—stories about that, and that, and you know, after Pearl Harbor, hel—helping to uh, recover bodies and parts, and stuff, you know, and boats.

 

And she did that?

 

She did that.  She worked for U.S.E.D.  We always sang that song when I was a kid.

 

U.S.E.D.?

 

Yes, you know.  Fifty cents an hour, four bucks a day.  Um …

 

Mm.

 

So, she had those stories.  And then, you know, my father was … I guess everybody at that time was pretty much involved with the war in some form or another.

 

And what about culturally; what would you say your culture was, growing up?

 

My father, being Italian from the East Coast, brought certain sets of ideas.  Some of it was sort of the macho Italian stuff.  And then, my mom; she’s, you know, Hawaiian, Japanese, English, kinda local stuff.  So, our culture really was a mix of that.  And uh, I would lean towards Japanese culture, was sort of where our comfortable wheelhouse was, and then a lot of Italian spaghetti stuff.  So, I always like to say: I don’t know whether to have sushi, or spaghetti. You know, is kind of where I came from.

 

And you had a big family, too.

 

Yeah; there was five of us.  Is still five kids.  Um, and that was … you know, they were spaced out rather well; we’re about five years apart, for the most part.  So—

 

So, you get along.

 

Yeah.  You have an—always an older—older sibling doing something.  And it was bad.  When I went to Niu Valley, every single class I went to, my three older siblings had had that teacher.  So, they had expectations of what you were gonna be like, and it was like, I was never that—you know, whatever they—

 

You were different from the other kids?

 

Absolutely.  Every one of us were different from each other, you know.  So …

 

How would you describe how you were in class?

 

Umm, I was kinda the loudmouth.  I mean, I spent a lot of time being told to be quiet. Surprise!

 

And you built on that for your career.

 

I built on that. Yeah; that really made it … you know, it’s—it’s who you are.  Um … and I think that’s really one of the things always in my life, I’ve tried to strive for; just to be who you are.  ‘Cause you can’t be anybody else, really.

 

But how ironic too, because you’re always becoming other people, or other puppets—

 

That’s where I become other people.  That’s where you get to look at other people, and make fun of other people. By choosing their character traits, and rolling them into a puppet.  You know.  Um … an—and getting to explore—and really, every puppet is a part of you.  I mean, there’s that—you have to connect to it on some level, just like any acting role.

 

M-hm.

 

You have to find that part of yourself that connects directly to the character in order to make it believable and real.

 

These days, when she isn’t bringing characters to life on Sesame Street and other programs, Pam Arciero travels around the world to perform live or train aspiring puppeteers. She’s proud to serve as Artistic Director of the annual National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

 

 

I had no idea that being in your field, you would be asked to go all over the world to teach, and to—

 

Yeah.

 

–perform, and—

 

Yeah.

 

It’s been—you’ve been everywhere.

 

Pretty much.  Um, I… I’m lucky that way.  I—I always wanted to travel.  Um, and so, pretty much, I go and I work.  I think … the most unusual place I went, I put in a—a large acting show in Saudi Arabia.  Um, and of course, there—this was about four years ago, three years ago.  Um … and they’re very repressive of women, um, as you probably know. Uh, I had to wear an abaya to work with my guys when we were outdoors.  But it’s a very schizophrenic thing, ‘cause once you’re indoors, you can take off the abaya, which is the black—the scarf and the black, and you can wear anything you want.  And we would work and rehearse, and do all our things, and then once I stepped—once I had to go outside, I’d have to get all dressed up to even just get in a car to go back to my hotel.  Um, and you had to eat separately; women eat separately from men there, if you’re alone.  Um—

 

Were the puppeteers squished up against each other, male and female?

 

No; they were the dancing ones.  They were the big—

 

Oh, I see.

 

–dancing, and they were all male.  There would be no females.  Yeah.  Females aren’t allowed to work.

 

How did they like a female directing them?

