Kathy “Tita” Collins
Kathy Collins is a local-kine Renaissance woman. She has worked as a radio disc jockey on Maui for more than 30 years, where she co-founded the nonprofit, commercial-free Mana'o Radio. When not behind the radio mic, she performs for sold-out crowds each year at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center as "Tita," a pidgin-speaking character with wickedly entertaining tales. Her debut CD, Tita Out!, won 2004 Comedy Album of the Year at the Hawai'i Music Awards. Her second and third albums, Tita Out ... One Mo' Time! and Tita Out ... What? Again?! will be released this fall.
Q: How was Tita created?
A: When my husband, Barry [Collins], and I were doing a radio show at KLHI 101 in the early '90s, we started a comedy soap opera and one of the main characters was a cocktail waitress named "Pali Tunnel." She was really the forerunner of Tita. People enjoyed her so much that we continued to develop her and called her "Tita."
Q: How would you describe Tita?
A: She's a local girl with attitude. I try to portray that titas can be loud and scary at times, but it doesn't mean we're dumb or without class. I try to make her a really positive role model with a message.
Q: Tita has been described as an ambassador of the pidgin language. How does she accomplish that?
A: Pidgin pride is probably the biggest message that I try to convey. I never wanted Tita just to be a funny character. I feel strongly about pidgin-English and want people to celebrate our heritage and culture. I think it's a shame when people try to prevent others from speaking pidgin. We should be bilingual.
Q: Does Tita ever get negative reactions?
A: If there are negative reactions to Tita I haven't heard them, but maybe people are just too scared to come up to me and tell me. Maybe they're scared of Tita.
Q: In addition to performing at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, you also visit students at schools around Maui. Do you view Tita as a role model for them?
A: Absolutely. When I was their age, I didn't have anyone to look up to. All of the role models that were presented in the media looked nothing like us and they certainly didn't sound like us. One of the most rewarding performances I ever did was when I performed for a school in Hana. A girl came up to me after the show and said, "My bruddah said I'm a tita, but now I'm gonna tell him das good!"
Q: Do you consider yourself a storyteller or a comedian?
A: I do a little of both. That may be part of the appeal of Tita, because nobody else does that. You either have stand-up comedians or storytellers, and she does both. But really, I'm an actress and Tita is a character, or maybe she's my alter ego.
Q: In what ways are you like Tita?
A: (Laughs.) Barry says Tita is the real me and that Kathy Collins is just an act. Tita gets to say all the things Kathy would love to say. She's just me, amplified. There's not a whole lot of acting going on.
Q: As a 4-foot-11-inch, half-Okinawan half-Japanese woman, you don't strike me as the typical tita. How do people react when they see you in person for the first time?
A: People are always surprised when they see me in person, because they expect this big, older Hawaiian woman to show up. Being a tita doesn't mean that you need to be big or masculine or even Hawaiian. You just have to be Hawaiian at heart and embrace local values. And, of course, you gotta have the attitude.
Q: What does the future look like for Tita?
A: For the past four years I've been invited to the Talk Story Festival on O'ahu, and I will be traveling to the Arizona Aloha Festival in Phoenix in March. Hopefully I get to keep taking Tita all over the place. Pretty soon I'm going to have to turn Tita into Tutu!