Thursday, April 30, 2009

Behind the Scenes

While a theatrical performance is meant to convey the playwright’s words to the audience, the process leading up to a show can mean many different things for the cast and crew. Those of us who are living and breathing The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, particularly now as we near the first performance, have made different connections to the play than a first-time audience might. As we continue on this journey I’d like to share with you how The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu is impacting the people who are working to bring Ms. Kneubuhl’s words to life.

Meghan Williams – Production Assistant

Being involved with The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu has afforded me the opportunity to work in programming at NMAI. In that sense the play represents something bigger than the actual work of putting on the production. I’ve just completed my Master’s in Museum Studies and I focused on programming and education with a research interest in Aboriginal representation in museums. I also have experience in theater and this internship combines all these things. I literally did a dance when I got accepted to come here, and I love every day of it. This museum truly is a wonderful place to work.

What I connect to most about the play is that it deals with a well documented historical period in a different way. By showing us how contact may have looked for female characters, Victoria offers us a refreshing perspective. The play is not a complete picture of the time, nor does it claim historical accuracy, but it does offer a realistic possibility of what may have happened between the women involved. I’m always interested in the untold stories behind mainstream versions, which is what this play provides. Although ironically, in The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu the untold story is the mainstream account of history. I like that twist.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hawaiian Organizations in Washington, DC

The following are descriptions of, and links to, local Hawaiian organizations:

Hawaii State Society of Washington DC

Hawaii State Society (HSS) serves as a bridge between Hawai'i and the Washington, D.C. community, and supports other organizations promoting the best interests of the State of Hawai'i. HSS brings together individuals and groups in a true `ohana (family) atmosphere, providing opportunities for friendship, sharing, support, and networking among its members. HSS is a social organization, dedicated to perpetuating the diverse cultures and traditions of Hawai'i's people.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA’s) mission is to mālama (protect) Hawai'i's people and environmental resources and OHA's assets, toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally.

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

The Smithsonian Institution, the nation's premier complex of museums, has embarked on an historic journey to incorporate the meaningful elements of Asian Pacific American (APA) heritages into its museum and offices.
Today the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program works to better reflect the APA experience in Smithsonian exhibitions, programs, and research. It therefore improves the public's appreciation of the crucial roles that Asian Pacific Americans have played in American history and, simultaneously, empowers APA communities in their sense of inclusion within our national culture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Missionary Women

It has been said that the lives of happy women –like happy nations– are never written.

– H. A. Carter, Kaahumanu, 1899.

Throughout The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu the Hawaiian women comment on the missionaries’ unhappiness, their sad faces and lack of smiles. Yet the audience witnesses a broader spectrum of Sybil and Lucy’s stories, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ups and downs. We see a side of missionary work that is not often told. As Patricia Grimshaw writes in Paths of Duty: American Missionary Wives in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii, missionary ventures to foreign lands are usually described as male endeavors. Yet, Sybil Bingham and Lucy Thurston were among eighty American Protestant women who made the journey to Hawaii between 1819 and mid-century.

In the decades before the foreign missions, women were central to social reform initiatives. They were charged with being moral crusaders, and often dealt with the lowlier parts of religious efforts such as working with drunks, prostitutes, urban poor, and slaves. Female missionaries also had sex-specific jobs and were first and foremost their husband’s support system, but they nevertheless played an important role. Grimshaw describes the missionary wife as a sexual companion, friend, and counselor for her husband. She would create a comforting domestic setting to allow her husband to focus on his work. Mission wives’ first priority was their home, but their importance went beyond their domestic abilities. Women were a symbol of peace and thus provided protection against violence. By creating Christian households women provided models for how the indigenous populations might live. In addition, as we see in The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, women, especially those who had been teachers in America, could have their own mission service through schools for women and children (xi-7).

The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu is a narrative of what contact might have looked like through its female characters, whose stories are rarely told, and the result is very moving.