 

The guys liked it, ‘cause they were young men, and they keep—they all said to me: Pam, five years, it’s gonna change; I’m telling you, it’s gonna change. And I’m like: Yeah.  But umm, I would do semi-submersive things—subversive things.  Like, uh, if we did a song about driving, which we had a song called “Let’s Go Driving In An Automobile,” I made sure the one female character Khokha, which is umm, an Arabian character, she’s in all the Middle Eastern productions—she drove the car.  Because they couldn’t drive; women can’t drive.  So, I made sure the girl was always the one driving.  And then, we had this little thing where uh, Ernie and Bert teach you car safety.  And if you go through—and all the things—seatbelt, and you know—

 

Mm.

 

–all the things about being safe in a car—don’t hang out the window, then you would get a driver’s license.  And we made sure that every girl got a driver’s license and would go home and say: Mom, look, I have a driver’s license. Now, that just changed; right?  They just recently changed to have driver’s licenses.  So, that actually is a li—more of a change than I expected.  But the guys really said to me, when I—the guys I worked with really thought it would be completely different in five years, that it would be a much more open society.  And I just think it’s gonna take a lot longer than that.

 

What about women in puppetry?

 

So now, it is better.  It’s still not great.  If you look at the Muppets, the main Muppet guys are still six guys.  There’s no woman there.  But Sesame Street, we have five really strong women puppeteers, and we have nine really strong men.  That’s our core of puppeteers.  So, that balance has gotten much better.  And it’s a difficult thing, ‘cause not—initially, not that many women wanted to be puppeteers. It sounded—You know, if you’re an attractive woman who does a lot of voices, you can be a comedienne or an actress.  Why would you hide under a puppet; right?  And in fact, I was doing a show called The Great Space Coaster, and our guest was Steve Allen.  And he was playing the piano, and I was hiding under the piano doing the puppet on the side of him.  And the g—the human who was in our cast came out, and she—he’s talking to her, and I’m talking with him as a puppet.  And he looks at her and he says: Well, you’re not a puppeteer; right?  You’re much too attractive to be a puppeteer.  And so I stood up like this and looked at him, and said: What?  And he goes: Well, I didn’t mean—I said: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  And got back under the piano and went back to being a puppeteer.  But I didn’t get insulted by Steve Allen. Not many people can say that.

 

And you stood up and said you wouldn’t take that. 

 

Yeah.

 

So, better, but there’s still not a big infusion of women.

 

There’s still not a lot. Yeah, yeah. I mean, we’re working on it; we’re tr—constantly looking for women who are skilled, and training new women in.  And again, it takes a long time; you have to have the patience.  And it’s one of those things, either you have it or you don’t.

 

Mm.

 

And there are some people who can train, and train, and work, and work, and they still don’t have that natural feel for what—making the puppet alive.  And you have to have that core.  So, it is a kind of uh, unique-

 

Mhmm. Skill-

 

-skillset. But uh, I have traveled a lot, all over, um, directing those large dance shows, as well as teaching.  Um, I teach at … uh, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, I’ve taught.  I’ve taught at the uh, Taipei National University of the Arts.  In Yukon, all over.  Universe—University of Hawai‘i.  Um, and actually, I have a lovely University of Hawai‘i thing that I love, which is Kermit Love came to teach the University of Hawaii puppetry, and I took that course, and that set me sail on a course.  And then, I came back 30 years later to teach that same course to—at the University of Hawai‘i.

 

And was there a young Pam Arciero there?

 

Kind of; yeah. No, not that I know, but yeah.  But it was just really that … it was completing that circle.  I’ve been very lucky to have circles that complete in my life.

 

Pam Arciero has lived in Connecticut for more than three decades, but says Hawaiʻi will always be her home. Her two sons, both of creative minds, are pursuing an array of projects, including stand-up comedy, live music, film production, and video-game voiceover work. Of her husband, Steve Lanza, Arciero says: “He has been my biggest supporter and fan, and a guiding light when I need it.” Mahalo to Pam Arciero for sharing her story with us – and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

 

Did you ever doubt yourself, that: Oh, maybe I shouldn’t do this?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Or maybe I’m not—

 

The first few years.

