Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
While trying to pull together an application for a writer's residency, I wanted to include an excerpt from my play, Ka `Ikena, for my writing sample. I cannot find it anywhere! The last time I worked on it was for the Aloha Performing Arts Company Original Play Festival (happening this week, by the way) in 2007. That was 7 years and 2 laptops ago. I have looked high and low for digital and hard copies and it is nowhere to be found. I am in mourning. I am still in denial, and can't believe it's gone forever. But, I'm starting to transition to acceptance, which is why I'm writing this piece. My hope is that it will be found eventually, but for now, I am treating it as a loss and this is its obituary.
Ka `Ikena was born when I was going to graduate school for my master's in Pacific Islands Studies at UH-Manoa. I was taking a class in Anthropology and my professor, Terry Hunt, gave a mind-blowing (to me) lecture on threats to the archeological record due to development. At the time, there was a huge luxury homes and golf course development being proposed in Kona. He said it was on top of a pali (cliff) that overlooked Kealakekua Bay, the pali that is very visible in the drawings from the Cook expeditions. What he said that was mind-blowing was that you can't just save the artifacts and the structures, you have to save the land in its entirety - that is the archeological record. His approach gave a scientific justification for land rights activism! I also remember seeing a Hawaiian man on the news defending another controversial project, and realized that having locals on-board as spokespeople or consultants, was a strategy to pave the way for the developers. Thus, the play had a protagonist, or central figure.
I had changed my major from Theatre to Pacific Islands Studies because I was only interested in the playwriting aspect of theatre. I took the theatre classes that I was interested in and then did an Independent Study with Dennis Carroll to write this play. I also worked on it with Y York, when she lived in Honolulu and had led writer's groups at her home. I had staged readings for it at Kumu Kahua Theatre in Honolulu and the APAC Original Play Festival in Kona. It has never been produced other than that and if I don't find it, the chances of it ever being produced is less than nil.
This play, though not seen by many people, was very important to me personally and as a writer. I made a conscious effort to step into a male persona, which is really alien territory. As I try to give homage to this play, memories of ideas I was exploring at the time, are seeping through drip by drip. I was into the work of Parker Palmer, whose work, Courage to Teach, was huge for me and my teaching career. His next book, The Divided Self, influenced the journey I took Walter on (the protagonist). He was a pot-smoking non-conformist poet back in the 70s, and had "grown up" to become a smooth-talking public relations expert in this play. He had lost touch with his roots, and with what touched his soul, in favor of a settled, predictable, acceptable life in a nice neighborhood with wife and kids in private schools.
Another theme I explored was identity. The female character, `Aulani, was Japanese by blood, but raised as a Hawaiian by virtue of her Hawaiian step-father. She spoke Hawaiian, danced hula, and had a deep connection to the `aina. She joined her cousin Kapono in political activism and attempts to stop the development. The statement I wanted to make was you don't have to be "blood" Hawaiian to want to preserve the Hawaiian culture and its ties to the land.
I wanted to explore whether or not a person, who had spent his whole adult life going in one direction, but away from his "true self," could leave all that behind when he discovered that his core beliefs were at odds with his life. The tricky part of this play was to make an audience want to follow his journey when he was such a despicable character. In his last iteration, I even had him more obviously deceptive when he faked a paralysis to get sympathy. Another tricky part was that the golf course was a central metaphor for cultural obliteration. Not too exciting, right? And too many theatre-goers love their golf. (Ok, no sour grapes here.)
I remember struggling with the ending in Y's class. He could choose stability over uncertainty in which he made his devotion to his family more important than political idealism. Or, I could show that your choice to do the right thing especially when there is much to lose, defines you as a person. It is not an easy decision to make. Perhaps, when you have the disgusting ending, it may cause a reaction in the audience that is activating, that makes the audience do what you, as an activist, want them to do. And maybe, by making the protagonist do the right thing, the audience is lulled into complacency. In the end, I couldn't make my statement be that cynicism wins out. I had to make him make the difficult choice. I wanted to say, don't be a "divided self," do the right thing.
You are gone, Ka `Ikena. I don't know if I'll ever find you again. But, you were a significant part of my life for a very long time, through many phases. If you never come back, I will just have to accept that it was not meant to be anything other than it was. You were a lot, for what you were: exploring, learning, refining, defining, stating.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.