HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Friday, Aug. 18, the Hawaiʻi Shakespeare Festival opened its 2023 Summer run of One Uddah Mid’summah translated and written by the brilliant Jackie Pualani Johnson of Hilo, Hawaiʻi.
It is the Pidgin version of the Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is directed by the incredibly talented Sean-Joseph Choo.
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KHON2.com had the opportunity to sit down with the playwright, Jackie Pualani Johnson; the director, Sean-Joseph Choo; and Hawaiʻi Shakespeare Festival’s Artistic Director, Tony Pisculli.
The play weaves Pidgin and Elizabethan English in the most beautiful way possible. Johnson translated the words of Shakespeare, but she didn’t simply plod along word for word. She was able to create a beautiful synergy between the two languages as the actors switched back and forth between the two.
Johnson, a retired professor from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, had this to say about her work in translating Shakespeare.
“Part of it was functional,” she admitted. “The Hilo players are celebrating 45 years of Shakespeare in the Park, which is something that I started when I came back from college.”
Johnson went to the continent to pursue her higher education goals, earning B.A. and M.A. degrees in Theatre from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“You come home to your hometown… and I realized I wanted to do something to honor my culture,” said Johnson. “My gut told me that it was a time. People were starting to realize our backyard is so rich and full of local literature, of the music of course, and dance and hula in our own backyard. But still, there was a need for things in the theater to reflect our local stories.”
And she did just that. She dedicated her career to expanding theater in Hawaiʻi. She spent 38 years as a drama professor at UH; and over the course of her career, she directed fully staged musicals, classic drama and contemporary offerings from Western and Ethnic theatre realms.
Tony Pisculli said that “one of the things I enjoy about Jackie’s production a lot is that unlike other Pidgin adaptations of Shakespeare, she preserves a lot of Shakespeare’s original language and sort of decorates it with Pidgin.”
He went on to explain that like many people who live in Hawaiʻi, Johnson’s translations of Shakespeare utilize something known as code switching. It’s when groups of people communicate utilizing more than one language at a time to communicate. One example of this in the United States is called Spanglish.
“The characters are code switching throughout. It’s not entirely in Pidgin,” explained Pisculli. “Code switching is a big part of life here, that people just sort of seamlessly move between different languages, in sort of different social groups and statuses. It’s fascinating, and I think she captures that very well.”
She also was the co-founder of the Hilo Community Players’ Shakespeare in the Park, which are celebrating 45 years. And don’t forget her extensive work in translating Shakespeare’s works in Pidgin.
Benefiting from her extensive work is director Sean-Joseph Choo.
Choo admits that Shakespeare really wasn’t something he enjoyed.
“I mean, in high school, I had a great time reading Romeo and Juliet,” revealed Choo. “And then, the next year, I read the Scottish Play. And I just didn’t care for it.”
It wasn’t until he went to Leeward Community College that he encountered a theater class that inspired him to appreciate what Shakespeare has to offer and how those works translated into Pidgin could provide access to works that typically aren’t accessible to all.
“And then, I learned about the Shakespeare Festival and auditioned,” said Choo. “The text came to light because I’m surrounded by people from all over the islands, the world, who are auditioning for this festival, people who come from different experience backgrounds. At first, I was, just, like, watching and appreciating the text because it became understandable to me.”
His experiences with being immersed in Shakespeare versus reading Shakespeare opened a whole new world for Choo.
Pisculli said this is quite common for people to hate Shakespeare when they read it but fall in love with Shakespeare when they have the opportunity to be immersed in the world and the words that are created.
“So, a big part of what we do is we want to make Shakespeare accessible to people in Hawaiʻi in a way that I think it often isn’t,” explained Pisculli. “If you encounter it in English classes, it’s this burden that’s thrust on you; and it is challenging to deal with. I, still to this day, do not enjoy reading Shakespeare just on my own. If I’m running with an eye to production, to directing, to acting, something like that, that’s when it becomes interesting to me.”
Well, there you have it. You have one more weekend to go watch the amazing play One Uddah Mid’summah.
It is on at the Hawaiian Mission Houses from Thursday, Aug. 24 through Saturday, Aug. 26. Click here for tickets.
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“You can come and get your Pidgin outdoors at Hawaiian Mission houses with a little side serving of Shakespeare as well,” declared Pisculli.