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Welcome to the Official Website of Philip Kan Gotanda

 

 

Deepen the Conversation
with ReOrient Forum

Presented in tandem with the ReOrient 2017 Festival of Short PlaysReOrient Forum includes two free panel discussions featuring master artists, as well as post-performance conversations with ReOrient artists and special guests.
Saturday, November 25, 4-6pm

Centering the Margins: Immigrant Voices and Brown Bodies Claiming the Narrative

For years — some might say centuries — America’s narratives have focused on the experience of white bodies as told through the eyes of the colonizer, framing the place of brown bodies in the process. What happens when we reorient our perspective? How do we shift the reference point away from a white narrative? How do we negotiate differences of experience and perspective within marginalized communities? (Presented in association with USF)

Participants: Eugenie Chan, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, Philip Kan Gotanda, Lauren Spencer, Eric Ting, and Torange Yeghiazarian

Potrero Stage (1695 18th Street, San Francisco)
Free and open to the public
Saturday, December 2, 4-6pm 

Dramaturgs ReOrient: Contextualizing the Middle East for American Audiences

Master Bay Area dramaturgs share challenges and successes of their work with Middle Eastern writers and plays. (Presented in association with LMDA)

Patricipants: Nakissa Etemad and Jayne Wenger, amongst others

Potrero Stage (1695 18th Street, San Francisco)
Free and open to the public 

REORIENT 2017

Seven short plays. One unforgettable evening of theatre.

Think you know the Middle East? Think again. ReOrient 2017 will turn San Francisco into a mecca for innovative, spirited, and thought-provoking theatre from or about the Middle East. Nowhere else will you find plays and artists from Armenia, India, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S. all on one stage.

through December 10
Potrero Stage (1695 18th Street, SF)
 



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YOHEN By Philip Kan Gotanda, Produced by East West Players and the Robey Theatre Company 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Yohen examines the challenges facing James, an African-American World War II veteran, and his Japanese wife, Sumi, after more than 30 years of marriage. In order to come to terms with the years of miscommunication and disappointment that have driven her from her husband, Sumi bans James from their house, forcing him to “start from the beginning” and reignite their courtship by visiting her as if it were a first date. The play explores how cultural misunderstanding and family tensions have transformed the couple’s relationship—just as pottery is transformed and sometimes damaged during the firing process. In Japanese, such kiln changes are called yohen, and the results are as complex and unpredictable as the evolution of a marriage. In the end, it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not the creation has been made more beautiful by the imperfection.

Danny Glover as James Washington and June Angela as Sumi Washington star in The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players’ production of Philip Kan Gotanda’s Yohen, directed by Ben Guillory. Photo by Michael Lamont.

For more information on YOHEN, click here

 

 

2003

Program notes for ACT Production of YOHEN

  ...”accident in firing that results in the transformation of the pot”...

                    - Hiroshi Seto -

PLAYWRIGHT’S NOTES --

The original draft of YOHEN was written quite a few years ago.  It was inspired by research I was doing at the time on the topic of Japanese War Brides, and, the desire to write a theatrical response to my play THE WASH which turned on the wife’s final decision, as opposed to the husband’s, at the end.  With the initial writing of YOHEN, I was enthused about the possibilities for the piece.  Issues of cultural intersection expanded the world of my usual themes. However, after submitting the draft to the commissioning theater I received only a form letter stating they had no interest.  Though never stated, I had the impression it was because of the nature of the material - a Black and Japanese interracial marriage.   Perhaps it was the time, when the racial dialogue was still exclusively Black and White and didn’t include an African American-Japanese American story in this company’s vision of theater. 