For more information see Patricia Grimshaw’s Paths of Duty: American Missionary Wives in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1989).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Our Featured Playwright

Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl (Native Hawaiian/Samoan) lives and works in Honolulu. She has a master’s degree in Drama and Theater from the University of Hawai’i and has produced twelve plays, several of which have toured to Britain, America, the Pacific, and Asia. Her recent publications include Hawai’i Nei, an anthology of three plays, and Murder Casts a Shadow, a murder mystery set in 1930s Honolulu. She is a recipient of the Hawai’i Award for Literature.

Victoria will be at NMAI on Wednesday May 13th for a book reading, discussion, and book signing as part of the Vine Deloria, Jr. Native Writers Series. She will also be our featured guest at a brief talkback after the play's Saturday matinee performance on May 16 at 2:00pm.
Hana Hou!, the Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, has recently published an engaging article about Victoria:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rehearsal Progress as of April 16, 2009

Our rehearsals are progressing nicely. For the first two weeks we did script work, where the cast, director, and stage manager sat around a table and read through the play. These rehearsals allowed the cast to become familiarized with their lines before getting up on stage. We made initial attempts to understand who each character is, and what each character wants, or, in stage talk, “what is their action.” Characters in plays try to achieve an objective. The missionaries in our play work to Christianize the Natives of Hawaii. Ka’ahumanu rules and leads her people at a very difficult time in Hawaiian history and gradually comes to embrace the Christian faith. Pali and Hannah serve in Ka’ahumanu’s inner circle and both become involved with their own conversion journeys. One of the focuses for our script work was locating each character’s individual conversions. Although the play's central conversion is Ka‘ahumanu’s decision to become Christian, each character has their own moments of conversion or change.

Last week we finished our script work and started blocking. For these rehearsals the actresses are still "on-book," meaning they have their scripts with them on stage. The goals for blocking rehearsals are for the actresses to get a feel for the stage and add movements to their lines, and for the production crew to work out entrances and exits, as well as the overall look of the scenes. The scene designer provided a working ground (or floor) plan that indicates to the director and actresses where Ka’ahumanu’s home is on stage, as well as where the missionaries house is located. Traffic patterns between these spaces as well as movements that happen when a character speaks directly to the audience are mapped out. Part of blocking is simply character traffic control!

The actresses are expected to have their lines memorized for Act I by April 21st and for Act II by April 27th at which time rehearsals will take place on stage, with no script; this phase of the rehearsal process is often called, “work-throughs.” Work-throughs are an opportunity for cast members to feel comfortable with their movement, character, actions, lines memorized, and the establishing of clear relationships among them as well as clear actions that are being portrayed to the audience yet to come. The “audience” during rehearsal is the director as well as the production staff. It is the director’s job to tell the playwright’s story clearly and to do the play justice – meaning that the playwright’s words, characters, story, and style of theatricality make sense so that the audience becomes engaged and believes what is happening on stage. Work-throughs are the first attempts at making this mighty task occur. It’s always important for us in our rehearsals to recall that we are not representing actual Hawaiian history, but Ms. Nalani Knuebuhl’s vision of a story composed of characters drawn from actual Hawaiian history.

Tittle-tattle and Mischief Making

The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu depicts contact between missionaries and Native Hawaiians through the stories of five women. Although men are frequently discussed, their point of view does not drive the narrative. The audience is privy to how the women regarded each other, but not to what their male contemporaries thought of them. In Act I, Scene 4, Hannah chides fellow Hawaiian Pali for gossiping. “You’re nothing but a chicken,” she says, “clucking gossip all over the village.” Although the missionaries Sybil and Lucy are at times outspoken, their characters appear more reserved than those of the Hawaiian women. Yet, the play might sound a lot different if male characters appeared onstage. The following quote is an excerpt from U.S. Commissioner to the Hawaiian Kingdom David Lawrence Gregg’s diaries. Gregg suggests, nearly forty years after the initial voyage to the Sandwich Islands, that the missionaries were the worst gossips:

