Well aloha Barrie Kealoha! How are you doing on this lovely spring day?
So you have a big show coming up at one of my favorite cabaret venues in the city, Green Room 42. Can you tell me a little bit about “Island Girl”?
Absolutely! Well, it was a show I’ve had on the back burner for years and years, but it finally became a reality when I was asked to present a segment for the NAACP of Metuchen (NJ) back in 2020, as part of their cultural spotlight series.My friend Aurelia recommended me to them, and they were so excited to include me, which turned out to be the proverbial kick in the pants I needed to actually make this show a reality. Since it was for this educational series, the original version of the show is what I’ve described as kind of a “musical TED Talk”, with 7 musical numbers interspersed with historical and cultural information about different aspects of Hawaiian culture, as well as my own personal connection to Hawaii, being of native Hawaiian ancestry. It went over really well, so I decided to adapt the script and the songs to a more entertainment-forward format, more suitable for cabarets/theatres/cruise ships, and that’s what I’ll be debuting on May 26! (Get your tickets HERE! We’ll wait for you.)
So based on your bio, you are not one to keep roots in one place for long so it sounds like this is a show you’d like to take on the road. Does that make it different knowing that it needs to be a show for a more broad audience, especially since most people don’t have an in-depth knowledge of Hawaiian culture?
Yeah, actually that was something I really struggled with at first, because I thought what right do I have to make a show about Hawaiian culture, I’ve only ever visited , I never lived there! (Imposter Syndrome, AMIRIGHT…) But then I realized that that was exactly my “angle”. This show is FOR audiences who may only have a passing or surface understanding of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture, and growing up as really the only Hawaiian in my hometown and pretty much wherever I’ve been, I’ve become very comfortable about sharing my culture with people who’ve maybe never actually met a Hawaiian before. In a way, I’ve always had one foot on the mainland and one foot on the islands. My hope for people who come to see my show is that they leave with a deeper understanding and respect for the land and the history of Hawaii—to see past the Instagrammable sunsets and see into the heart of why this place and the kanaka (the people) are so magical. But never in a condescending or admonishing way, simply welcoming audiences to see Hawaii through MY eyes, to experience it through the lens of my ancestors. Also, lots of great music. Does that make sense? I should mention, my grandparents lived in Kaneohe most of my life, and we spent summers out there. My grandfather’s family is native Hawaiian, so our ties to the land go back millennia
Absolutely. So that makes for the perfect segue. Let’s hop in the Delorean and head back in time a bit. Where does your origin story begin?
::time travel music:: I was born and raised in Southern California, to a Hawaiian/ French/ NativeAmerican/ Irish mom and a Swedish/ Portuguese/ British dad, so my 23 and Me results are VERY colorful.
You’re basically a one woman League of Nations.
Basically!! I speak three languages too, so I’m like a walking ambassador. I lived and worked as a performer (and other jobs, cuz #hustle) in SoCal til I was 26 , when I got my first cruise ship contract as a lead singer in the on-board cast. After my first contract, I used the money I saved to live a childhood dream and move to NYC to pursue my Broadway dreams, and I’ve been here ever since. I took several more ships on and off for 9 years, which is a big reason why my current country count is 96. But I will be moving to Hawaii this summer, which is another childhood dream, partly to reconnect with my ancestors, and partly to just avoid winter for a while
Given the state of the world, and I’m totally not asking just based on the Carnival stock in my portfolio, but what do you think the future holds for the cruise industry and by extension performers who work on the boats?
Ooooh now THAT’S a conversation! I’m of two minds about that, to be honest. The current cruise model is unsustainable, full stop. However, I think some of the more forward-thinking lines are looking at more manageable sizes and less environmental impact, which is encouraging. I think cruising as an industry will still be around for a very long time, and as long as there are cruises, there will be jobs for performers. If you want to have a more in-depth convo about the…let’s say.. “intricacies” of ship life as a performer, we may have to schedule another interview later.
“Cruising as an industry” means something SO different to a lot of our readers but I’ll move on in the interest of good taste! You also lived in Spain for a spell. How did that come about and what was living abroad like for you?
I did! I spent my final semester of college (UCI, go Anteaters) in Madrid, studying at Carlos III I Getafe, just outside Madrid. I lived In Madrid proper from Feb-June, and then backpacked Europe like a total cliche with my college boyfriend through August. Growing up in SoCal I was of course surrounded by Spanish, but I didn’t start formally learning it til I was in high school. I had a knack for it and actually skipped a whole year, acing the AP exam my junior year. I continued studying it in college, it was actually my minor, but it wasn’t until I lived in Madrid that I really became fluent. But it was VERY difficult for for the first few months, because I had always been taught my teachers from Mexico/Latin America/South America, and Spanish in Spain is a verrrrrrry different beast. It was humbling!!! Here I was, this ace student, and I couldn’t understand a SINGLE thing anyone was saying to me, because the accent and the cadence in Spain was so new to me. It wasn’t until a few months in, I was at a bar with some friends and we were chatting with some locals..and I dunno, I was just drunk enough to not overthink every single conjugation and pronoun agreement, and it just clicked. When I got back to CA, I had absorbed enough of a Castilian accent that people kept asking me “eres española??”
