Hooray for Hollywood!
That phoney super-coney Hollywood!
They come from Chillicothes and Paducahs
With their bazookas
To get their name up in lights.
- from the 1937 movie "Hollywood Hotel"
When I was a little girl, daydreaming of someday becoming a glamorous movie star, seeing my name up in lights seemed like a reasonable goal. Fifty years later, I haven't achieved that milestone yet, but I do have my name up in canvas, on the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's roadside marquee.
The banner advertising my one-woman show features my name in enormous pink letters. When I saw it for the first time last week, it startled me. Even though my name has been on that marquee before, it's never been this big. My alter ego Tita usually gets all the attention and ad space. This time, the show is all mine. Though I might let Tita have a few minutes, if she promises to behave herself.
I drive by the MACC banners on Kahului Beach Road at least twice a day, and every time I do, I giggle and blush a little. I can't help but feel a bit embarrassed by the sight. It's my local Japanese upbringing.
As a child, I was a ham, but only in the comfort of my home. I'd perform song-and-dance routines and silly skits for my parents' amusement. They always indulged me,
laughing and applauding, but they never encouraged me to perform outside our living room. In fact, they actively discouraged it. They were not the kind of doting parents who insist on showing off their kids' talents to others. "Nobody likes a showoff," they'd remind me. "Be humble."
My grade school friends, little Japanese girls like me, were humble. Humble and polite and well-liked. So I kept my fantasies of fame to myself, figuring that one day I'd surprise everyone by getting discovered at a soda fountain, the way Lana Turner did. I'd be sitting on a stool at the Toda Drugs counter, sipping a Coke - humbly, of course - and some Hollywood producer would walk in and recognize my star potential just by looking at me.
By the time I reached the 6th grade, I no longer thought about becoming famous. Instead, I dreamed of being discovered by some nice local boy - or Davy Jones of the Monkees - and living happily and humbly ever after in a little brown house with a white picket fence and flower beds in the front.
Then I got to Baldwin High School and Miss Sue Ann Loudon's storied drama club, famous on Maui even before its name change to the Baldwin Theatre Guild. After my first taste of applause from an audience of more than two proud parents, I was once again envisioning my name up in lights. I performed in every Baldwin production and, in between plays, I competed in speech tournaments. My father would shake his head and sigh, "I just don't understand why you want to draw attention to yourself."
He wasn't disapproving or even disappointed; just bewildered. I didn't understand it myself. I just knew I was happiest when I was onstage. I think my parents could see that, and so they were extremely supportive of my thespian efforts. They came to all my performances, applauding as enthusiastically as they used to in our living room. They told me and showed me how proud they were, but they stopped short of bragging on me. That would have been unbecoming and un-Japanese.
My father passed away 13 years ago, a few years before Tita's first show at the MACC. That night, standing in the wings nervously awaiting my entrance cue, I spoke to him silently, as I often do in times of stress or overwhelming emotion. I felt, rather than heard, his reassurance. "I still don't understand why you want to draw attention to yourself, but I'm proud of you."
This Friday at the McCoy Studio Theater, I hope to make him proud again. I've written "Sharing Mana'o and More" as a one-woman variety show, with a little bit of song and dance, a couple of comical characters, and a special surprise guest. I'll expand on a few of the topics you've read in this space and, hopefully, make you laugh a lot. My mother will be seated in the front row, as she's been for all of my performances since high school. My dad will have an even better view of the show.
Yesterday, passing the MACC marquee, I noticed that my banner was hanging a little lopsided. Thanks, Daddy. I know you did that to remind me to be humble. Showoff.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.