 

–good enough?

 

Oh, yeah; I still do.  I still have my doubts. I’m like: What am I doing? How—how did I do … you know, that’s just part of the nature, I think, of being a performer, of constantly putting yourself out there, trying to put yourself out the best you can.  And then, there are times when there is no jobs.  Or you go to auditions—‘cause I still audition; we all audition to get whatever roles it is.  You go to auditions, and you leave and you just go: That was terrible; what—what was I thinking, that was an awful choice.  And then, you don’t get the job, and you go: Yup; definitely an awful choice.

 

Yeah.

 

You know.  So, that’s just kind of the way the business is.  It’s not easy.  It’s—it’s a hard … hard part of the business.

 

So, you have to have a thick skin and being able to take rejection, even now, after all this time in the industry, and all your accomplishments.  And you have to have a thin skin, because you’re dealing with children, and you have to be sensitive to that.

 

And you’re acting; you have to ac—be able to access your emotions in order to really get it across.

 

So, you have to really feel.

 

I—yeah.

If you really want to do something, you just have to do it.  And people are always gonna say: Well, that’s not a good idea.  And—but you have to say: Yeah, but …  I think if you do what brings you joy, and you continue to follow that, you will make it happen in some form or shape. In some ways, I guess people are just: Well, you’re a girl, you can be a ballet dancer, who cares what you become.  You’re gonna be a mom, was sort of how—

 

Mm.

 

Ultimately, you’re gonna be a mom, was sort of how the feeling I got from some people.  And it was like: No, no, you don’t understand; this is not about that, this is about expressing who you are through movement, through dance, through arts.  And I knew that in—intrinsically, and I don’t know why.  But I did know that that—that was the key for me, was just to follow, to stay the course, to do what I wanted to do, and it would pay off eventually.

 

You didn’t know what the end would be, but you—

 

No idea.

 

–knew this was the right thing to do.

 

Yeah, yeah; no idea.

 

[END]

 

 

 

MILITARY FAMILY DOCUMENTARY:
While Time Stands Still

 

For 17 years, our country has engaged in a war most people have now forgotten. Yet, we still have troops deployed… Filmmaker and Iraq War Veteran Spouse Elena Miliaresis travels to Twentynine Palms, a Marine Corps base in the Mojave Desert, to meet two wives on the eve of their husbands’ deployment to Iraq with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines. Over six years, “Military Family Documentary: While Time Stands Still” follows their journey revealing how they find the resilience to survive and grow stronger than they ever thought possible. “Military Family Documentary: While Time Stands Still” is the first film to chronicle the lives of military families during wartime, and depict the impact war has on families. This moving documentary created by female filmmaker gives a voice to women, to wives and mothers, a rarely seen perspective. “Military Family Documentary: While Time Stands Still” honors and celebrates the contribution of women to the history of the United States of America.

 

 

 

FRONT AND CENTER
Gary Clark Jr.

 

Grammy and Blues Music Award-winner Gary Clark Jr. performs material from his new album “This Land,” including the album’s title track and “The Guitar Man.” Dubbed “The Chosen One” by music critics, Clark Jr. created his personal trademark sound that features distorted guitar and heavy use of improvisation, paired with a soulful voice.

 

 

 

AFROPOP: THE ULTIMATE CULTURAL EXCHANGE
Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba!

