NET/TEN Shareback: TeAda Productions & T-Shirt Theatre - Cultural Navigators and the Use of Technology

2015-16 Exchange Grant Recipient

TeAda Productions (Los Angeles, CA) and T-Shirt Theatre (Honolulu, HI) engaged in interviews, story circles, and an ensemble creation process to deepen their understanding of the Micronesian community, one of the newest immigrant groups in Hawai’i. The project included community engagement workshops and culminated in a public presentation and community dialogue.


Two discoveries that made an impact on our project is the realization that when you engage with the Micronesian community, made up of various different Pacific Island cultures and identities, it is very important to have a cultural navigator. The second discovery is the realization that technology is our friend, specifically smartphones and how easily we can use them in the ensemble process, especially for community performers on stage. Our shareback are reflections and take aways on the importance of a cultural navigator and to embrace technology, specifically the smartphone.

-- TeAda Productions and T-Shirt Theatre


Meeting Innocenta Sound-Kikku at NET MicroFest in Honolulu three years ago was the first step in our journey in identifying our cultural navigator. Innocenta is a social worker for her community at Kalihi Kokua Valley, a health service organization and she created a program Pacific Voices focusing on intergenerational connection through the preservation of cultural traditions. The program services youth and women from the island of Chuuk. Little did we know how pivotal and important a role she would play in the residency work to connect us with the Micronesian community. She paved the way to get authorization through cultural protocols for elders and leaders to agree and support the process. She linked us to potential community members that would become participants in workshops and in the production. Joanna Jacob a school teacher, Rufina Joshua a Chuukese elder, Xavier Fethal a leader in the Yapese community and her youth from Pacific Voices. She gave us insight into the Chuukese culture. She brought her youth to perform the stick dance in the show. She arranged for Leilani to workshop with her women’s group. She participated, performed and played many roles throughout the process. She pulled in audiences from her community and more. It was important to have a key collaborator like her onboard with our ensemble process. If it weren’t for her role as cultural navigator we would not be where we are at with Masters of the Currents.
-Ova Saopeng

When working with a new community/culture in a theatrical project consider a cultural navigator as collaborator. The cultural navigator is the person of that community/culture who is able to offer knowledge, gain access and bring people of that community/culture to your project. This allows for deeper, authentic and respectful practice when working with a new community/culture.

Here is what it took to hire, Innocenta Sound-Kikku, as our cultural navigator.

  • we hired her as a cultural navigator on the project after realizing her importance as a key role in our project
  • we negotiated a fee, dependant on our budget and her involvement, specifically for the project
  • we made agreements to have weekly check in and be in attendance at all production meetings
  • we set deliverable goals by how many participants and audience from her community attended
  • we were fortunate to have her fully committed as a participant, performer and outreach coordinator
  • during the planning and productions meetings we brainstormed leads/ideas of contacts in her community to follow up with
  • she’s so integral to the project that we will continue to work with her in our next phase of Masters of the Currents

To find a cultural navigator consider the following criteria:

  • someone who works in other sectors like health, social or community services
  • someone who is respected and trusted in the community
  • someone who knows the native language and culture
  • someone who can translate the language
  • someone who can interpret the cultural behaviors or practice
  • someone who knows the cultural protocols and procedures
  • someone who has a network of both youth and elders
  • someone who is open and willing to try ensemble process
  • someone who is an advocate and activist for their community
  • someone who can commit time and effort
  • someone with strong communication skills

During the week in preparation for the public presentation we were scriptwriting. We came upon a problem, our performers made up of three ensemble companies Honolulu Theatre for Youth, TeAda Productions, T-shirt Theatre and community performers needed to have something tangible in their hands to rehearse with. With a script still in process, changes still coming and paper scripts expensive and tedious to print we discovered a solution. Smartphones. Everyone has a smartphone. T-shirt Theatre has been doing this practice with their company of youth, where scripts are sent electronically as a file and they would use the phones as their script. We embraced that practice and used it for rehearsal and even the work in progress performance. Changes could be done to individual scenes or the whole script and resent saving paper, time and money. Having a phone on hand did not distract from the performance. We learned to embrace technology and use it in a productive and efficient way.
-Ova Saopeng

Embrace the technology we have at hand and use it in a productive and efficient way. Here are some ideas on the usage and implementation of smartphones:

  1. Use smartphones in lieu of paper scripts for rehearsals and performance

    1. we told performers that smartphones were allowed in rehearsal for assistance in lines
    2. we ask all participants and ensemble to set their smartphones on silent
    3. scripts were sent via email or text as a .pdf document
    4. performers could open the file and use it in hand for rehearsals (we actually used it in the final performance and announced to the audience that it was part of our process reasoning time as a limitation)
    5. for those visually challenged, they can change the font or size of the document so it’s easily readable
    6. overall you save time when everyone is able to receive script changes immediately
  2. Use smartphones for reflections

    1. after workshops or rehearsals we would ask participants to send their reflections by text because sometimes it takes a while for a participant to process the experience and it also saves time in collecting the information
    2. the director or facilitator would ask a prompt before everyone leaves  i.e. “What’s one thing you take away from today’s rehearsal/exercise that you can apply in your daily life?” “How did today’s exercise feel and did it trigger any life memories/story?”
    3. we designated the director’s (it could be the playwright, stage manager, or a core ensemble member) to receive the text
    4. the information and data is collected and could be used for grant reporting, for script additions, for reflections on improving the ensemble process/exercise, for demographics, etc...

Here are valid reasons smartphones were used in our rehearsal and performance

  • save paper, money and time
  • less distracting
  • small, light and portable
  • phone can be integrated into scene
  • everyone has one




TeAda Productions
Phone: 310-435-1810
Twitter: @TeadaProduction
Facebook: TeAda Productions

Alliance for Drama Education
T-shirt Theatre
Phone: 808-220-5003
Twitter: @tshirttheatre
Facebook: T-shirt Theatre

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

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