I put the piece away and began to work on other things.   And yet YOHEN, in an always unexpected manner, would surface.  I had a director acquaintance who had shown the piece to the actor, Danny Glover, who became intrigued by the interracial take on family.   My friend, the late actress Nobu McCarthy, was in town so we arranged an informal reading at the house with Danny and Nobu.   It went well and there was excitement about  what we might do with the piece.  Avenues didn’t open readily and people became otherwise engaged.  YOHEN fell to the way side.   It surfaced next as a reading at ACT in San Francisco during Joy Carlin’s tenure as Artistic Director, with Nobu and Stephen Anthony Jones reading this time.   We discussed its future, Stephen being particularly enthusiastic, then it once again was set aside.   A few years later, we workshopped it at Berkeley Repertory - two times I believe - and it was  announced as part of their upcoming season.  Because of my reservations about the piece not being quite right yet, Tony Taccone honored my wishes and withdrew it from the season.   Then a year or so later Danny Glover returned to the picture.  I got a call from him that he wanted to develop it into a half hour show for a series he was producing for one of the big cable stations.   That ultimately fell through but it re-ignited both our interests in doing it on stage.  We called around, chased down leads.  Danny, Nobu and I even schlepped ourselves to NY where we were invited to read it at the Public.  Leads eluded us.  Then, after much planning, un-planning, and planning again, it was produced on stage at East West Players in co-production with the Robey Theatre Company in Los Angeles.  Of course, starring Nobu and Danny, directed by Ann Bowen.  I thank Danny who was so instrumental in supporting the production.  During its rehearsals, I was on the road continuously, hurrying to finish my film for Sundance and opening an involved work in another City.   I flew in for the opening.  

That was pretty much the extent of my involvement.  There were good people stewarding the production and I had faith they would do right by it.  My faith was not misplaced.  It had a very successful run.  An interesting side-note for the two theaters was the mix of Asian and Black faces for each night’s performance.  For Los Angeles, in particular, given its history of African American-Asian relations, this was encouraging.

Time passed and I longed to do it again, this time with more of my involvement.  In the interim, Danny and I were approached by the other big cable station to develop YOHEN into a movie.  Drafts were written and rewritten, written and rewritten...  Then on another front, after a series of discussions with Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh, we decided to arrange an in-house reading.  It was to be with Stephen Anthony Jones and Diane Kobayashi before staff and conservatory students.  With this new cast and simple setting, we were taken by the potential for a new interpretation to the material.  I was particularly excited about the prospect of being able to revisit this piece, a straight forward tale examining the complexities of long-term love.  Now I’ve been given the opportunity with this new cast, director Seret Scott and the support of ACT. 

Additional Note - There is an odd and telling anecdote that goes along with the writing of YOHEN.   It was originally commissioned by a well-known, respected regional theater.   As I alluded to earlier, upon my delivering the play, I received only a curt form letter saying they had no interest in pursuing it.   No, ‘Let’s do a reading..’, or, ‘These are our thoughts...’.    A little over ten years later, about the time Danny and I were trying to adapt YOHEN for his series, out of the blue I got a call from the very same theater company, and, very same literary manager who had originally commissioned the play and turned it down.   He told me they had been sent this new play of mine, YOHEN, by another literary  manager and wanted to include it in their new plays festival.    They were excited about its subject matter and very much wanted it as part of their program.   At first I thought it was a joke.   It had to be.    But I soon realized they were completely serious.   I was tempted to call him on it but for some reason didn’t.  I let him go on and on about this new work of mine, perhaps it gave me perverse satisfaction.   In the end I turned them down.   I never told him the irony of his offer.   On one hand I was disappointed with them.  And yet on the other it showed how the American Theater’s attitude towards marginalized racial dynamics was growing.   Fitfully, and at times with agendas of giving good public face and expanding funding bases, nonetheless, I choose to believe, growing.  

The Title - YOHEN is a term my pottery teacher once used to describe a piece we had pulled from the kiln.   We worked with the traditional nobori-gama or climbing kiln, using wood and oil to fire it.  Upon opening the kiln, there are always a number of works damaged during the course of firing.  They were kizumono.  Oddly colored, peculiar flashing, warped - all products of a process that invites the unpredictable forces of nature to participate.  I was in charge of breaking them up and scattering them on the dirt road for fill.  These throwaways tended to be in higher number with Seto-san.  There was a loose style to his work that lent itself to this result more than if he been compulsively diligent.  This was his character and choice.  He liked to tempt those unknown hands of fate to more readily instruct, even if it meant a larger percentage of unusable pots.