 

MAMA AFRICA: MIRIAM MAKEBA! traces the life and music of the South African singer and anti-apartheid activist, the voice and the hope of Africa. Using rare archive footage of her performances and interviews, MAMA AFRICA introduces a new generation to the music and fascinating life of the woman who stood for truth and justice, fought for the oppressed and campaigned tirelessly against apartheid.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation

 

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the concert that became a touchstone for a generation. The film brings the three-day concert to life through the voices of those who were present at what became the defining moment of the counterculture revolution.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nani Lim Yap

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nani Lim Yap

 

Musician, singer and dancer Nani Lim Yap tells how her Lim family’s music grew from an entertaining pastime to a career that takes them around the world to perform. She also reminisces about her upbringing in Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, and the way she keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive as a kumu hula.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

 

Nani Lim Yap Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I can remember when we were trying to do chants and mele.  We would choose other places, and something would tell us: Why are you choosing to do an O‘ahu mele, when there’s so much right here?  Not somebody came to us and told us; it was this feeling that you got, like, there’s stories here that need to be told, so tell these stories first. And that’s how we began going in that direction, telling those Kohala stories, singing those Kohala mele.

 

Nani Lim Yap, descended from the ali‘i of Kohala, keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive through mele, chant, and hula.  A member of the remarkable Lim musical family, Nani Lim Yap says she’ll always call Kohala home, no matter how far her travels take her. Nani Lim Yap, 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.  Nanette Lim Yap, better known as Nani, was one of six children growing up in Pu‘u Hue in Kohala, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where her father was a cowboy at Parker Ranch.  In their isolated mountain community, playing Hawaiian music was the family’s primary source of entertainment.  The musically gifted family was discovered by the rest of the world when Nani’s mother, the late Maryann Lim, was asked to play at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel when it opened in 1965.  Performances soon became a family affair, and the music group known as The Lim Family became a well-known, much-respected, and popular Hawaiian music group. Learning the songs at a young age came easily to Nani, she says, because it was not only through her parents that she learned Hawaiian language.

 

My father worked for the Parker Ranch.  And they had these little stations, and little housing for the workers.  And some workers would have their families, whole families.  So, we were one of them, another family.  Just two other families, other than us.  And so, we were raised out there.

 

So, very remote.

 

Very remote.  So remote that when we did move into town, streetlights bothered us.

 

Well, when you say town, do you mean Kohala town?

 

I mean Kohala town.

 

Because it was so far.

 

And the streetlights bothered you?

 

Yes; all of us.  And we’d be up at night, like …

 

‘Cause starlight was all we knew, you know.  But we grew up at Pu‘u Hue.  And very close; all of us were very close, me and my brothers and sisters.

 

Your parents would take you on long rides, and you had a Rambler station wagon. They don’t even make Ramblers anymore.

 

No.

 

Not for many years. 

 

No.  So that story is all of us in that car.  Like when it was time to go holoholo, oh, my gosh, we’re gonna go someplace.  And it was my father; he just loved to drive. My father, my mother, one child in the front, and all the rest of us just filling up the back seat.  And we would go.  We would have one ‘ukulele.  We fought over the ‘ukulele like: Who’s going to play the next song?  So, if you make a mistake, you gotta pass that ‘ukulele on.

 

This was as you’re driving along.

 

As you’re driving; yeah.  So, goes like this, goes like this.  But if you were the longest, then you were the winner.

 

So, very competitive kids.

 

From when we were young.  And you know who won the ‘ukulele; right?

 

Who?

 

Me.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.  That’s why I’m the ‘ukulele player.

 

It’s so interesting, ‘cause none of you has had formal training in any of this.

 

Nope.  Nope. Not in music.

 

You picked it up, and figured it out, and listened, and learned.

 

Yeah; my father taught us how to play all the basic keys.  So, if you try to give me a sharp or a what, it’s like: show me it.

 

You show me it, and you tell me it, and I’ll get it.

 

And do you read music?

 

No; no.  Even my brother, when we were growing up, I would take him to his piano lessons.  So, he’d be playing along and playing along.  And then he’d finish, and she’d say: All right, Elmer, now read the notes. ‘Cause he’d be playing by ear, by what he heard.

 

Really?

 

Yeah.

 

And Elmer is Sonny?

 

Yeah.

 

Was music always a part of your life?

 

See, my father and his friends played, and my father and my mother sang to us.  That’s what they did.  Yeah. So, my mom sang, and my father played, and that’s how we knew that they had that.  And my mom had a hula background, and she was our first teacher.

