In the beginning…Long, long ago, on an island far, far away…Once upon a time…
Honolulu, Hawaii, in the 1970’s, was a unique and vital place and time for a beginning actor, me, 1972-78.
I had just re-entered the University of Hawaii and checked out the theatre department where I learned that if I auditioned for something and was cast, I wouldn’t have to write a term paper. I think that that’s what got me hooked, doing what I wanted to do and not having to do what I didn’t want to do. Even that early, I just wanted to act. And the University of Hawaii theatre department was a great place to do just that.
The two acting teachers in the department were a terrific match. Glenn Cannon was an actor from New York City, a quintessential American actor, and Terry Knapp was an actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company, as British as you can get. The two great acting styles of the time, as it were, right in front of me, showed me something. Acting was not one thing, not one way, it was bigger than that, more than that. How much more? Well, I was just beginning. I’d find out.
If I thought Glenn and Terry were something, and I did, when I got cast in a Kabuki play at the UH my little acting world was blown apart. The acting style and what it entailed, the vocalisms, the movement and choreography, the sheer theatricality of Kabuki, was a huge step in my understanding of what acting, and theatre, could be. It could go from internalized American realism to the externally realized stylings of Kabuki. A full spectrum. Theatre, and acting, could be anything.
Outside the university, three students from the mainland went off-campus to form Hawaii Performing Arts Company, a small alternative theatre. The other theatre companies around town were a community theatre and the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, so a theatre of this nature was a critical addition to the mix, as their programming of classics, avant garde scripts, and contemporary plays showed over the years.
The artistic director of the Honolulu Theatre for Youth at that time, Wally Chappell, was influential as a director, particularly in his choice of material, making theatre out of local lore and Hawaiian folk tales and legends. But he also was instrumental in bringing to Honolulu such theatre artists as Randall Duk Kim and Kristin Linklater, which raised the bar for local theatres. Another important and influential theatre artist at that time was the director Eugene Lion, late of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and the founder of The Guthrie ll. He became the first Artistic Director of the Hawaii Public Theatre, the first fully professional theatre company in Hawaii.
At this time, another school, Windward Community College, had hired David Johnson to head their theatre department. His contribution was to welcome local students from rural communities into the department and inspire many of them to pursue theatre as something more than a school credit. WCC became a kind of gateway into the Honolulu theatre scene for those young local actors who brought energy and drive, and a great desire to make something of themselves, to the fray. There were many others, of course, in Honolulu at this time who added to this scene, who were important and influential, and other entities, CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O, for instance, but the University of Hawaii, with Glenn and Terry, and James Brandon and the Asian Theatre department, HPAC and its founding trio, HTY and Wally Chappell, Eugene Lion and the Hawaii Public Theatre, and WCC, are prime examples of who and what could be found in Honolulu in the 1970’s that made it such a vital, unique, theatre environment.
My actual beginning, though, was not there in Honolulu, but in Japan. I had gone there to study Japanese and at the end of my studies I had to be in a play. I walked on, did my scene, and walked off. A tiny thing. But that little bit changed my life. I came back to Hawaii and re-entered the University of Hawaii and checked out the theatre department where…And so, here we are at the end of my beginning…Next stop, Atlanta, Mainland, U.S.A.