Ghosts of Hiroshima

Fall production set to debut, overseen by longtime Drama professor

News Writer Nick Carrion

Photographer Elizabeth Lough

Jacquelyn Pualani Johnson, Professor of Drama

Jacquelyn “Jackie” Pualani Johnson, a professor of Drama and longtime fixture of UH Hilo’s Performing Arts Department, will be directing one of her final shows with the school this November. “Ghosts of Hiroshima,” which begins the coda of Johnson’s 37-year run at the University, combines acting, dancing, taiko drumming, and other media to tell the stories of the “hibakusha,” the name given to those who survived the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Johnson hopes to use this production as a vehicle to draw parallels between the use of nuclear weapons in the past and contemporary international developments.

“This is my final year at UH Hilo and I wanted to do productions that had a lot of meaning,” Johnson said. “And the whole idea that we’re very close to things like North Korea, where there’s a lot of crazy things going on, that whole sense of urgency hit home… It mixes both all of the hardcore facts about what exactly happens when bombs happen and puts it in the context of governments struggling for power, and then the actual cost of war.”

Having been born and raised on the Big Island, Johnson sees performance as an integral part of both her life and the life of the community. “We have wonderful theatre groups around our communities, around the island. So I can say it honestly, bold-facedly, we are a theatre island. There’s so much inspiration here,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes to use this inspiration to tell a relatively difficult story. Written in 1983, “Ghosts of Hiroshima” offers a chance to look through the eyes of those directly affected by the world’s first and only instance of nuclear warfare. As opposed to pure entertainment, which is expected from theatre, this production primarily serves to educate.

“Usually you say, “Come, you’re going to have so much fun” for a show,” says Johnson. “We’re saying, “Come, you’re going to be learning so much, and coming to grips with something that we all need to know.””

Leah Wilson, a UH Hilo alumna and ensemble cast member in “Ghosts of Hiroshima,” reiterates the challenges of presenting such a controversial topic in an entertaining way.

“In this play, there are going to be moments where you’re going to laugh. You might feel a little bit awkward about it, but with such a heavy subject it’s important to keep things a little bit light at times to not make it seem so overwhelming and bleak.”

Wilson also reflects fondly on her time working with and learning from Johnson as a performing arts major at UH Hilo.

“Jackie is amazing. I’ve been a performing arts major since I was a freshman,” said Wilson. “She is so influential to all of us here who studied under her, I definitely want to see her off.”

For her final production, Johnson has chosen perhaps one of her most challenging. Dancer Sarah Dunaway tells how involved the choreography is, incorporating many different artistic elements. “There’s a movement where we use a parachute and it has to blow up. I think that’s one of the harder parts we have,” Dunaway said.

Johnson calls the process “challenging but also rewarding. I can’t wait to see what those other elements will do for the meaning and the intensity.”

This meaning and intensity is what “Ghosts of Hiroshima” hopes to impart upon its viewers. “We want to be entertained, we want to have fun, but we want to learn, and think, and be motivated to consider our world,” Johnson said.

“Ghosts of Hiroshima” will perform Nov. 17, 18, and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m. at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center.