 

Were they singing in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian.

 

And did you understand Hawaiian?

 

This is how we understood Hawaiian, is my grandparents. My grandfather and my grandmother spoke fluently.  And they were our babysitters.  So, when we were little, it was so easy to understand what they were talking to us about.

 

That’s manaleo style, isn’t it?

 

Exactly.

 

It’s the real thing.

 

So, understanding them, even being around them and hearing them talk, we knew exactly what they were talking, ‘cause from babies, we knew that.  But however, my parents, my mom them didn’t follow through.  ‘Cause it was at that time when it wasn’t good to speak the language.

 

You were supposed to go Western.

 

Yeah.

 

And succeed in that world.

 

It’s so sad.  Just one generation away, you know.  And we’ve lost so much.  But however, if a song played, you knew exactly what the song was talking about. Because it was just automatic; you just knew Hawaiian already.

 

So, you didn’t just listen to the music; you could know what the songs were about.

 

Easily; easily.  Even my mother was surprised.  Like, we had this old radio, just this old radio, and you only could play it as certain times, ‘cause you didn’t want to break the radio, ‘cause that was like your communication to the world.  So, it was like, okay.  And then, the songs would play, and we’d be like, we know it.  And so, I’d tell my mom: I know exactly what this song is saying. She said: You do?  I said: Yeah.  And I’d tell her what it is.  She said: That’s amazing that you would know that. I said …

 

That’s what it says.

 

Yeah.  And then, I’d um, gesture things to her.  I said: Because I think this is what they’re saying.  She said: Oh … oh, so … you have that hula sense already.  Yeah?  So, just by knowing what that was, making interpretive movements, and then her being our first teacher, that gave me the—you know, it’s not that gave me the know-how, but it’s just automatic that everything came into play.

 

So, for you, it wasn’t choreography and the movements of hula that came first; it was the story behind the music.

 

Definitely, definitely; story behind the music.

 

You’ve had your fascination with non-Hawaiian.  You did Beatles, and Elvis, and Supremes; right?

 

Everything.  I love Supremes.  I love all that kinda music.  I loved it, and I would sing it, too.  We’d all sing it.  And then, we just realized that Hawaiian was where it’s at.  Because it was always around us, always around us, Hawaiian music.

 

But one day, there will be dancers who are saying: I’m from the Nani Lim Yap, that’s who gave birth to me.  Even though you’re saying: I didn’t really do anything except pass it through.

 

I’m hoping.  And they know; they know what my intention is for them, is that they continue. Any of the mele that I’ve taught them in their lifetime that they’ve been in hālau with me will remain the same.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, was twelve years old when she started performing with her family at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  Dancing hula or singing with her family, whether it was on a formal stage or at a baby luau, became a regular part of her life.  Yet, she didn’t necessarily see herself growing up and becoming a professional musician, or a kumu hula.

 

After high school, you moved to O‘ahu.

 

Yeah.

 

To beauty school.

 

Yeah; I came to beauty school.  That’s what I wanted to be; I wanted to be a beautician, they said back then.

 

So, you didn’t see being a musician or performer as a career, then?

 

No.  No.

 

Even though you’d actually made money for it already in your teens.

 

Yes.  I don’t know; I wanted to do hair, I wanted to do hair from when I was younger.  If somebody was available during the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday, they were sitting down in this chair, I was gonna give them some kinda up-do or something.  That was what I thought I knew, that’s what I wanted to do.  But then, when I came home and I had my first job at Mauna Kea, in the evening time my parents would say: Come over here and sing with us.  And the first time, my father said: What’s wrong with you?  I could not look at the crowd.  I would sing backwards like this, or sideways.  My father said: Is something wrong with you?  I said: I can’t look at them.  He said: Stop it; stop it, stop it.  Like, I would just try not to, I was afraid of the crowd.  Isn’t that crazy?

 

But you’d performed before.

