New York Outrigger is pleased to present Tommy Cheng at the Family Tent for the 2016 Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge on Saturday, June 11.
Tommy Cheng is a master puppeteer, painter, actor and teacher based in New York City, but also is a “keiki o ka ‘āina”, having spent his childhood in Mānoa Valley, on Oʻahu. Following the family tradition, Tommy began acting at age 4. He graduated with a B.A. in Theater from DeSales University, PA and performed with the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Professionally, Tommy worked for two years as the voicing actor for the national tours of the Tony-Award winning National Theater of the Deaf, where he developed a strong passion for highly visual, movement-oriented theater. Tommy then worked the Off-Off Broadway circuit and added mask-work and puppetry to his repertoire and performed in international puppet festivals in Europe and as well as the Jim Henson International Puppet Theater in New York City.
In 1991, Tommy became a puppeteer with the “Children’s Museum of the Native American” in New York, presenting Native American legends and stories using puppets to thousands of schoolchildren annually. In addition to teaching, he also writes, builds and performs in all puppet shows. He recently completed a M.S. in Education at Fordham University, NY. Currently, he runs the Children’s Museum, which now operates under the name “Children’s Cultural Center of Native America.”
Yet another artistic passion of Tommy’s is painting. A contemporary folk artist for nearly 30 years, he has been painting portraits in his unique style and has had gallery shows in New York, Paris, Washington DC, Atlanta, and San Francisco. The majority of his portraits portray where his heart truly lies – with the people of Hawaiʻi, from hula dancers and slack key musicians to all members of Hawaiian royal family.
Despite living on the East Coast, Tommy is deeply embedded in the Hawaiian community in New York City, studying hula and playing ‘ukulele and bass in kanikapila and performances throughout the city.
In 2004 he returned to Hawai’i to attend Keola Beamer’s Aloha Music Camp where he met Aunty Nona Beamer. They became fast friends as she shared her stories and songs with him. He spent most of his time with Aunty creating ki’i to enact her tales and involve the children at camp. One of Tommy’s proudest achievements was being asked in 2007 to join the staff of Aloha Music Camp to work beside Nona Beamer. He cherishes the time they spent together and continues to share the gifts of music and stories that she gifted to him.
Aunty Nona Beamer recognized Tommy’s unique combination of talents in puppetry and teaching, coupled with his deep and abiding love for Hawaiian culture, and entrusted him with her work in these areas. It is Tommy’s fondest wish to continue to share the moʻolelo and mele and most of all, the aloha, that Aunty Nona Beamer taught him, in this newest ki’i project in Hawai’i.