COURTESY KUMU KAHUA
Teacher Sharon Kido (Denise-Aiko Chinen) vents her exasperation towards one of her unmotivated students (Chris Doi) in Kumu Kahua's "Teacher, Teacher."
Life becomes art and develops life
So much good fiction has come out of the life experiences of authors and playwrights that it is sometimes a good idea to clarify where life ends and fiction begins. In the case of Kumu Kahua's world premiere production of "Teacher, Teacher," playwright Anthony Michael Oliver says it's easy: His wife teaches English at a local community college. Period.
Presented by Kumu Kahua
Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Time: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 17
Tickets: $16 general, $13 seniors and $10 students ($13 general, $11 seniors and $5 students for Thursday performances)
Call: 536-4441 or visit kumukahua.org
Oliver's play happens to be about a local English teacher who gets involved with one of her students. He said: "The resemblance to the play ends with the initial impetus for it. One day, she came home and commented uncharacteristically about the way some students were behaving. That was it, (but) somehow the idea (for a story) stuck in my mind. It just wouldn't go away.
"It's with some hesitation that I invoke Arthur Miller, but he used to say when asked where he got his ideas, 'If I knew, I'd go back there all the time.' It's kind of like that (for me), a form of triage, (ideas) stick in my mind and won't go away. If they stay long enough, they become a play."
And so his wife's casual comment evolved into the story of Sharon Kido, a single 40-year-old instructor who berates her students on the last day of class for being "drifters, dreamers and slobs" without manners or goals, and who can't even speak or dress properly. One of them responds to her tirade by asking her to teach him the things she thinks he needs to know.
One thing leads to another, and, as the press release put it, "the summer heats up."
Oliver says something similar happened to the script as he worked on it and some of the characters started "taking over" the story.
"You start with an initial scene, and usually an idea of where it's gonna go, but that's not always the idea that winds up in the end. You start to write it and pretty soon you find that some character who's minor begins to take over, or then you say, 'She would never say this,' and something changes."
OLIVER MADE additional changes after the play was presented for critique in the staged reading. He continued to write and rewrite after director Harry Wong cast the show and started rehearsals.
"When the rehearsal process started, he asked me how I felt about rewriting parts of it. ... And then in the rehearsal process, I learned a ton of stuff. I learned that certain things may look great on the page but don't sound so great coming out of somebody's mouth, so I'd have to rephrase it, change this, move a scene here (and) move a scene there.
"I have to say at this point that this has been a massive educational process for me. I have learned a ton (about) what's good, what's not good. Harry's notion is that you're rewriting right up to the last minute. We were rewriting (Sunday) at rehearsals, creating a new scene to cover a costume change or move something around."
"Teacher, Teacher" stars Denise-Aiko Chinen as Sharon Kido and Chris Doi as the student.
"I like this cast. They've worked so hard," Oliver said. "I just make the skeleton (of the story) -- these guys put flesh and blood on it. ... The play is turning out better than I did it, and it's all due to them."
His play is a treatment of a classic theme. The similarities between the basic premise of "Teacher, Teacher" and older tales -- from the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea through George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" and Lerner & Loewe's "My Fair Lady" -- are intentional, although Oliver is putting his own take on the subjects of transformation and romantic attraction.
"Pygmalion, in the original Greek myth, because he hated women, shaped the statue of Galatea to prove to women that they weren't so hot -- that he could make a better one -- and then fell in love with the statue and wound up pleading (to the gods) that it be made flesh."
On the other hand, Henry Higgins works with a live woman, Eliza Doolittle, but he, too, falls in love with the "ideal woman" he credits himself with creating.
Without giving away too much, Oliver's play is also about the ways in which teachers can be affected, in turn, by their students.
"What I wanted to get across was (that) you can be changed, as Henry Higgins was changed. You think that you're molding someone else, but they're molding you as well. You may be sure of what you're doing, but it may not turn out that way."