Interview: A House Held Hostage
The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Theatre + Dance opens its 2016-17 Primetime series with A House Divided, a part-scripted, part-devised immersive-theatre event. Utilizing a bilingual script (English and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi), the audience is plunged headfirst into the action, and has to deal with subjects such as Hawaiian sovereignty, self-determination, and domestic terrorism. I was able to interview Kevin C. K. Berg, an MFA Directing candidate who wrote and directed the piece.
Hitting The Stage: What is the basic synopsis of A House Divided, and how did you come up with the idea for your MFA Directing thesis project?
Kevin C. K. Berg: Ten years in the future the Native Hawaiian community is on the path to self-determination, but has split into two major factions. One, the Provisional Hawaiian Government (PHG), willingly accepts the U.S. government’s assistance in exchange for various trade deals. The second, The United and Sovereign Nation of Hawai‘i (USNH), a coalition of Hawaiian national groups and sovereignty activists see that assistance as a betrayal and form in opposition to the PHG. At the Tenth Anniversary Gala, hosted by the PHG, USNH leaders crash and disrupt the proceedings. Tempers flare and proponents of both sides start to argue. That is when a single person, armed with a gun, takes the whole gala hostage.
I’d say the inspiration came in two parts. I recently moved back to Oʻahu from Minnesota, partially to get my MFA but also to try and get a deeper understanding of my culture. I’m a diaspora Hawaiian, so I spent the vast majority of my life away from the land and the people. Returning with new eyes and seeing what’s happening in the Native Hawaiian community and the communities of indigenous people in general is what spurred me to make it a main theme in the piece.
The second actually occurred around last September. My son [Teddy] was just learning to walk and climb, getting into everything and breaking family heirlooms. I remember watching him play and laugh, just in wonder at the innocence of it all. That sent me into thinking about the future, which made me realize that his world will be very different from mine, growing up. He won’t know what it is to live without the media constantly vomiting news of shootings and attacks into our daily life. To look into a possible future, knowing this current reality, became a huge driving motivation.
HTS: Do you have concerns about offending any groups, Native Hawaiian or otherwise, with the political content of the show?
KB: Theatre, to me, has always been the place where ideas can be shared in safety and fellowship. The piece isn’t meant to intentionally offend people, but provoke thoughts and ideas. To provoke a conversation is my goal. Some people may disagree, and that’s great! But, I feel that the ideas and topics the show brings up are important and should be given the weight they deserve.
HTS: What safety precautions do you have in place should any violence get out of hand?
KB: While it is immersive in the fact that the gala the audience is attending is taken hostage, it’s still a theatrical piece. The audience will never be singled out, have the gun pointed at them, or forced from their chairs. Any violence is between actors and carefully choreographed.
Having said that, we know that the subjects and themes in this piece are incredibly powerful and will resonate with audience members. Some of those passions may move them speak or disrupt the show. We have a number of scenarios in case that happens.
HTS: What is the devising process you use with your actors, and how has it been working in rehearsals?
KB: Most of the piece is actually scripted, save for the moments of interaction with the audience! Having done my undergrad in Chicago, I have a large improv background, specifically in Viola Spolin’s Theatre Games. Most of our rehearsals consist of warm-ups, which inevitably lead to a game/exercise of my devising. The biggest focus was making the world real. What happens when there is no 4th wall? How do you thrive in that nontraditional environment? The games have served as a safe gateway for the actors to enter this slightly dystopian world.
HTS: Is there any information on sovereignty or self-determination the audience should come armed with beforehand that might enhance the interactive nature of the experience, or is it better they come in neutral on the issues?
KB: If it were possible to come neutral, that would be ideal. But, the hurts run deep, the wounds are still fresh, refusing to scar. The illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom happened only 123 years ago. Ever since then, it’s been such a battle just to protect the culture, to make sure it doesn’t fade into the void. It’s not necessary to know any of the history, but coming with the knowledge will make the piece that much stronger.
HTS: Why should people see the show?
KB: We are coming to a huge turning point as a people, and as a planet. The U.S. elections in November will be the herald for some chaotic future. I want to make sure that our priorities are right. What are we doing for those who will follow us?
When I was watching Teddy, I thought, “What happens when children raised in this environment of fear have a philosophy, an ideal they want to achieve and they see violence as legitimate means to an end?” It scared me to the core. And while some are thinking of the next generation and beyond, I feel many are falling into a cycle of fighting/separating/regrouping. I hope that this starts or feeds into a conversation that steers us to the future.
HTS: Any last things you’d like to mention?
KB: I just wanted to thank you for interviewing me. You would think that for a topic that has vast interest on the island, it would have garnered more attention. But, almost no one has taken an interest in the show. For example, we have a student newspaper on campus but have not heard anything from them. When I was an undergrad, such a discussion-generating topic that would have been the kind of article that made me want to read the school newspaper. Maybe times have changed, but I hope that this piece doesn’t fall by the wayside. Too many have given too much for the plight of the Hawaiian people and their children to fall into silence.