 

No; I performed before as a dancer, but not as a singer.

 

I see; I see.

 

So, it’s like, okay.  Then I had to break that habit, break that habit.  And then, the next time, my father would say: You guys gotta smile; you have to smile, you have to smile.  And I was like: Okay, smile.  This was when I’m singing, and I’m trying to.  Because I don’t know; I didn’t think I was like, that great.  So, I’d be like, I don’t know if they like it, I’m not sure if they’re gonna like it.  And then after, you get your confidence up.  And then, the more I played, the more money I made standing up and playing than standing up all day to do hair, and my feet would be sore. So, it was like, okay, that’s just the easiest route to go, just play music.

 

I know you were a co-kumu hula with your elder sister Lei for many years. And now, all three of you; Lorna, Leialoha, and you have your own hālau.

 

Separate; yeah.  Which is fine.  I think we still all have the same mindset.  We were raised in that kind of environment, you know.

 

Same mindset, but different visions?

 

Yes.  I guess our missions have changed, I think.  You know, what is it that you really want to accomplish; yeah?  For us, lineage is important; yeah?  What are we passing on, what is the style that our kumu from Kohala taught us.  ‘Cause that’s it.  Somebody said: Is that your Kohala style?  And I would say: I think so.

 

What is Kohala style?

 

See?  Everybody would ask me that, and I said:  I’m not sure. But some others, if you were on the outside looking, they would say that’s distinctly different from Ka‘ū.  And I thought: Really?  I never saw dances from Ka‘ū.

 

So, you still can’t quantify it, but people from all over see it as being different.

 

That’s different, that’s a Kohala style.  And I was like, okay.

 

But you can’t point to any one thing about it?

 

Nope; nope.  Because it translates to us as being something that we’ve always done. And so, if you’re wanting to perpetuate, I think future wise now, I think that’s where hula is now, at the lineage state, at a place of lineage.  Like, what are you passing on; yeah?  So, my thought is: Do you mix both styles together, or do you carry this lineage through and make sure that your students now understand that you learned from this?  And this would be part of your koi or your—

 

Are you allowed to combine your own mana with that, with someone else’s?

 

See?  I think you have to honor them.

 

Ah …

 

If you took hula from them, I think you have to honor them and keep that as a separate entity that moves forward.  When I look at hula, yeah, I look at just being a vessel. That hula moves through me. Yeah.  Lineage comes from kūpuna. And then, the lineages that come from Kohala before that; it’s all of this that goes through this.  Yeah.  I cannot claim I own that.  I cannot claim that it’s actually from me.  It comes from a place, and it moves through me.  It has to.

 

And do you change it, by virtue of its having moved through you?

 

Oh; so a lot of the mele that we’ve learned from them, those mele still remain.  Mele that, like, from research and all those movements, all those things that we’ve shared with you, and what we’ve choreographed now; same style.  The style remains the same.  That’s how you continue that.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, has made a successful career as a member of The Lim Family, playing Hawaiian music with her brother Sonny and her sister Lorna at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.  She also has been successful as a kumu hula, entering hālau into the Merrie Monarch Festival that have been perennial winners.  But even with all the success, surviving as a musician often means traveling outside the State.

 

The way to make money and to support your family the best, I take it, is if you fly away.

 

Yeah.  Now; now, yeah.  Because they want that music, they want to dance that hula.  Yeah.

 

What does that say that it’s not valued that much in Hawai‘i, in our commerce centers? Waikiki, which used to adore the entertainment.

 

Yeah.  Gotta bring that back.  I’m not sure how.

 

But Japan and who else?  Japan loves hula.

 

China, now.

 

China.

 

Yeah.  Sweden, Taiwan.

 

And you’ve been to all these places?

 

I’ve been to Taiwan to teach, I’ve been to Japan to teach.  People want me to come to China.  And I’m like: China?  Are you sure they’re ready for us?  I’d have to start, like, teaching them from the very beginning.  No; that’s what they want, they want it.  And yes, that is the place to make the money.

