TeAda Productions Brings Micronesian Culture Center Stage with ‘Masters of the Currents’


Emeraldrose Hadik and Ova Saopeng in “Masters of the Currents” (Courtesy TeAda Productions)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


Los Angeles-based non-profit theatre company TeAda Productions brought their show “Masters of the Currents” to UtahPresents Nov. 19 and 20, presented in partnership with the University of Utah’s Pacific Islands Studies Initiative and the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program.

Created by playwright Leilani Chan and artist Ova Saopeng, “Masters of the Currents” features the lives and stories of Micronesian people living in Hawai’i — their assimilation, discrimination and preservation. 

Micronesia on Display

“Masters of the Currents” loosely follows three Micronesian kids living in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Soso, played by Jayceleen Ifenuk, moved to Hawai’i recently and is introduced to life in the States by Eva (Emeraldrose Hadik) and Alonso (Jermine M. Lisua Kaipat). In vignettes of meeting after school or video calling friends, we see how these students are affected by having to assimilate into Hawaiian culture.

Eva tells Soso not to wear her traditional skirt to school for fear of being bullied for being “micro,” a derogatory term for immigrants from the culturally diverse Micronesian islands. Alonso faces violence after his friends find out his heritage. Soso describes being sent to the principal’s office for not looking her teacher in the eyes, which for her is a sign of disrespect. And when a member of Soso’s family passes away, the three find themselves working with their whole community on funeral preparations. 

Explorative and Engaging

The show is a playful yet stoic and reverent exploration of culture and natural environment — with the use of body and sound, the actors devise boats, buses, landscapes and more in ways that are fluid and creative. As the five players work as a unit on stage, often singing or speaking in rhythmic, poetic unison, they are lit by a full projector screen and a center-stage boat sail that morphs into glimpses of cityscapes, island sanctuaries and more. “Master of the Currents” engages all of your senses in the imagination of worlds unfamiliar, largely supported by narration by Tamana, played by co-creator Saopeng, as he speaks in direct address to the audience, telling rich, personal stories. 

My favorite section of the show takes place during funeral preparations where an “uncle” (Saopeng) pulls Eva aside to tell her about her island of Kosrae and the myth of the “Sleeping Lady.” The genuine exploration and energetic physicality between the actors made me giggle to myself. Against a starry backdrop, this moment is everything the show celebrates — the retelling of stories, the connection between elders and young people and the reality of missing a home you’ve never even seen. 

Rooted in Real Stories

In a talkback following the Friday night performance, Chan described how the show was devised, largely from personal experiences of Chuuk people, communicated through Innocenta Sound-Kikku, lovingly called “Mama Inno.” The show’s reverence for the traditional skirts largely comes from her tales, and the way it is brought to the stage is breathtaking. 

Chan also led the performers to talk about their experiences with the show. Both Ifenuk and Hadik talked about attending the show’s original workshop. Ifenuk was a community educator in Hawai’i working with Chuukese kids and wanted to share the stories of aggression towards Micronesian people. Hadik grew up in Kosrae and moved to Hawai’i, missing her home island and family. The two thought the workshop would be more ‘storytelling’ than theatre but soon fell in love with the process and message of the show. They’ve been with “Masters of the Currents” since its inception in Hawai’i, its run in Los Angeles, and this subsequent tour stop in Salt Lake. 

The cast also reminds the audience of to whom the show is dedicated — Iremamber Sykap, a Chuukese boy murdered by a Honolulu police officer. The celebration of Micronesian culture present in the show is not without the incredible hurt faced by the community. 

Though “Masters of the Currents” is closed at UtahPresents, more information about TeAda Productions and their work can be found on their website.


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