Wally Chappell had come to Hawaii a few years before and had directed a couple of shows for the Honolulu Theatre For Youth, “Story Theatre,” and his version of “Alice In Wonderland,” both of which were big hits and created a buzz in the local theatre community. He was then hired by HTY to be its new artistic director. I wasn’t in either of those first two shows of his, but I acted for him in several shows that followed, “A Christmas Carol,” “Hamlet,” with Randall Duk Kim as Hamlet, and “Dr. Faustus,” to name three. As good a director as Wally was, though, it was another aspect of him that had a bigger, and more lasting impact on me.
In his tenure as artistic director of HTY, Wally was secure enough to bring to Hawaii top-rank theatre artists to work with HTY, and through HTY, other companies as well. One of the first that Wally brought to Hawaii was Randall Duk Kim. He was a local boy that had made it big in theatre on the mainland. I had met him when he was playing Richard lll at ACT in San Francisco, one of the biggest regional theatres in the U.S. Randy had come back to do his first Hamlet, and I was to be Horatio. To work with an actor of that calibre, and a local boy at that, and to do well, I thought, made a huge impression on me. And when Randy asked me when I was coming to New York, that was the first time that that thought was put into my head.
Wally brought Kristin Linklater to Hawaii for a three week voice workshop with some of Honolulu’s leading performers. Based on her book,”Freeing The Natural Voice,” the workshop was three weeks of hard, deep work to free up our bodies and minds, which had, over the years, essentially blocked us from using our natural voices, that free, clear, open voice that can express all that we think and feel. I learned enough from that workshop to give me a boost in confidence that, two years later, would help me to leave Hawaii for an acting job at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA.
That job offer was from Wally Chappell, who had become the new Associate Director at the Alliance. That was 1978. Then, in 1979, Wally asked me to be his assistant director on, as well as act in, the “Othello” he would direct at the Alliance, starring Paul Winfield as Othello and Richard Dreyfus as Iago. That assistant directing position didn’t entail much directing or assisting except helping Paul with his lines, and the acting was mostly understudying Richard. Great to work with those two, though. Soon after that I left for New York, and soon after that, Wally called me and offered me a job directing two shows at The Loretto Hilton Theatre(now St. Louis Rep) in St. Louis, MO, where he had become the artistic director. That was my first professional directing job, and directly because of that, Tisa Chang, AD of Pan Asian Rep in NYC, asked me to direct something for them, and so my directing career began. I owe a lot to Wally, he’s been a big influence in my life, and a mentor, too, I think, but best of all, he’s been a good friend. Sometimes it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. Mahalo, Wally.