“Thus it is always with Honolulu society. It is full of jealousies and scandals. No one can live in it without subjecting his character to the severest test. The Missionaries are the worst gossips and the most inveterate scandal-mongers. Their wives and daughters are far beyond anything St. Paul ever condemned in the way of tittle-tattle and mischief making.” (1858)

Text courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society from The Diaries of David Lawrence Gregg: An American Diplomat in Hawaii, 1853-1858, edited by Pauline King (Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society, 1982).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hawaiian Gods

"This masterful sculpture of the Hawaiian god Kuka'ilimoku was created for a temple of the great warrior and chief Kamehameha I, who unified the Hawaiian islands at the beginning of the 19th century. Chants, offerings, and processions honored the god.

Kuka'ilimoku, one of the many forms of the powerful and protective god Ku, became the favorite deity of Kamehameha I who was the supreme ruler of Hawai`i in the early 1800s. Kamehameha I built many temples for religious ceremonies dedicated to Kuka'ilimoku. After Kamehameha's death in 1819, his son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) succeeded him. He abolished Kapu, a political and religious system with strict rules governing social behavior, ended the worship of Kuka'ilimoku and other deities, and called for the destruction of temples. As a result, this sculpture is one of only three large carved images of Kuka'ilimoku that have survived."

Image: Kuka’ilimoku (temple image), early 19th century. Artist not identified. Hawai‘i. Breadfruit wood (Artocarpus incisus).

Image and text courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum’s online database, available at:

Consider the above text in contrast to Ka‘ahumanu’s speech in Act 1 Scene 2:

“Here is why I, Ka‘ahumanu, Kuhin Nui (co-ruler) and widow of Kamehameha, have done these things. For many years now we have seen these haole, these foreign men among us. We know that they break the kapu (taboo) laws. Do the gods come to punish them? No! Some of the women have gone to the ships and have eaten with these haole men. Do the gods come to punish them? No! So why should it be that they will come to punish us at all? I think these beliefs are nothing, false. And here is another thing. We know where the punishment comes from. It does not come from gods. It comes from men. It comes from the priests who grow greedy for power. And who is it who hates most this kapu law of eating? We, women of the ali‘i (chiefly class). We do not want a lowly place any more, and the men of the priesthood will see this! You should have seen the fear in their faces when we sat to eat. Hewahewa made a great prayer to the gods. Liholiho, the king, approached the women’s table. Many of the faces in the crowd became as white as the full moon. Liholiho sat with us to eat. He ate and the people waited in silence, waited for the terrible wrath of the gods … which never came! Then a great cry rose from the women. “Ai noa (free eating), ‘ai noa! The kapu laws are ended! The gods are false.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Hālau is a Hawaiian word meaning a school, academy, or group. More specifically, hālau are schools where students of any background are instructed in Hawaiian culture. While some hālau focus on the hula (Hawaiian dance accompanied by chant or song), others provide a broad range of instruction in subjects such as languages, arts, music, history and customs.

Two local Hālau are Hālau O ‘Aulani and Hālau Ho'omau I ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i.

Hālau O ‘Aulani was founded in 1996 by Ku'ulei Stockman and Margo Schlotterbeck for the sole purpose of creating a learning environment for students interested in the preservation of the multi-faceted cultures of Hawai'i with primary emphasis on the Hawaiian culture. Three of our actresses, Debbie Andres, Wilma Consul, and Melonie Stewart, are students of Hālau O ‘Aulani.

Hālau Ho'omau I ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i, meaning “through hula and hālau, we remain young at heart and full of life,” is a traditional Hawaiian cultural school established in January 2000 by Suz and Manu Ikaika.

More information about these hālau can be found at:

Meet Our Wonderful Cast

Here are the actresses whose talent and hard work are making The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu possible.

