Upspoken

Summit + Kumu Kahua Theatre

Date
Place Kumu Kahua Theatre
Text Donna Blanchard
Photographer
Art Will Caron

Kumu Kahua Theatre, in downtown Honolulu on the Island of O‘ahu, offers one-of-a-kind live entertainment. When you want to enjoy cutting-edge performances about the life, history and future of Hawai‘i's people, this is where you come.

Kiana Rivera—Kiki—is the young playwright behind Puzzy, which has its world premiere at Honolulu’s Kumu Kahua Theatre, along with Victor Rodger’s Black Faggot, in April of 2017. Puzzy is the story of Mele, a young woman with many intersecting labels—local, Samoan, Filipino, Jehovah’s Witness, lesbian—none of which capture the complexity of the woman herself. Confused, curious and frightened of her own desires, but unable to deny her biology, Mele—along with her friends and family—must come to terms with the reality of who she is.

Four actresses play a host of characters in the telling of Mele’s life, and the show is scored live by a DJ.

Both Puzzy and Black Faggot (the story of a Samoan experiencing his male non-heterosexuality) are one-act dramedies and will be performed together.

Summit (S): What made you decide to write a play?

Kiana Rivera (KR): I’ve always wanted to write a play, but wasn’t motivated enough. It was Victor Rodger, author of My Name is Gary Cooper, who was looking for a play that represented the Pasifika lesbian voice to be a part of his theatre company’s season, who gave me the push I needed to actually write. He said, “Kiki, are you serious about writing your play? You need to tell your story.”

He had searched for plays that spoke from the queer, Pacific Islander, female voice and couldn’t find one. So he said, “If you do this, you’d be the only one in your lane. The road is all yours.” And then he made an offer I absolutely couldn’t refuse, which was to give the piece a staged reading with his theatre company, submit it for production and co-write it with me.

S: When you decided to write, how did you choose to develop this story?

KR: Speak your truth. That’s what I was taught to do. Puzzy is based on how I experience the world as a mixed-race Pacific Islander raised under the strictest religious conditions. It was also envisioned to become the female counterpart to Victor’s play Black Faggot, so it needed to be a “coming out” story. I think the story also needed to capture the shared emotions we experience as humans who cannot meet the expectations of our family members and the community in which we are raised.

Jo Ramsey (L) and Kiana Rivera (R) in Victor Rodgers' My Name Is Gary Cooper, performed at Kumu Kahua Theatre in 2015 | Courtesy Kumu Kahua Theatre

S: What stories are you developing next?

KR: I’m currently developing my thesis (a play), which is going to focus on family and consequences.

S: If Puzzy were not being produced so quickly after you wrote it, do you think you would have continued to write?

KR: Yes, but just research papers, and poetry and plays as a hobby. I would’ve continued going to school to be a director, instead of a playwright.

S: Why is it important to share your individual stories?

KR: It's important because we achieve immortality through our stories. It’s how language and cultures are kept alive in perpetuity. Telling our individual stories help us to understand each other, to have empathy and to teach one another. Storytelling allows us to focus, reflect on and heal ourselves. Stories are going to save the world.

S: Do you believe everyone has a story worth telling?

KR: I believe we are all constantly finding and developing our own stories, whether we’re aware of that fact or not.

S: Why do you believe more individual voices need to be developed?

KR: Healing and empowerment: that’s what I’ve found in this experience and it’s just the beginning. We all need these two things, and they can be better achieved the more one’s voice is developed.

S: What words of direction and encouragement would you offer a budding playwright?

KR: I would say what my mentor said to me: Speak your truth, write what drives you and don’t forget to leave a koha. A koha is a Māori custom, which can translate as gift, present, offering or, in this case, a contribution.

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