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 PlayBuilders’ “Fostering Ohana”
A Play for Hawaii’s Children in Need
By Terri Madden

PlayBuilders is the only exclusively community collaborative theatre company based in Hawaiʻi, and during our first five years we have worked with the geographic communities of Chinatown, Wahiawa, and Waipahu, as well as with identity specific communities such as Hawaiiʻs homeless population, LGBTQ community and now currently with the foster care community.

“Fostering Ohana” is the first time we were approached by a community, asking us to collaborate with them on the development of a play, rather than the other way around. Vernon Viernes of Queen Lili’oukalani Children’s Center and Alan Costello of Partners in Development Foundation, approached me with the idea while we were working on “The Waipahu Project.” They were both involved as members of the Waipahu Community Coalition and were very happy with how that play came together. They saw the value right away. These two gentlemen encouraged the Foster Care Training Committee to participate and as a result many other organizations have partnered with us.

As you might guess, those of us involved with “Fostering Ohana” feel pretty passionate about what we are doing. We strongly believe this play is going to make a difference to many children currently in need. Our primary objectives for this project are to provide a platform for the Foster Care community to tell their stories, to educate local audiences about the difficulties foster youth have and the need for more resource caregivers, especially for those who are over 11 years of age, and finally, to help build a sense of connection between this often fragmented, disparaged, and marginalized population and the rest of Hawaii’s population.

Back in January, we invited former foster youth to come and audition for this show. I learned then that for many former foster kids, anything with the word “Foster” in it can serve as a repellant. However, 4 former foster youth have been meeting and working with our PlayBuilders Ensemble once a week over the last 8 months. Together we have held story circles and interviews with other members of the foster care community, and participated in dance classes and acting workshops. We have had some amazing discussions and although I am writing the script based on the information collected, we are currently working on honing the script together. A private invited reading of the new work will take place in early November for our community partners, as well as those who have shared their stories. At that time, we will get feedback and permission to go forward with the play and if one person that night tells us it does not ring true, we will go back to the drawing board.

But even if that should happen, I would not consider what we have done as a waste of time. The process is more important than the actual product. Last week one of our former foster youth wrote a song about forgiveness towards her birth mother. This is a huge step for her to take. When we first started talking, there was nothing about forgiveness in her story.  It’s little things like that keep me dedicated to this kind of work. Looking at the world through plays like this is actually a pretty wonderful way to live. Community stories not only inform, but they transform and heal.

The reason why our plays can be so empowering is because through the process of talking, listening, devising and writing the play, painful stories become re-framed.  Community collaborative playwright Jo Carson said in her book Spider Speculations, “sharing stories and participating in community collaborative theatre, community members are creating within themselves the capacity to exert power or agency to act on their own behalf.” I love how she put that and believe with all my heart it is true.

If you have yet to see a PlayBuilders’ play, make sure you do not miss “Fostering Ohana.” We don’t do numerous plays in a season. In fact, our seasons are filled with workshops and story circles, and our actual productions are presented only about every other year.  My hope is that the theatre community will begin to understand that these plays written by, with, and for our communities here in Hawaiʻi are truly precious and rare, and if you miss out one, you miss out on coming to a fuller love and understanding of this place we call home.

You will soon start hearing more about “Fostering Ohana.” We will be holding auditions for more community members in January. We are going to be presenting the play all over Oahu and the outer islands next year. The play is being written by me, Terri Madden, with the support of the Foster Care Community and The PlayBuilders Ensemble, Music by Layla Kilolu, Apu Turano, and Michelle Martin, Directed by Wil Ha’o, with set and lighting design by David Griffith. We are also pleased to announce that Nanakuli High School Students will also be performing the play, under the direction of William Ha’o and drama teacher, Robin Kitsu, during the second half of 2017. Many thanks to the PlayBuilders Board of Directors, Chinatown Soup, East Oahu Realty, the Hawaii People’s Fund, The Hawaii Community Foundation and the Geist Foundation for making this project possible.