aims to awaken
Players who resist stereotypingBy Mary Adamski
present 'true art' at City Hall's
bow to African-American
When Leonard Piggee brings his Honolulu African American Repertory Theatre to the stage, the audience is invariably surprised that there are European and Asian faces in the troupe.
The ethnic mix will be there tomorrow night when the players present scenes from "The Amen Corner" by black author and playwright James Baldwin at the opening of a Black History Month exhibit at Honolulu Hale.
"We give African Americans the opportunity to do the magnificent works of European and American writers, we give European Americans a chance at African American roles. We give women a crack at men's roles, most of the good roles are written for men. It's good, it works."
Piggee organized the group "to take live entertainment and good literature to places that wouldn't ever ex-perience it." That has included free performances in prison, on military bases, on 'Olelo public access television and at community events.
The troupe, started four years ago, is an extension of the acting classes he gives at Kapahulu Senior Center. Piggee has taught in Hawaii public schools for the past 10 years. He came to Hawaii after performing for 12 years on Broadway and on tour with Broadway musicals such as "Godspell," "Showboat," and "Eubie!"
The repertoire -- he chooses major playwrights, not exclusively black writers, to stretch his actors' talents -- also belies the company's name.
Piggee said he wants the Honolulu African American Repertory Theatre to be an antidote to the stereotyping he encounters when he seeks new venues for its talents.
"I'm dazzled at the suspicion with which we are met, as soon as I mention our name," he said. "I think the stereotype of African Americans is so ingrained that they expect us to come in, take off our clothes and start screaming the F-word."
"I was told by a school official that 'we have only a handful of African Americans so this is not appropriate for us.' There are stereotypes so ingrained that they can't envision us bringing literature, true art to them. But if the Diamond Head Theatre or Manoa (Valley) Theatre offered the same thing, they'd jump at it."
"I want to be an antidote to what the media does to use African Americans as the whipping boy for social ills." He said he is constantly conscious of the combination of "images of people of color when news media or films portray certain keywords: crime, violence, drugs, welfare.
"In Hawaii, it's more subtle but brilliantly done. The images may be of other people of color ... it's still a stereotype. "You almost never see in television, in film, African Americans displaying healthy sexuality."
Piggee said he has gotten heartening reinforcement of his belief that live stage performances can't be beat in instilling an audience with love of art and literature. Schoolchildren respond enthusiastically, and so do Halawa Correctional Facility inmates.
Tomorrow's production will also feature gospel singer Marvin White and dancers doing "steppin' " -- a dance form unique to African Americans in Chicago.
The troupe will perform Friday at the Pearl Harbor Banyan Club.
Piggee may be reached at 591-0474 for bookings or class information.
Gov. Ben Cayetano will make an appeal for increased sensitivity toward African-American students and their families in a proclamation marking the February observance of Black History Month. Members of a coalition of organizations promoting racial tolerance in Hawaii schools will attend the proclamation-signing ceremony tomorrow.
Celebrating black history
A Black History Exhibit at Honolulu Hale, sponsored by People of Imani, will be open through Feb. 12. The opening reception at 6 p.m. tomorrow will feature performances by the Honolulu African American Repertory Theatre and gospel singer Marvin White, winner of the Hawaii Stars competition. Other Black History Month events include:
Thursday: 7 p.m., Japanese Cultural Center. Lecture on "Multicultural Citizenship Education in the New Century," by James A. Banks, University of Washington education professor.
Feb. 12: 10:30 a.m., University of Hawaii Kuykendall auditorium. Lecture on "Affirmative Action in Higher Education: The California Experience and Implications for Hawaii," by Troy Duster, sociology professor, University of California, Berkeley.
Feb. 12, 13: 6 p.m. Honolulu Academy of Arts Theatre, performances by Jazz Hawaii.
Feb. 25: 7 p.m., University of Hawaii art auditorium, films by African-American filmmakers, "A Great and Mighty Walk," produced by Wesley Snipes, and "History of Great African Pharaohs" by Andre Wooten.
Feb. 26, 27: 5 p.m. Honolulu Academy of Arts Theatre, performances by Jazz Hawaii.