While unloading the kiln, there would be a piece damaged in the firing we would put aside to be discarded later.  However, the more Seto-san looked at it, the more he could see it held an aesthetic essence - derived from the very fact of it being the result of an accident - that made it artfully compelling.  The hands of conscious artist design, and, unseen forces creating in concert.  This piece was referred to by Seto Hiroshi as yohen.

As I learned in time, yohen is traditionally used in specific reference to the coloring of pots and that my teacher’s usage to include physical misshapen-ness, was a broader interpretation, perhaps again, to suit his own particular approach - expansive, allowing greater spaces between the logic of his aesthetic rationalism.  He was a character. 

Interestingly, the idea that Yohen pertains to coloring, is in fact, more appropriate to this American play where we live in a highly racialized world.  And where the tradition is to focus on color.

A final note.  Nobu McCarthy passed away last year while shooting a film in Brazil.  She was a very special friend to my wife, Diane, and myself.  Nobu will be dearly missed by us as both an intimate and as a gifted and favorite working associate.  As she was so much a part of the development of this play, I dedicate this production to the memory of her, Nobu McCarthy.  

 

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Philip Kan Gotanda Strikes a Blow for Truth 

by Robert M. Gardner

 

“RASHOMON” EXPLODES REALITY, AT UBUNTU THEATER, OAKLAND

Say a lie long enough and loud enough, and it becomes the truth.  “Rashomon”

In Philip Kan Gotanda’s new adaptation of “Rashomon,” fake news and “alternative facts” take on a life of their own, as he presents us with contradictory accounts of a Samurai warrior’s violent death.

Gotanda uses Akutagawa as the name of his main actor, a writer. Akutagawa is also the name of the actual 1920s masterful writer of the short stories that inspire “Rashomon.”  In the opening scene, we meet Akutagawa (inspired Steven Ho), the writer, who is frustrated in his attempts to decipher the truth from several conflicting testimonies.

Christine Jamlig (Lady), Ogie Zulueta (Bandit), Jomar Tagatac (Samurai). Photos by Simone Finney

Before any words are spoken, three actors glide silently onto a sparse, darkened stage, taking ghostlike trajectories past the writer, who is seated at a typewriter. Like ephemeral thoughts, they struggle for dominance in Akutagawa’s brain.

As the stage brightens, an intricate shadow, like light filtered through a shoji screen, covers the stage. In the opening dialogue, a Priest (passionate Ogie Zulueta) laments the death of the Samurai, as well as his own tortured life, in a soliloquy that is both questioning and philosophical. Although Akutagawa appears innocent and confused, he later becomes an accomplice. He brings weapons to the actors, encouraging them to kill, or commit seppuku, ritual suicide. These weapons can be metaphors for a writer’s way of exerting power.

Jomar Tagatac (Samurai)

While Akutagawa wears 20s style casual dress, the rest of the cast wear traditional, flowing white Japanese karate attire.  By keeping them in the same costumes throughout, Gotanda intentionally blurs distinctions between the multiple characters.

Can we figure out who or what is responsible for the death of the Samurai (outstanding, multi-faceted Jomar Tagatac)? Each version of the dire event seems so plausible that we cannot fix on one solution. Paradoxically, all the actors are so committed to their versions of reality that they leave us momentarily convinced, and then uncertain about “the truth”—a delicious ambiguity.

The players are excellent and enthrall us with their skill and passion, as they portray contradictory characters. Christine Jamlig is scarily chilling as the Wigmaker who steals hair from recently dead corpses. Yet, when she plays the Lady, a widow, Jamlig tenderly elicits our sympathy at her loss of her husband.