Now that I’m in NY, my accent has taken on a bit of a Puerto Rican/Cuban lilt to it. Dominican still remains the ultimate challenge for me, though—even Dominicans will admit their accent is nuts! But speaking Spanish has been not only a great love of mine, but has opened me up to so many experiences and friends I never would have made otherwise. Plus it’s valuable I. My voiceover career-a good percentage of my work is in Spanish. I’m recording an instructional video for new mothers In Spanish right now, actually! Coincidentally, Spanish is actually why the name of my show is Island Girl. I was given the nickname “la isleña” by a Cuban friend of mine as we were discussing how many similarities there are between growing up Hawaiian and growing up Cuban…islanders are islanders, no matter which ocean you’re in. “La isleña” literally means “island girl”
You’re just presenting my segues to me on a silver platter. I wanted to talk about your voiceover work as well. How did you get involved in that industry?
Segue Shantay you slaaaay! I kind of fell into it back in like 2007 or something! I was auditioning for some random indie film about an international car race, so they needed people who spoke lots of different languages. The director wasn’t wild about my “look”, but he loved my voice and asked if I wanted to do some VO for the project. I said “what’s a VO?” But doing that project, the sound engineer was really pleased with my tone and cadence and taking direction, so he suggested I make a demo and start submitting. So I paid my brother’s friend a few bottles of nice chardonnay, and recorded a demo in English and Spanish in his garage studio, and I got gigs bit by bit over the years.
But honestly, it wasn’t until fall 2020, stuck at home with all my live gigs cancelled that I said screw it, let’s invest in this. My dream was to have VO be my “money job”, so I could perform live on top of that, so I spent the money for a paid membership to Voice123, padded my hall closet with acoustic foam, and built a squawk box out of an old Hello Fresh box to put my little Blue snowball mic in, and just started submitting to as many auditions as I could. And girl, I started BOOKING. VO has been my main source of income ever since. I got an agent about six months ago, so that’s been helpful, but most of my work is from self-submissions. I also started working with the Library of Congress, recording audiobooks for their blind and visually impaired program, too. I’ve done ten books with them so far! I’m a big introvert, so locking myself away in a soundproof room and just telling stories while wearing my comfiest PJs and getting paid well for it is an absolute dream.
Someone is living her best life! So how do you balance being a big introvert AND a stage performer?
There’s more of us out there than you think! The thing about being a performer is that I know when and where a gig is, what it will entail, how much energy I need to amass before I go out there and “people”. After a show, I usually spend a good day or two hermit-ing in my apartment, snuggling my sweet orange boi Tony, and recharging my social battery. I adore performing live, and I love the energy of a live crowd, but I’ve learned that I am my best self when I have the chance to be alone for a while in between. It took a LONG time to admit this to myself, because there really is this misconception that all performers are these crazy loud extroverts and are “on” all the time. I was ASHAMED of my need for solitude for yeeeeeeeears. I used to berate myself for dissociating in the middle of a party because I just couldn’t stay engaged, but I forced myself to stay because I “needed” to be involved, like I was “required” to be ON all the time. Oof. F that noise. Give me DoorDash and my cat ANY day!
Well, not to put too much pressure on you but before you hit the stage at Green Room 42, you have another show on May 10th! Can you tell us a little bit about that one?
Haha, sure! It’s a bit of a “teaser” for the big show on May 26. Its a digital segment available to live stream through Hālāwai, an organization that connects the Hawaiian diaspora in the tristate area. It’s part of their Mauli Ola series, so I’ll be presenting a few of the “music videos” I made for my original version of Island Girl, plus I’ll be performing one of the songs live. Then there will be a Q&A if anyone watching has any questions for me. I’m really looking forward to it! (Click here for more info)
So not to scare you anything but we have reached……THE LIGHTNING ROUND!
DUN DUN DUNNNN!
Must have makeup item?
4 AM post show food craving?
Ooooooh sesame chicken with pork fried rice.
The best part of performing?
Sharing the best part of myself with the world.
The worst part of performing?
Most surprising thing about you that people might not know?
I have one kidney and zero Fallopian tubes.
Singer you would pay the most to see?
Last movie to make you cry?
Better Nate Than Ever on Disney +.
Disney character you relate to the most?
Luisal from Encanto.
Death Row last meal?
A really, really good cheeseburger. Medium, sharp cheddar, tomato, brioche bun, truffle fries, ranch to dip it in.
In the movie of your life, who plays you?
Streaming series binge recommendation?
Our Flag Means Death.
Final question, most embarrassing song on your phone?
“Are My Ears On Straight” by Blossom Dearie.
Hmmm…..okay, let’s add it up here…..carry the three……yep, you are going to pass the Lightning Round with flying colors!
WINNAH WINNAH CHICKEN DINNAH!
So what is still left on the proverbial Island Girl bucket list?
I want to visit every country in the world! I’m about halfway through. I’d love to do some guest entertainer gigs on ships, especially if the sail out of Honolulu and go through Polynesia—lots of countries I’ve never visited down there! And I dunno, fall in love again at some point?
Gee, is that all?
If your dreams don’t scare you a little, they’re not big enough!
So where can people keep up with you on the interwebs?
Barriekealoha.com for everything, @barriekealoha and @islandgirlshow on Instagram and Twitter , Barrie Kealoha on Facebook, and @hokuopio on TikTok.
Okay my dear, I think we are getting close to the end of our time together but thank you for your time today. I wish you the best of luck with your shows and everything going forward. Can you leave the WERRRK. com universe with a few words of wisdom before you go?
I’ll leave you the same way I end Island Girl, with my favorite Hawaiian proverb: Mālama kekahi i kekahi.(Take care of one another) Thank you for having me!! Team Willow Pill!