Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
I am writing this blog piece as a way of preparing for a class that I will be teaching at the University of Guam.
I had a sense of myself as a writer probably in 8th grade when I got pleasure from writing poems, letters, and stories, both in and out of school. When I was in college, I shied away from an English major because I was intimidated by their reading list. But I did take all the Creative Writing classes I could, and wrote my first play in an Asian American Literature class.
That play became my first play, Wind Dances. Like most first plays, it was an "identity" play. Who was I as a Japanese-American creative woman, who couldn't break from from the expectations put on her by her rigid father? This play eventually was produced at an Asian American theatre company, the East West Players.
I moved back to Guam and started my profession as a teacher here. But I always had this urge in me to write. I had written a children's story in a Creative Writing class in college. The main character was Alethea (Greek for truth) and one of the animals was a llama, another was a koala bear (I think). Now living back on Guam, I learned about the suruhana, and how there was a worry that it would not be passed to the next generation. I transformed my children's story, resulting in Pulani. Over 4 years, I applied for and received CAHA grants for different aspects of the play. It was produced in 1989 at the University of Guam.
Having this experience made me want to pursue playwriting and I moved to Hawaii for graduate school. There, I decided I did not want to be a theatre major (for several reasons), and changed my major to Pacific Islands Studies, an interdisciplinary major that gave me room to explore my interests. I took all the playwriting courses that I could.
One of my playwriting assignments, Island Space, was about an Islander living in Los Angeles, trying to be an artist. It received an award for Best Short Play in a Kumu Kahua Playwriting competition. Another play I wrote during graduate school was Ka 'Ikena, about the conflict between cultural and land preservation and development. I was taking an archeology class at the time, and was inspired by that class and the idea of "significance" in environmental and cultural impact statements.
With graduate school over, I had to find a job, and went back to teaching, always being drawn back to writing when I could. I had the good fortune to be included in a Playwright Hui when the Honolulu Theatre for Youth was led by artistic director, Mark Lutwak. His wife, Y York, an established playwright, led our group. During his time there, he incorporated our work into stage productions. There was a Mixed Plate Special series, which was a show of short plays written by those of us in this group. My play, The Taotaomona and the Two Sisters, was in one of these shows. It was about belief in taotaomona; the conflict was that one sister believed and the other one did not.
Another series that HTY produced, under Mark, was Christmas Talk Story. Writers were invited to submit monologues from a child's point of view about any aspect of the holidays. My work was in this show for seven seasons. Two of the years were "Best Of." I did get one rejection. As long as I was doing this, I felt like a writer, even if it was only one show a year.
Mark also commissioned me to write a play, Juan Dapaldapal, which is based on a Filipino folk tale, like a Tom Thumb story. I received payment for this, but it was never produced because Mark and Y moved to the mainland, and the new artistic director was not interested in it. I still have a goal that it will be produced.
In Kona, I had Ka 'Ikena and Island Space produced in the Original Playwright Festival of the Aloha Performing Arts Theatre in different years. These were staged and directed readings.
For the past two years, I was invited to participate in the One Minute Play Festival, which is a national program hosted by local theatres across the country. Each playwright has to write 2 plays, which have to be about an issue of concern to the community, and can play in one minute. My 4 plays were about testing abuse, the Mauna Kea telescope controversy, 'ohi'a tree disease, and aging.
In Guam, Pulani was brought back in 2015 at Island Girl Power, and then in 2016 for Festpac.
I am not currently working on new work, except I would like to get Juan Dapaldapal produced. But my main area of interest is in encouraging others to write. My creative energy is currently in songwriting, and resuming blogging as a way to contribute to the public conversation. I want to be what Mark and Y were for me in Hawaii, encouragers, teachers, supporters.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.