Christine Jamlig (Lady) and Ogie Zulueta (Bandit)

We react with horror when the Lady is savagely raped by the Bandit. But later, she becomes the dominant player in the sexual encounter—under the gaze of her husband.  Is she a victim or a cause of the Samurai’s violent death?

As Priest and Bandit, Ogie Zulueta plays a strong counterweight to the Lady, as he delivers a powerful performance. He is threatening as the fearsome Bandit in one scene; but pitiable in another as an ineffectual buffoon who steals only to support his many children.

There are no easy answers in this play. Like the recent protests in Berkeley, your conclusion will depend on the lens you use. The play runs for an hour and 45 minutes, and some may be confounded by its twists and turns. Rather than the four points of view in the Kurosawa film and in the stories, Gotanda’s “Rashomon” offers seven or eight versions. Fewer scenes could raise the impact. The idea of the Samurai as a pedophile introduces yet another innovation.

Gotanda brings Akutagawa to life as his oracle, delivering ambiguous messages. The play is a jarring commentary on the turmoil in our world, and the rise of “alternative facts.” I highly recommend this fine offering by the Ubuntu Theater Project. They strike gold again in OakTown.

Christine Jamlig (Lady), Ogie Zulueta (Bandit), and Jomar Tagatac (Samurai)

“Rashomon” adapted by Philip Kan Gotanda, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, at Ubuntu Theater Project, Oakland, California, through Sunday, September 17, 2017. Info:ubuntutheater.com

Cast: Steven Ho, Christine Jamlig, Jomar Tagatac, and Ogie Zulueta.

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Trump And The 75th Anniversary Of The Japanese Internment

02/19/2017 

Bettmann via Getty Images

(Original Caption) 1942-Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII: ‘Evacuation’ of the Niseis from California: Interior scene in an electric train en route to the assembly center.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the executive order that authorized the internment of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent during World War II. As we contemplate the actions of the Trump administration in matters pertaining to national security, it is imperative that we remember and reflect upon this lesson from the past.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no clamor for the mass internment of persons of Japanese descent. To the contrary, shortly after Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle assured the nation that there would be “no indiscriminate, large-scale raids” on such individuals, and Congressman John M. Coffee expressed his “fervent hope” that “residents of the United States of Japanese extraction will not be made the victim of pogroms directed by self-proclaimed patriots.”

 

In the weeks that followed, however, a demand for the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry—citizens and non-citizens alike — exploded along the West Coast. The motivations for this sudden outburst of anxiety were many and complex. In part, this demand was fed by panic-driven fears of a possible Japanese invasion of the mainland. Conspiracy theories abounded, and neither government nor military officials did anything to allay these anxieties.

 

General John L. DeWitt, the top Army commander on the West Coast, reported as true a fabricated report of an imminent uprising of 20,000 Japanese Americans in San Francisco. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover publicly dismissed this hysteria as unwarranted, and Attorney General Biddle repeatedly reiterated that no person would be detained “on the score of nationality alone.”

 

Public agitation for a mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry was inflamed, however, by a California legislative manifesto that purported to connect the ethnic Japanese with an alleged fifth column, asserting that even ethnic Japanese born in this country are “totally unassimilable” and insisting that every American of Japanese ancestry had primary allegiance “to his Emperor and to Japan.”

 

On January 4, 1942, newspaper columnist Damon Runyon falsely reported that a radio transmitter had been discovered in a rooming house that catered to Japanese residents. Who could “doubt,” Runyon asked, the “continued existence of enemy agents” among the Japanese population? On January 14, Republican Congressman Leland M. Ford demanded that “all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps.”