Debby Andres (Pali) is originally from Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. A recent graduate of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, she is currently pursuing her MA in Public Anthropology at American University. This is her third time on stage, having performed in Sol y Sol and Drama Baylan's Rolling the R's last fall, and debuting in the first ever Filipina multilingual adaptation of The Vagina Monologues in Honolulu, produced by the Hawaii Filipina Rural Project and the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse & Legal Hotline in 2006. Debby is a member of the Hawaii State Society and Halau O 'Aulani.

Wilma B. Consul (Hannah) trained at TnT/Teatro ng Tanan (Theater for Everyone) in San Francisco, where she worked with Brava! For Women in the Arts, Asian American Theatre Company, Culture Clash, Latina Theater Lab, Campo Santo and Theater of Yugen/Noh Space. She wrote and performed her one-woman play in the Bay Area, DC, Hawaii and the Philippines. For DC’s Sol y Soul, she directed 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan Lori Parks and Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark. She’s part of the Filipina presentation of The Vagina Monologues at the Kennedy Center. A dancer at heart, Wilma performs and teaches at the Hawaiian school Halau O ‘Aulani under Kumu Keith Awai. A journalist by profession, Wilma has produced and reported for National Public Radio and its member stations.

Rebecca Ellis (Lucy Goodale Thurston) is originally from Chicago and received her BFA in acting from Northern Illinois University. She has worked in several area theatres, recently appearing in Rep Stage's A Shayna Maidel which received Outstanding Production of a Play from Rebecca is a company member of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. With CSC she has appeared in The Country Wife, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, The Front Page, The Imaginary Invalid, Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Dog in the Manger, Much Ado About Nothing, Love's Labor's Lost, Measure for Measure, and her portrayal of Celia in As You Like It received an Honorable Mention as Outstanding Supporting Actress from

Charity Pomeroy (Sybil Mosely Bingham) recently relocated to DC from Skagway, Alaska, where she was seen dancing the Can-Can as Belle Davenport in The Days of 98 Show (now in its 84th year of production), driving visitors around the tiny city as a costumed conductor on the Skagway Street Car, and walking people through Skagway’s back alleys as Madam Tara McClothesoff from the Red Onion Saloon & Brothel Museum. She holds a BS in Musical Theatre from Weber State University where she performed in Drood, Anyone Can Whistle, The Country Wife, 1940s Radio Hour and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Look for Charity at the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival in Bare Breasted Women Swordfighting.

Melonie Leihua (Villanueva) Stewart
(Ka‘ahumanu) has been happily married for over 15 years and has three beautiful children. Leihua was born and raised in Ku'au, Maui. She is of Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, and Puerto Rican decent. Leihua graduated from the Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama Campus in 1991, and while there she studied hula with Holoua Stender. Melonie has also studied theater at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She and her family are students of Halau O 'Aulani in Arlington, VA. Leihua works for Merkle, Inc. in Columbia, MD, and attends Penn State University (online) to pursue a master's degree in Human Resources and Employment Relations.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Native Theater at NMAI

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) works in collaboration with the indigenous peoples of the Americas to protect and foster indigenous cultures, reaffirm traditions and beliefs, encourage contemporary artistic expression, and provide a forum for indigenous voices. In the spirit of this mission, the NMAI aims to become the nation’s premiere institution for showcasing Native American performing arts. Although The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu is the first self-produced Native play at the NMAI in Washington, the museum has had successful seasons of bringing Native theater companies to our audiences. The first performance at the Mall museum was in December 2005. On tour from Bogotá, Colombia, Vientro Teatro presented Pamuri Mahse, a spectacularly masked and costumed mythical mask ceremonial dance drama. The company retold creation stories and myths of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region of Colombia and featured a talkback after the play with guest collaborators from the Uitoto tribe.