 

You know, I’m surprised you don’t have a fulltime family travel agent.  Because I know we’ve talked to your husband a lot in arranging appointments with you and your family, and he’s always booking flights, isn’t he?

 

He’s really good at it, that’s why.  There was a time when we … I’m not sure.  I think it was earlier in our hālau career, where we were booked by Hayden Holidays to go to the mainland, just like for about six years, we would do it. And he’d be the one; they’d book all the flights and everything for us, but he’d be the one.  Like, all right everyone, this is the last day, get everything together.  He gets everybody up, he gets everybody on the plane, he makes sure everybody is … so everybody knows him as Ed, the tour director.

 

Because he did that so well.

 

How does it work as a family?  I mean, I know there’s a family business, but there are several family members involved. And you all play in different combinations, in different cities, at different times.  I mean, so hard to keep track of you.

 

It is.

 

How does that work as a business?

 

Well … there was a time, I think, when we stopped doing the job at Mauna Lani, that we all decided to do other things.  So, my brother is a soloist.  He’s still there as a soloist, which was good for him. Yeah; it’s good for him, ‘cause then he can be expressive to his own type of thing.  And then, we’d have the Atrium job, which would be a combination of people.  So, Lorna would do that, and then my husband Ed would do that, and then my daughter Asia would help them do that.  And Asia learned how to play bass from her father, so that’s her instrument right now. So, all the different combinations. If she can’t go, then I would go down there and sing in that.

 

So, you can always find a family member who’s very versatile to jump in.

 

Best to do that.  Yeah; best to do that, is to keep your family together.  Keep your family together.  Then of course, my brother had his own Hawaiian group, too, with some of our local friends from Waimea and Kohala.  They were so good.  They played all the Eddie Kamae songs, ‘cause that was what their group loved to do that.  Yeah. And then, now he plays with a lot of other people.  Which is fine, as long as we’re not playing.  You know, The Lim Family together.

 

But it all seems to work out, no matter what.  You know, you’re hired to do all kinds of gigs, and it seems like you can kind of manage so many things at once, I guess because you have so many people who can jump in last minute.

 

Yes.  For our regular jobs, yes, people could take over for us.  Well, well, Mauna Lani just closed, yeah, so that job, we don’t have anymore.  For me, I’m kinda happy, because it was from the beginning of time, when they first opened.

 

And they’re doing renovations; right?

 

Yeah, renovations; yeah.  It’s gonna for a year and a half, I think, or almost two years. Something like that.  Yeah; so you know, we just have just the Mauna Kea show, and that’s all taken cared of.

 

Which means you can all travel more.

 

We can all travel more.  So, if Lorna goes away, then we have another emcee that we bring in from O‘ahu to do that.  And then, yeah.  And I’ve not gone back to that show for a while.  Yeah.  That is our show, though, but I’ve not gone there, ‘cause they’e good.

 

And what do you do instead?

 

I just hang out at home until somebody calls me to go to Japan.  No.

 

I just figure out when to go.  Like, at least every other month, I’m going to Japan. But if you met my students, they’re like Hawaiians.  They have so much aloha.  You know. And a lot of aloha for the culture. Yeah.

 

You’ve been with them a long time?

 

Long time.  Long time, they’ve been my students.

 

Why do you think Japan has embraced hula so closely?

 

Ooh; I think at first, it was, what they saw is what they liked.  Yeah? And then … gosh, I’m not sure.  I just think they just love everything about our hula.  The costumes, the flowers, the leis, the movements, you know, and some really want to graduate knowing, you know, hula as part of their lineage, you know.  So, I think they’re just moved by it.

 

And you know, Japan is very proud of its own lineage.  They’re very much into the past, as well.  So, to be so interested in another culture’s past, and to practice it.