 

Such demands were further ignited by the Report of the Commission on Pearl Harbor, which was released on January 25, 1942. Hastily researched and written, this report falsely asserted that persons of Japanese ancestry had engaged in espionage and facilitated Japan’s attack on the United States. Although these assertions were unfounded, the report played a key role in turning Americans against Americans. Shortly after the report was released, Henry McLemore wrote a column in the San Fransisco Examiner calling for “the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast.” He added: “Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

 

On February 4, California Governor Culbert Olson declared in a radio address that it was “much easier” to determine the loyalty of Italian and German aliens than of Japanese Americans, and that “all Japanese people, I believe, will recognize this fact.” California’s Governor, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and most members of the West Coast congressional delegations now demanded that all persons of Japanese ancestry be removed from the West Coast.

 

California Attorney General (and future Supreme Court Justice) Earl Warren argued that, unlike the situation with respect to Germans and Italians, it was simply too difficult to determine which Americans of Japanese ancestry were loyal, and which were not. General DeWitt added that, “you needn’t worry about the Italians, except in certain cases” and “the same for the Germans.” But “a Jap’s a Jap.”

 

In early February, Attorney General Biddle, resisting growing pressure for internment, informed President Roosevelt that J. Edgar Hoover had concluded that the demand for mass evacuation was based on “public hysteria” and rampant misinformation. Biddle added that the Department of Justice “would have nothing to do” with any mass evacuation of Japanese Americans.

 

The public clamor on the West Coast, however, continued to build. American “patriots” began to commit ugly acts of vigilantism and vandalism against Japanese Americans and their property. On February 19, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Over the next eight months, 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were ordered to leave their homes. They were assigned to temporary detention camps, which had been set up in converted race tracks and fairgrounds. Many families lived in crowded horse stalls, often in unsanitary conditions. Barbed wire fences and armed guard towers surrounded the compounds.

 

From there, the internees were transported to one of ten permanent internment camps, which were located in isolated areas in wind-swept deserts or vast swamplands. Men, women, and children were placed in overcrowded rooms with no furniture other than cots. And there they remained for three years. Many of these families lost all of their possessions, to say nothing of their liberty and their dignity.

 

American “patriots” began to commit ugly acts of vigilantism and vandalism against Japanese Americans and their property.

 

The public rationale for the decision, laid out in the Final Report on the Evacuation of the Japanese from the West Coast, was that time was of the essence and that the government had no reasonable way to distinguish loyal from disloyal persons of Japanese descent. This report has rightly been condemned as a travesty. It relied upon unsubstantiated and even fabricated assertions.

 

Why, then, did Roosevelt sign the executive order? Undoubtedly, public opinion played a key role in his thinking. Although Roosevelt purported to explain the order in terms of military necessity, there is little doubt that domestic politics played a role in his thinking. 1942 was an election year. Roosevelt was not prepared to stand up to the growing panic, even though he knew it to be based on false information and public hysteria.

 

In Korematsu v. United States, decided in 1944, the Supreme Court, deferring to the judgment of military authorities, upheld the constitutionality of the Japanese internment. In a memorable dissenting opinion, Justice Frank Murphy courageously declared that “no adequate reason is given for the failure to treat these Japanese Americans on an individual basis, as was done in the case of persons of German and Italian ancestry. . . . I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism.”

 

In a separate dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Jackson insisted that the Court must not “distort the Constitution to approve all that the military may deem expedient,” adding that “once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, . . . the principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

 

On February 19, 1976, as part of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Constitution, President Gerald Ford issued Presidential Proclamation 4417, in which he acknowledged that, in the spirit of celebrating our Constitution, we must recognize “our national mistakes as well as our national achievements.” “February 19th,” he noted, “is the anniversary of a sad day in American history,” for it was “on that date in 1942 . . . that Executive Order 9066 was issued.”

 

President Ford observed that “we now know what we should have known then” – that the evacuation and internment of loyal Japanese American citizens was “wrong.” Ford concluded by calling “upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise – that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience” and “resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.”

