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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 18, 2001

Kumu Kahua/HTY
BullDog, left, Ed Dyer and Louie Hung rehearse
a scene for "Pidg Latin," a play about a high school
student who can translate Latin into Pidgin.

Kumu Kahua,
HTY dynamic duo
for ‘Pidg Latin’

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Kumu Kahua exists to stage plays written by island playwrights or relevant to the experiences of local people. Honolulu Theatre for Youth presents a diverse repertoire of shows written for kids from kindergarten to high school. Finding good material for intermediate and high school students is one of HTY artistic director Mark Lutwak's toughest assignments.

Those dynamics made "Pidg Latin," by local playwright Yokanaan Kearns, a show both theater groups would kill for. Rather than duking it out over who would produce it, the groups are practicing what they preach by working together.

"Pidg Latin" is about what happens when a Kamehameha Schools student, a loser at languages, discovers that he can translate Latin into Pidgin.

"You couldn't invent a play that was more perfect for what we're looking for," said Lutwak, who explains that teachers decide whether younger students attend HTY school performances but that high school students have something of a choice about seeing or skipping HTY shows.

"When we tour the (high) schools, the kids have to want to see the shows or we have to do something so fantastic that the teachers assign it. So, we can do something like a Shakespeare play that is supposed to be 'good' for them or we do a play that is going to really appeal to them like 'Eddie Would Go.'

" 'Pidg Latin' really splits the difference. It's very funny, it's very teen-oriented, and it will clearly appeal to kids once the word gets out about what the play is. And yet, since it's about a kid who on one hand is translating Latin into Pidgin and then on the other hand is writing sonnets in Pidgin and translating them back into Standard English it (also) really addresses issues of language and will appeal to teachers too."

Lutwak says language is a controversial topic in Hawaii schools these days.

"Whenever we do a play that has Pidgin in it, I get a big stack of letters from teachers who are upset and say, 'This is what we're trying to teach kids not to speak,' and I get an equally big or bigger stack of letters from teachers who say, 'It's so great that you're using local language because it inspires the kids and makes them realize that they can write also and they aren't intimidated by the act of writing.' "

Kumu Kahua artistic director Harry Wong III and Lutwak talked it over and decided the logical thing to do was work together and present the show as a co-production. That proved to be easier said than done.

The most complicated thing was the basic format of the show. HTY shows are produced to fit the one-hour classroom time frame for school performances but Kumu Kahua subscribers would expect more for their money than a 50-minute play.

Lutwak and Wong considered several possibilities before Kearns came up with "How Kitty Got Her Pidgin Back" to add to the Kumu Kahua performances. The one-act play is about a local girl who loses the ability to speak Pidgin in a surfing accident.

Lutwak describes "Kitty" as "A perfect companion piece. ... If the previews are any indication, people are going to enjoy it.

"I hope we do a lot more co-productions in the future."

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