HPU professor’s play shares stories of Hawai‘i’s homeless

November 06, 2013

HONOLULU — Who are the people who make up Hawai‘i’s homeless? Award-winning playwright and Hawai‘i Pacific University Associate Professor of English Mark Tjarks interviewed members of Oahu’s “houseless” community — including an abandoned wife and a man with AIDS — and shares those stories in a play opening Nov. 7.

Mark Tjarks
Mark Tjarks

Houseless in Paradise” is a unique theatrical production, with research funded by the HPU Trustees Scholarly Endeavors Program. Over the course of 11 months, Tjarks interviewed more than 60 members of the Oahu’s homeless community, service provider employees, community leaders and local coordinators on homelessness. Performances are scheduled at several Oahu venues until Nov. 24.

“The goals of the overall play project are not only to educate local audiences about the diversity of the homeless population and the complexity of the problem they face, but also to give a platform to the homeless to tell their stories and help build a sense of community and pride in this fragmented and marginalized population,” Tjarks said. “I hope this project will demonstrate that the arts have a role to play in addressing social issues.” 

The experience uncovered remarkable stories, said Tjarks, whose research interests include scriptwriting, film, intercultural rhetoric, and modern drama. Some of the stories shared by those he met were just “jaw-dropping.”

“One woman was abandoned by her military husband with their three kids on the day that they were to fly back to the Mainland. He then cashed in their tickets and emptied their joint bank account,” he said. “Another man began to use drugs after finding out that he had AIDS and was given two years to live. That was in 1985. He recently returned to the stage after 20 years and won a Po‘okela award with the cast of ‘Bloody Murder’ at Manoa Valley Theatre.”

The new play features a 12-member cast of six members of Oahu’s homeless community performing with six members of Honolulu’s theater community. Through a process of mutual mentorship, they tell stories they have either personally experienced or learned from the interviews. The play also incorporates music and song into an entertaining and educational experience appropriate for families.

“The grants from the HPU Trustees Scholarly Endeavors Program provided me some time away from teaching so that I could make connections to community partners involved in homelessness, locate and interview individuals who had stories to tell, and then to shape those stories into a play,” Tjarks said.

“Houseless in Paradise” is also made possible through the sponsorship of Catholic Charities Hawaii, and grants from the Mayor’s Office on Culture and the Arts, and the Hawai‘i People’s Fund, as well as the help of community partners serving the homeless community, including Family Promise, Gregory House, the Homeless Working Group (with state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland), Honolulu Community Action Program, the Institute for Human Services, Partners-In-Care, Kumuhonua, Mental Health Kokua: Safe Haven, River of Life Mission, U.S. Vets (Barbers Point and Waianae Civic Center), and Weinberg Village. The play is directed by PlayBuilders’ Terri Madden.

“Houseless in Paradise” will be performed:

  • Nov. 7-8, at the Oahu Fringe Festival at The ARTS at Marks Garage
  • Nov. 9-10, at Central Union Church
  • Nov. 15-17, at Catholic Charities
  • Nov. 22-24, at McCoy Pavilion

For times, tickets and more information, visit

The cast of 'Houseless in Paradise' assembles.

Cast members of 'Houseless in Paradise' assemble.