 

In 1983, Congress appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to review Executive Order 9066. The Commission unanimously concluded that the factors that shaped the internment decision “were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership,” not any genuine military necessity. The Commission recommended that “Congress pass a joint resolution, to be signed by the President, which recognizes that a grave injustice was done and offers the apologies of the nation for the acts of exclusion, removal and detention.”

 

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially declared that the Japanese internment was a “grave injustice” that was “carried out without adequate security reasons” and without any documented acts of “espionage or sabotage.” The Act offered an official Presidential apology and reparations to each of the Japanese-American internees who had suffered discrimination, loss of liberty, loss of property, and personal humiliation because of the actions of the United States government. Over the years, the Supreme Court’s decision in Korematsu*  has become a constitutional pariah.

 

As we move forward in the face of a president’s call for a “Muslim ban” and who knows what else in the future, it is imperative that we remember, reflect upon, and remain eternally vigilant against our capacity to do evil in the name of national security.

 

*Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944),[1] was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II regardless of citizenship.

In a 6–3 decision, the Court sided with the government,[2] ruling that the exclusion order was constitutional. Six of eight Roosevelt appointees sided with Roosevelt. The lone Republican appointee, Owen Roberts, dissented. The opinion, written by Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Fred Korematsu's individual rights, and the rights of Americans of Japanese descent. (The Court limited its decision to the validity of the exclusion orders, adding, "The provisions of other orders requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such persons in assembly and relocation centers were separate, and their validity is not in issue in this proceeding.") During the case, Solicitor General Charles Fahy is alleged to have suppressed evidence by keeping from the Court a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence indicating that there was no evidence that Japanese Americans were acting as spies or sending signals to enemy submarines.[3]

The decision in Korematsu v. United States has been controversial.[2] Korematsu's conviction for evading internment was overturned on November 10, 1983, after Korematsu challenged the earlier decision by filing for a writ of coram nobis. In a ruling by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the writ (that is, it voided Korematsu's original conviction) because in Korematsu's original case, the government had knowingly submitted false information to the Supreme Court that had a material effect on the Supreme Court's decision.

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UPCOMING PRODUCTION

For More Information, Click the Link: http://www.centerrep.org/season1617/sistersmatsumoto.php 

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Excerpted from the Preface to No More Cherry Blossoms.   Sisters Matsumoto and Other Plays. A collection of plays by Philip Kan Gotanda.

No one is ever just one thing: the label that has been given them, the definition that one has accepted and lives within.  Nonetheless, so much of what we work and live by seems based on these seemingly transparent assumptions. I am a playwright, I am an American playwright, I am an Asian American playwright, I am an Asian American playwright of Japanese descent, or, I am not an Asian American playwright.  They serve their purpose.  They served their purpose.

In the end we are all beings in flux, in continual invention and reformation.  We must use social labels and self-defining names as they should be used, as convenient constructs to get a handle on the shifting world, to be replaced by more suitable ones as the world shifts again, as we shift again.

It is an always present, seen and unseen exchange going on between the external and the internal. The process involves keeping the two in sync, mutually informing, conforming, so one has keener negotiation of the described world. The artist can then by the simple act of attention make an action in the direction of truthfulness, relevancy and liberation.

We all do many things. We are all many things. I never quite know what I will be doing tomorrow. If I will travel or stay at home.  Be with others or alone. If it will be a play, a film, a song, a pot or a performance.

What I try to do is get up each day and give my body the chance to speak. In whatever format, language, medium it chooses.  I try to be a harsh judge of the work and brutally honest in its appraisal.  It should represent the truth of that moment to me.  The exact articulation of my whole being – hair to bone, bowels to skin, historical to contemporaneous, emotional to intellectual, all that can be seen and all that can be dreamt – in as artful a gesture as possible.

Of course one can never do exactly that. One comes as close as one can. That is the challenge.

Here is some of that work. It covers a period of about five to six years and gives a sense of the work I have been doing in theater. It is a good companion to my book, Fish Head Soup and Other Plays.  It is a good companion to my films and screenplays. It is a good companion to my Website. It is a good companion to hearing a performance of my spoken-word retro jazz ensemble, the new orientals or, its newer iteration.

