When he was growing up, Moses Goods was so shy, he spent more time playing with the chickens, turkeys, rabbits and cow that his family had at their Ha‘ikū, Maui home than he did with kids his age. His imagination, way bigger than he was, whisked him and his furry and feathered friends on many great adventures in wondrous lands.
“I made up my own stories, my own worlds,” said Goods, who is of half Hawaiian, half African American ancestry. “I could be a king, warrior, doctor, scientist, superhero, whoever I wanted to be. That brought me out of my shell for a little while.”
In his junior year at Maui High School, Goods took a theatre class because he heard a girl he had a crush on was in it. She wound up withdrawing, but he stayed, enjoying the creativity and adrenaline rush of performing live. His interest in theatre deepened from 1998 to 2001 when he was a student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
“What excited me was the diversity,” Goods said. “U.H. does Asian forms of theatre, such as Nōh and Kabuki, as well as Western drama, satire, comedy, improvisation and children’s theatre. I loved it all but realized most people don’t make a career of it. I was floundering, so I asked my dad what I should do. He said, ‘What are you good at?’ I said, ‘I’m good at theatre.’ He said, ‘Well, do that.’”
So Goods embarked on that path as an unpaid actor for community theatre groups, including Kumu Kahua and TAG (The Actors’ Group), before landing his first professional gig, with Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY), in 2003. The bashful boy from rural Ha‘ikū was on his way to metamorphosing into one of Hawai‘i’s most prominent theatre artists.
“Acting helped me overcome my shyness,” Goods said. “That’s because when I’m on stage, I become someone else. People aren’t looking at Moses anymore, they’re looking at a character that I’m portraying.”
In 2008, he accepted a position as an educator and storyteller at Bishop Museum. Around that time, he began dabbling in playwriting, which helped prepare him for his first commissioned project, from HTY, in 2013. Titled “Lono’s Journey,” it was about a selfish young man who becomes a better person with the guidance of the Hawaiian god Lono.
That was a turning point for Goods, who had long yearned for the chance to develop and present stories that were meaningful to him as a Hawaiian. Since then, he has built an impressive body of work that ranges from short one-man shows to full-length plays, most of which are rooted in Hawaiian history and culture.
“Early on, I made a list of legends, important events, historical figures, gods and goddesses—stories that I wanted to tell,” Goods said. “I’ve met people who have given me other great ideas. I’m constantly adding to the list, but at the same time I’m checking things off it.”
Examples of ideas that have come to fruition include Nanaue, the legendary shark man; Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia, one of the first native Hawaiians to become a Christian; noted Hawaiian paniolo Ikua Purdy, Eben Low and Ioane Ha‘a; King Kalākaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani, Hawai‘i’s last reigning monarchs; and Duke Kahanamoku, who won three Olympic gold and two silver medals for swimming and is known as the “father of modern surfing.”
In order to tell a story accurately, Goods knows he must have an in-depth understanding of the subject. Research is thus an important part of his process. Books and the archives at Bishop Museum and the Hawaiian Mission Houses have been valuable resources as have people who have personal connections with the topic he’s exploring.
Goods collaborated with Lee Cataluna, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist and veteran playwright, to write the script for “Ke Kula Keiki Ali‘i: The Royal School,” a 60-minute HTY musical that will debut next fall (see sidebar). It’s based on a thought that had been in the back of Goods’ mind for years.
“I had always wondered what the ali‘i were like when they were children—before they became iconic figures,” he said. “I envisioned songs helping to move the story along.”
In 1839, King Kamehameha III founded the Chiefs’ Children’s School, O‘ahu’s first school, to educate 16 young royals for their future roles as rulers. Run as a boarding school by missionaries Amos and Juliette Cooke, it was located where the State Capitol now stands. Its name was changed to Royal School in 1846, and four years later it closed because of dwindling enrollment (among other things, the students graduated and got married).
Lili‘uokalani is the main storyteller in “Ke Kula Keiki Ali‘i,” which features six original songs composed by Goods. Among the other characters are Alexander Liholiho and Lot Kapuäiwa, who became Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V, respectively. Goods plays their older brother, Moses Keküäiwa, who also attended the school. He is not well known because he died of the measles in 1848, when he was only 19.
“While doing research, Lee and I found some of the children’s diaries in the Mission Houses’ archives,” Goods said. “It gave us chicken skin to think we were reading words actually written by them. Every time I write a script, every time I go on stage, I remind myself, ‘Tell the story accurately, tell it well, because these were real people who deserve to be represented in the best possible way.’ I see that as my kuleana, my responsibility.”
Ke Kula Keiki Ali‘i: The Royal School
Performances will be at Tenney Theatre, 229 Queen Emma Square in downtown Honolulu in the fall. Please call 839-9885 or go to: www.htyweb.org/royal-school for more information.