Modern mythcraft

Text James Charisma
Art Will Caron

“My job is to open a door, so that the audience member and myself can go through it together,” Moses Goods says of his work in the theater. As a veteran, award-winning Hawai‘i actor, writer and (now) director, Goods knows quite a bit about bringing the audience along a journey. His specialty: the retelling of ancient Hawaiian legends and narratives.

A Maui native, Goods began performing with the University of Hawai‘i’s Theatre and Dance Department in 1999 and fell in love with the craft. His work at the university exposed Goods to a variety of theater forms—musicals, Japanese kabuki and noh, Chinese jing ju, and more. What stood out to him the most were local stories about Hawai‘i’s culture, history and legends.

“[I] remember always thinking, how can the theater I perform be relevant to the community that I’m a part of?” Goods recalls.

After he graduated, Goods pursued acting, performing in plays at some of the local theaters and honing his craft. He excelled, performing often as the lead in challenging titles roles, including Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, David Mamet’s Edmond, and Wolf in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, for which he won a Po‘okela Award. However, he would also go through periods of, oftentimes, no work at all.

“It’s humbling; as an actor, you remember that the unemployment rate is 95 percent,” says Goods. “The reality is that only about 5 percent of actors are able to regularly find work.”

On Maui for a few years in the 2000s, Goods returned to O‘ahu to work on a $20 million film production that fell apart. A fellow cast member on the project worked at Bishop Museum at the time and mentioned a job opening there. Goods applied for the position of Cultural Educator and Storyteller and has worked there since 2009.

At Bishop Museum, Goods researches Hawai‘i’s legends and past, and performs them as part of the Museum’s oral traditions presentation “Ola Nā Mo‘olelo.” The performances are often one-man shows, running between 10 and 20 minutes long. The attendees at the weekly storytelling events are mostly visitors, but Goods has some locals too, and although he’s thrilled to be able to bring theater into his job, the work presents some challenges as well.

“It can be tricky because, how do I tell a story that educates someone who knows nothing about Hawai‘i, and also someone who may know way more than I do about the islands, both in the same audience?”

Goods is guided by a desire to tell these stories well. He takes a story and researches the people and places involved. After all, Goods says, if someone a century from now were to do an impression of him, he’d certainly want it to be accurate. He admits the work can be intimidating and humbling, but says it is, ultimately, rewarding and incredibly meaningful. He knows he’s on the right track at two key points—when he’s researching the story and he discovers a key element in the narrative that will play well on stage; and, later, during the performance, when he can create a connection with the audience and share these moments with them.

“It’s an opportunity to create a pathway, a connection for these figures from the past to share their lives with us today,” Goods says. “The art isn’t complete until an audience can see the performance and I can pass the message along.”

His work with Bishop Museum has allowed Goods to spread his stories across the islands and around the world. Goods performed the story of young demi-god Kaneāpua at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2013, helped bring the production of ‘Ulalena and The Legend of Kaululā’au on Maui to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and was a guest at the 2012 Festival of Pacific Arts in the Solomon Islands. He has performed in California, Arizona, New York, Canada and Germany.

Although originally a performer, he has found a passion and skill for writing and directing as well. He worked with the Honolulu Theatre for Youth first to develop the production Lono’s Journey, and is collaborating with the theater again to bring to life the story of Duke Kahanamoku. “I never really thought of myself as a writer,” says Goods. “Then I really started to enjoy it and found I had some skill in doing it.”

For Goods, the journey doesn’t end with a particular story. He’s constantly working on new projects, always revising, crafting, and honing his abilities. All with a basis and with roots firmly planted in these islands.

“We hear stories all the time; we’re constantly surrounded by them, and most have little substance or have little to do with who we really are. But there are a ton of stories that are from here and are our own, with different concepts and a different way of thinking,” says Goods. “We’re often fed the other stories that are from elsewhere. And it’s not necessarily bad, but if that’s what shapes you and it’s from elsewhere, then whose stories get passed on?

“One story I love is that of Kū‘ulakai, the fisherman who [went with] his son ‘Ai‘ai to kill a giant moray eel—a god—but who was killed in the process. The son has to take over the mantle and kills the eel himself. Essentially, the story speaks of one generation passing things on to the next generation, and the next generation being able to choose whether or not to go on. And it is a choice, to pass things forward or not.”

For Goods, the choice is simple.


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James Charisma