The NMAI’s theater programming aims to educate through entertainment. Many visitors do not realize the diversity of Native peoples in North, Central, and South America. Our challenge as presenters is to be fair and inclusive, so we select programs that reflect indigenous communities from across the entire Western hemisphere. The NMAI’s Rasmuson theater has hosted performances from across the hemisphere in a broad range of genres and styles: Ballet Folklorico Nicaraguense performed El Gueguence, one of the oldest indigenous theatrical/dance works of the Western hemisphere; Wampanoag culture bearer Tobias Vanderhoop introduced audiences to the Wampanoag understanding of giving thanks through story, song, drumming, and dance in A Wampanoag Thanksgiving; Canadian choreographer Santee Smith (Mohawk) presented a contemporary dance piece, Here on Earth, that explored the spiritual connection to the land, earth as living organism, earth as Mother, and earth as sacred (Image courtesy of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre).

Theater programs at the NMAI tell stories that often stand in contrast to mainstream versions of history. Diane E. Benson’s one-woman play, When My Spirit Raised Its Hands: The Story of Elizabeth Peratrovich and Alaskan Civil Rights, presented the story – little-known outside of Alaska – of the Alaskan civil rights movement. William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. (Assiniboine) participated in the presentation of his play, Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers, which explores the struggles of a mixed American Indian and African American family who experience racism on a Montana reservation. Audiences remarked that they were intrigued by both stories, which they had never heard before.

In the realm of theatre, the NMAI’s paramount concern is seeking plays that speak with a Native voice. Most plays presented here not only speak with a Native voice but are written by Native voices. An exception to this way of proceeding was the presentation of Perseverance Theatre’s Macbeth. While living in southeastern Alaska, the play’s director, Anita Maynard-Losch, noted striking similarities between Scottish and Tlingit cultures and created a production that used Tlingit-inspired sets and costumes and incorporates language, music, and dance from this rich and well-preserved culture (Image courtesy of Perseverance Theatre).

This spring, in addition to The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, the NMAI is pleased to present two cabarets by Canadian playwright, novelist, and children’s author, Tomson Highway (Cree). The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito is a one woman show, featuring Canadian singer and actor Patricia Cano, which tells the life story of a young mosquito from northern Manitoba named Mary Jane, who also happens to be the only mosquito in the history of the world without wings! Rose, the third installment in Highway’s “rez” cycle, is a large cast musical set on the fictional Wasaychigan Hill Reserve in 1992. Violence against women is a powerful issue in the play as the battle for the future of the community builds to its shattering climax. Both cabarets are presented with piano, sax, and singer.

Mary Jane Mosquito will be performed Friday, May 1st at 10:30 am Saturday May 2nd at 12:00 pm. Rose will be performed on Friday May 1st at 7:30 pm and will be followed by a presentation of Mary Jane Mosquito.

We look forward to seeing you at these exciting events and future theatrical programming at the NMAI!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Battle of Kuamo'o

Explore the complexity of the historical Ka'ahumanu:

"I knew our lives would change forever. I knew that when I did this thing. There was blood spilled. Turmoil rose among the people. Kekuaokalani moved his forces out of Ka'awaloa. We met them at Kuamo'o. We had guns, that is why we won. From Kamehameha, I learned to strike swiftly and with strength. But my heart weeps for the death of Kekuaokalani and his faithful woman Manono, who fought by his side. Now the old gods have lost their power, and will go. (Pause) Have I done right? Or have I done great evil? I took down what I knew to be false, but will I, Ka'ahumanu, be able to guide these islands, be able to guide the people? The people now have no gods, only the al'i. How wil I steer the canoe?"

Contrast with this youtube video production entitled, "Battle of Kuamo'o." used with permission by hokulani78:

Queen Ka'ahumanu

Source: Engraving by G. Langlume after color litho by Louis Choris (1822) in "Voyage Pittoresque Autour du Monde" by Dumont d'Urville and Jules-Sébastien-César (1834-35).