 

Yeah.  And then, when we go over there, they want us to go to their temples.  Go to our temple, and could you do a blessing? What are you saying?  What is a blessing?  Maybe oli?  I said: Ooh, okay.  And then maybe do a dance.  Now, when you come to that kind of thought like in their temples, yeah, they’re wanting us to do their kind of culture, I had to stop and sit back, and think about. What is my purpose?  What am I going to leave or change in that space, that is going to make a difference?  Why are you wanting me to do this; yeah?  So, everything would have purpose and intention.

 

Have you ever thought of staying there for an extended period?

 

I thought about it.  I thought about living there.  And then, I thought: No, I wouldn’t like it.  And here’s the thing, is that if you live there, people will get your place, they’ll rent it, they’ll make sure it’s there, they’ll get you places to go and make a studio.  It’s amazing how much kōkua you can get from Japanese who want to …

 

They’ll take care of you because of what you do.

 

Who want to be able to learn hula.  Like, it’s almost amazing.  Then I said: No, I don’t think so.

 

They have so much hunger for it.

 

Yeah; it’s amazing.

 

I see in your career, you know, you’ve done very natural things.  I mean, you know, you’ve learned to research.  I mean, everything seems like, okay, that’s a good opportunity, I’ll take it, I’ll move into that.  But going to Japan doesn’t seem like a natural … you know. But it is, in terms of how the world has become.  Because Hawaii doesn’t put that kind of premium on the hula.

 

That’s true.  I was thirty-five years old, I think, was my first time to Japan.  And oh, my god, we loved it.  My mother went, too.  Was the first time in snow; fell on the ground.  My mother ran outside and she said: Oh, my god, it’s snow.  And we were like, so cold.  My mother was still out there, taking pictures of her in the snow. Well, we’re just not used to, to those kinds of things; yeah?  But that was our first time we ever went, was way up in Fukushima.  And we went for three weeks, four weeks.  That was hard.  Was hard, ‘cause we wanted to go back home so bad.

 

And yet you love the place, too.

 

And—yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

But that’s how long we’ve been going.  A long time.

 

That’s right.  So much travel.

 

Yeah; a long time.  And from that one event, our very first event, we had several people who wanted to be sensei who came to see us.  And now, they’re great sensei of hula in Japan.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  They have some of the biggest hālau.

 

What are your predictions for the future for hālau, and for The Lim Family?

 

Lim Family, we have another generation of musicians and dancers.

 

Who are they?  Who are your dancers and musicians?

 

Well, of course, Asia.

 

Your daughter.

 

Yeah.

 

Your son.

 

And Manaola, of course.

 

Nani Lim Yap’s son, Manaola Yap, is a widely known fashion designer.  He learned costuming from his mother, researching and designing fabrics to tell the stories of the dances and chants.

 

You know, he sings as well, he writes as well too. And of course, Asia plays the bass, she can sing as well, she sings with all of us.  Anuhea, my brother’s daughter, she plays slack key.  So, that’s another.  And then, of course, Lorna’s children are the two.  This past weekend was Keiki Merrie Monarch, and her youngest daughter won third place, and her hālau won third place.  And so, lots of hula.  The future is really wide open.

 

Mahalo to Nani Lim Yap of Hawai‘i Island, for sharing her Kohala style. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

No Kohala Ka Makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

 

by Sarah Pule

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

Ke aloha ʻāina ua ʻike ʻia

Ke aloha poina ʻole a kākou

Hoʻomanaʻo aʻe e lāe nākūpuna

ʻO ke aloha ʻo ia mau lā

 

Huli aku nānāi ka ulu hala

E kau mai ana lāi luna

Me Kona nani uluwehiwehi …

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Richard Ho‘opi‘i and George Kahumoku Jr.

 

Richard Ho‘opi‘i and George Kahumoku Jr. walked into the PBS Hawai‘i studio, sat down with their instruments, and began to play. George, with his mellow slack key guitar and soothing voice, performing alongside Richard, with his never ending smile and his beautiful falsetto, offered song after song, with talk story in-between. This impromptu concert can only be described as pure joy.

 

 

1 2 3 4