Stage lights on statehood


POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

The murmurs have gotten a bit louder in recent years: Statehood wasn't all good for Hawaii.

Groups who didn't have it all that good when the haole oligarchy was running things back in the bad old days of territorial rule are living high on the hog these days while native Hawaiians are still marginalized and down and out.

On the other hand, independence wasn't on the ballot back in 1959. How much difference would it have made if territorial status had continued while the visitor industry continued to boom and the Democrats maintained a majority in the territorial legislature?

And while proponents of “;what could've been”; ponder the possibilities of that, Kumu Kahua and Fat Ulu Productions present “;The Statehood Project,”; a production that co-director Harry Wong III says is intended to approach the subject as “;people's history.”;

“;I'm hoping that people are going to get a (fuller) picture of what statehood might mean to people in Hawaii,”; he explained by phone last Friday while taking a break from painting the set.

“;The Statehood Project”; opens tonight on a rare Friday for the theater group because Aug. 21 marks the actual date of the 50th anniversary of statehood. A cast of five—Stephanie Kong, Maila Rondero, Ryan Sutherlan, Tyler Tanabe and Joshua Weldon—are bringing to life the work of 18 contributors from Fat Ulu Productions, an organization dedicated to creating and strengthening communities through the literary arts.

One piece dates from the early 1970s when Hawaii was commemorating the 15th anniversary of statehood, while others are more contemporary.

“;Initially we didn't want to limit it to anything,”; Wong said. “;We wanted poems, scenes and monologues, and we also talked about having straight essays that may have been just lifted from the newspaper.”;

A couple of pieces include musical performances.





        » Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.

» When: 8 p.m. today; continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 20


» Cost: $16 general admission (discounts available)


» Info: 536-4441 or




THE SCOPE of the show is equally broad—it isn't only about Aug. 21, 1959. Wong says the events that led up to that historic moment can't be overlooked.

“;Initially, we talked about what might be going on in the various communities at the time of statehood, but then we started to get into it with the writers (and) the story actually goes further back. ... You can't really talk about the voting for statehood unless you go back and you think about the overthrow.”;

But the question is, How can something that happened 66 years before affect the move to joining the U.S.? Well, if the legitimate and internationally recognized government of Queen Liliuokalani not been overthrown in 1893, it is unlikely that Hawaii would ever have been annexed by the United States in 1898. No annexation in 1898, no Organic Act establishing the Territory of Hawaii in 1900, and no campaign for statehood in the decades that followed.

The play also covers the “;two different people that statehood affected,”; Wong said. One group was people who were born in Hawaii while it was still a territory. The other consists of people like himself who were born here after statehood. Other pieces include the experiences of people who were born elsewhere and arrived in Hawaii after 1959.

Despite the challenges involved in working with different types of writing, Wong was able to include work from all the writers who wanted to participate. Some of the pieces are straightforward, and some might seem a bit didactic, but Wong says that others are more subtle.

“;I hope that people come away with some of the subtleties,”; he said, mentioning one particular vignette in which the two main characters “;speak their thoughts to the audience, and while they're doing that, they act out their aggressions or their fantasies at the moment. ... There's a subtlety to it that I hope is going to come through the style.”;