The world shifts  

The label no longer fits  

We go to sleep, wake up, and try again  

Hopefully with new eyes. 

 

Copyright Philip Kan Gotanda 2012-2013 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Epiphany at Shinsai

-- added May 3, 2013 --

Excerpt from a Panel after the Shinsai Event at Cooper Union in New York.   March 12, 2012. Anne Cattaneo moderated. Panelists included:  John Guare, John Weidman, James Yaegashi, Philip Kan Gotanda.

Anne Cattaneo: And then I called Philip Gotanda, who I’ve known for 30 years, and I said “You have to be part of this.” Can you tell us a little bit about your life and how it fit into your Shinsai play?

PHILIP GOTANDA: Well, my connection is I’m a third generation Japanese American. My mother and father were the children of immigrants and I myself went to Japan in the early ‘70s. I went to school there and then I left the program and I lived in a pottery village for a while, for a year and a half, studying pottery. And subsequent to that I’ve been going back and forth, and more recently they’ve been doing my plays in Japan.

What I thought I’d talk about is my experience with this event. I arrived Friday night, late Friday night.  Saturday I went to rehearsals and I attended rehearsals. I had a chance to meet and mingle with all the performers, all the people behind the scenes, various writers. And then I sat through both performances yesterday, in the afternoon and the evening, quite near John. And I think John and I had the same experience finding that the event was remarkable, and it was remarkable for me in the sense that my own play was subsumed by everyone’s stories, so by the end of last night it all became one event. It wasn’t just the plays, the material, it was the audience response, it was me meeting everyone, and it was this powerful cumulative feeling that the event created. 

What I think is that because the initial gesture was one of kindness, collective generosity, and mutual compassion,  the event itself carried a kind of purity of impactfulness that ultimately wrote all over all those who participated and all over my body.  That was the story that I came away with, and it was a wonderful sort of feeling. 

Also, if I can repeat what John was saying, I thought the Japanese playwrights’ material ultimately was what moved the evening. The American playwrights of course we are all here, but  the Japanese playwrights were able to ground the abstraction of the evening and make it real, so concrete because of the specificity of what they talked about, because of the day-to-day events shown in the plays. And that allowed the stories for all of us to become so real.  We feel as best as we can, through theater, through art, as John was saying, the pain, the challenges that the country is facing, by way of everyday people, through the words of the playwrights.

And the last thing I wanted to say was it’s connected a bit to the piece I wrote which was called “Child is Father to Man.”  It’s about a son talking about his father and the relationship they have and the relationship the two of them have to the past, Japan being part of it, Kauai, Hawaii being part of it.  My mother was a Nisei, was born in America at a time when, this was before World War II, she was the all American kid.  She loved America. She loved Japan. And it was all fairly integrated.  She was an American kid. The war happens and Japan and America go at it, and she is imprisoned for three years for being Japanese-American.  She gets out, she comes back to the West Coast and she raises a family, three sons of which I am one, and from that point on, from the time she was incarcerated, imprisoned, her relationship to both Japan and America was ambivalent.  She wanted to love and be patriotic towards Japan, the country of her family.  She wanted to love and be patriotic to America, but they imprisoned her.  And as a consequence, her entire life was one of ambivalence, of a love-hate relationship, which she passed on to me.

But last night I had a minor epiphany, then I’ll be quiet, but I thought of my mother. I wish my mom could have been here at the event because it also ties into something that Oskar Eustis in his welcoming remarks said about this being about the world. My mother struggled always with trying to love and be patriotic to two countries of the world, and I think if she was at the event last night she would have realized that she could love, and she should have perhaps loved the world of which there were two countries, and that’s the thing I thought, that’s what this is about. I wish my mom could have been here. She would have understood something new. As I did. (Applause)

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Coming - a Second Act.