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Student Spotlight: Karese Kaw-uh

(Photo Credit: Benjamin Fairfield)

Our first student spotlight of Spring 2024 is Karese Kaw-uh, an M.F.A. student in the Department of Theatre & Dance, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Read Karese’s story here:

Background and Research Interest.

Karese moved to Hawai‘i from Virginia, but she grew up in a military family and lived in 7 different States in the US, as well as South Korea & Turkey. She is currently living in Honolulu working as a Graduate Assistant at the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Excellence.

Karese is graduating with her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Theatre for Young Audiences, with a focus in Community Engagement & Asian Theatre. Her main research has been about the Pgaz k’Nyau (bpwa-ghin-yaw) indigenous people of northern Thailand, their music, storytelling, and how their values play an impactful role in taking care of the earth and each other. 

Her thesis is titled Art in Community: a journey of multicultural arts, storytelling, and celebrating the Pgaz k’Nyau indigenous people of northern Thailand.

During her second semester at UH, she and one of her friends took an ethnomusicology class with Dr. Benjamin Fairfield where they focused on building instruments out of trash and recycled materials while studying the music of Thailand. Through that class, she also met Dr. Chi Suwichan Phatthanaphraiwan and his wife, Khuewa, and was inspired by their music and work. Chi encouraged her to pursue her curiosities and to lean into her strengths as an artist as well. As the semesters went on, she took additional courses like puppetry and other ethnomusicology classes, which all led up to the culmination of her final project: a play for young audiences. The play she wrote is a one-woman show that incorporates music, puppetry, and is adapted from The Legend of the Tehnaku–a Pgaz k’Nyau story about the very first curved-neck harp, the tehnaku (day-nah-coo). She then toured the play to multiple schools on the island and a library. 

Life Outside Academics: 

Her past experiences of moving around has taught her to connect with her community, no matter where she is. She loves hearing people’s stories and believes that, when we share what resonates with us, it helps give us a broader perspective on life and the people around us. Outside of academia, she does a lot of puppetry work–teaching workshops on how to work together to build and perform with puppets. She has taught puppetry theater workshops, but she’s also taught at a community-recycling day on how to make puppets out of non-recyclables.

She is currently playing the role of Benten Kozo in the Japanese Kabuki production of Maiden Benten and the Bandits of the White Waves. The cast has been training together for more than 8 months, learning under master artists from Japan. They have also been invited to perform in Japan in early June at a couple of regional Kabuki theaters. She is honored to have the opportunity to learn from Kabuki master artists.


Humans of East-West Center feature article about her thesis:


Outside of research and teaching, Karese is a stage performer and watercolor artist. Whenever she has time, she likes to be a part of local theatrical productions. She also enjoys spending some down-time with the ʻāina while painting.

Anything Else:

Post-graduation, she hopes to continue sharing this play–she’s not sure in what capacities, but she thinks this thesis work is just the beginning. Additionally, she will be an educational manager for a puppetry company when she graduates and hopes to incorporate her knowledge with the work that she does in the future.