photo: Kaveh Kardan

“Eddie Would Go.” For many, this simple saying evokes a deep emotional connection for folks living here. On the other hand, for those new to Hawai’i or who do not know about the history of this saying will wonder. However, it will quickly become clear once they hear the story about Eddie Aikau, to whom this saying is attributed. In helping to educate us on this an upcoming production Eddie Wen’ Go: The Story of the Upside-Down Canoe will make its stage premiere on September 16 – 20 at the Hawaii Theatre Centre, based on the book of same title written by Marion Lyman-Mersereau. This story looks at the 1978 fateful voyage of the Hokule’a, imaginatively told from the perspectives of the sea creatures that were there that day. To help us understand more about this stage production, we talked story with Marion, the director Mark Branner, and recent college theatre graduate Isaac Ligsay.

Marion Lyman-Mersereau

Please tell us about your passion for voyaging and the importance of the Hokule’a to you?
I never really understood my sudden and then sustained passion for Hokule’a and voyaging on her until I asked a fellow crew member on the 1980 voyage, Sam Ka’ai, about my apparent obsession with Hokule’a. He asked me about my Hawaiian genealogy and when I told him who my ancestors were he said, “Well, of course, your ‘ohana was made up of voyagers – that’s why you wanted to do this – it’s in your roots.” The fact that two of my brothers, two nieces, one nephew, and my son have all sailed on Hokule’a underscores the idea that maybe this is something in our DNA.

What was it like for you as you prepared for the 1978 voyage as the only female crew member?
I’m the only daughter with three older brothers and I always only played with the boys in the neighborhood as I was growing up so it all felt very natural to me.

For those of us who know very little about Eddie – what is the significance of the saying, Eddie Would Go?
The ‘Eddie Would Go’ phrase came from Mark Foo, a fellow big wave surfer friend of Eddie’s. When the Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Waimea Bay contest was cancelled because the surf was exceptionally big and gnarly one year, Mark Foo famously quipped, “Eddie would go.” The phrase originally had nothing to do with Hokule’a but it fits perfectly with the courageous attempt he made to rescue us after the 1978 capsize.

How are you feeling right now as the stage adaptation of your book is about to make its world stage premiere?
I am excited, excited, excited!!! To see a bunch of words I wrote in order to honor a very special person in my life be interpreted in so many ways, by so many people – a lighting designer, a puppet designer, and their creators, a set designer, a costume designer, sound engineer, musician, choreographer, stage manager, director, producer, actors, dancers – all of whom have a clear vision of also honoring this man – it’s a truly gratifying and amazing process.

Mark Branner

Before working on this production how much did you know about Eddie?
Not much. I knew “Eddie Would Go” and the most basic details of his life and death (i.e. surfer, lost at sea, etc.) but had no real appreciation of the depth of his sacrifice (both in life and in death). I also had little real appreciation of the depth of Eddie’s story on modern-day Hawaii; how much his story is connected with the islands. One of the first things I did when Eden-Lee Murray (Producer) asked me about directing the story was to watch the ESPN documentary on Eddie and then start reading accounts of his life and legacy.

How excited are you to be directing this story?
I am humbled to be a part of this production. Truly. And very humbled. In fact, I turned Eden-Lee down at first when she asked me to direct the play. I didn’t know if I would be the right person for the job, because of how deeply connected Eddie’s story is with Hawai’i.

What theatre elements have you incorporated into the telling of Eddie Wen Go’ and why?
We wanted to bring as much theatrical wonder to the telling of this story as possible. Eddie’s story demands that. I think we honor his sacrifice by telling his story well. In addition, the version of the story that Marion tells (i.e. animals recounting the tale) also calls for a bold vision. So how do we portray a whale on stage? We can simply say, “Well this is for kids…let them use their imagination. Hey kids, I look like a human but I’m pretending to be a whale.” But we can also try to inspire them to imagine the story more fully by creating whales and wind and waves and a huli with movement and masks and puppets and lights and sound and, and, and…

In short, we’ve tried to use all of our many theatrical tools to tell the story well.

Why should kids of all ages go see Eddie Wen’ Go?
The story is full of humor. I laugh constantly when watching our lovely actors play sharks and turtle and birds and whales. I hope that the staging is beautiful and inspiring to look at. It is a story that can speak directly to all – children and adults – telling a story of sacrifice in a compelling way. Finally it is local! This is a story about a Hawaiian hero, told through the language and images of Hawai’i, for the preservation and celebration of all that Eddie represents for Hawai’i’s people.

Isaac Ligsay

When did you first hear about Eddie and the now famous saying Eddie Would Go?
I first heard of Eddie Aikau when I was in middle school. The saying “Eddie Would Go” became more familiar to me as I approached high school and began surfing. When my friends and I first went to the North Shore we would crack jokes about how “Isaac wouldn’t go” because I was so intimidated by the sheer power of the waves just breaking in the water. The waves would break on the shore and you could feel the spray drift onto your face! The biggest waves I surfed at pipeline were baby waves: maybe 4-6ft Hawaiian size. Nothing compared to Eddie taking on waves at Waimea.

As a recent college theatre graduate how excited are you to be working in a professional environment?
I am extremely excited to be performing at the Hawaii Theater! With this excitement also comes a lot of humility knowing that I was chosen amongst a select few of highly esteemed actors on the island. Some are from the University of Hawaii and others are from the community, but all have been chosen with a specific purpose to make this show come alive for the first time!

I understand there are various elements used such as puppetry, music, and movable props to a very large cast. How have you dealt with all these elements?
The various elements used in a play means a lot of practice for the actors. I focus my energy and attention to the puppet I’m responsible for. I “live” through the puppet. That has been the most difficult task I’ve been challenged with in this production.

Can you tell us a bit about the character you play and a favorite line your character speaks?
My character is an energetic, highly emotional, clowning, fun-driven, “blah-lah” shark. He’s the animal that always gets blamed for “spilling the juice on the carpet”, however, after you get mad at him you want to give him a hug. I hope he’s a lot of fun for the kids to watch. He’s definitely a character that exemplifies the saying “Never judge a book by its cover”. One of my favorite lines is, “Firs I wen go Murphys and had da fried calamari…”

Thank you.
O’ahu Fringe Festival wishes the cast and crew of Eddie Wen Go: The Story of the Upside-Down Canoe, a successful season. To find out more and to book tickets, please visit Hawaii Theatre.

To learn more about the Hokule’a, please visit their site. To learn more about Eddie, please visit the Eddie Aikau Foundation.