Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you first became involved in the performing arts in the beginning?
My mom really likes to go see all kinds of performing arts, so she took me along a lot. And honestly, that's where it started. I just, you know, developed a love for performing arts and eventually I wanted to be on stage as well. Um, but the first time I got the bug was this amateur circus show at some resort in Southeast Asia. I did a very simple double acrobatic act when I was like six. And I just loved it from then.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what the performing arts looked like in Japan? As well as how you came to the US?
I'm from Japan but I grew up in Singapore during my elementary school years. Um, I think both in Japan and in Singapore, the performing arts industry isn't as big as in the United States. But we still had tours coming in from Australia and from the United Kingdom and the United States to perform. There's not a lot of local, the industry isn't as local. It's a lot of foreign companies coming in for tours. And my biggest thing was, because I'm bilingual and can't speak English, I didn't want to do theater in Japanese. I think a lot of things get lost in translation. And the opportunities here in the United States are incredible compared to where I grew up. That's the main reason I came here. Great. Wonderful. And, what has the performing arts taught me that I apply to my everyday life and how I engage with the world? For me, I’ve been taught how to interact with people. Whether that be friendships, or relationships, or how to be kind. And I like to be kind whenever I have a bad interaction with someone, whether that's someone I know or just someone I pass by. I like to understand their perspective and, you know, think about why that person acted the way they did. It could be in their upbringing or emotional things that they're going through. And I think performing guides us in such an incredible way to delve into that because it is just all about storytelling. Seeing things from different perspectives.
Q: what have been some challenges in either your pre professional or professional performing arts career?
I mean being an immigrant has been incredibly challenging. I have already had a lot of visa issues. I actually got denied last year and had to go home to Japan for a little bit. That was really heartbreaking because I had like three contracts lined up. And I was so excited to land these jobs and start work but I couldn't because the (US) government didn't allow me to work. That was just an awful time. But I'm thankful to be back. Being a person of color is another thing. Always battling with being seen as the stereotypical Asian in shows or roles. A part of me is like, “Oh, I want to work so I guess I have to do those roles.” But as an artist, that's not fulfilling. Those are not the stories that I want to tell. So, it's like, do I stick with my values and what I want to do? Or do I want to be working more? Not always, but sometimes those struggles come into play.
Q: How do you think the performing arts, specifically theater, can be a platform for social justice issues?
Before the pandemic was such a great time for, I think, especially Asian Americans and Asians to use their platform. There were so many new productions being created that told stories from our perspective that weren't the typical white Savior, you know, stories. I actually got to do a play in Washington D.C. from last fall to winter. It was called White Girl. There were seven people in the show, six were Asian all from different ethnicities. We were all Asian, but we all looked different. We spoke with a different accent, we had different values and morals. And for me, that was the most fulfilling production I've ever done as an Asian. It really introduced these new things and perspectives that, especially white audiences in D.C., never experienced before.
Q: Can you talk broadly about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as a performing artist?
I was working down in South Florida and we had just started performances, so we had been rehearsing for two and a half weeks. And our first preview was on March 12th, which was the day Broadway shut down. We were all worried, but the theater was really, you know, optimistic. We all wanted to keep pushing through and performing shows. We opened on Saturday, March 14th, and that morning we were told that we had to shut down the following day. So, thankfully we got to do four performances on that Saturday and Sunday. But we were scheduled to run for another month. That was really heartbreaking because it was a show. Of course, it is one of my favorite shows I've been in. Jessica Lee Golden who is a Broadway actress was in the show that I really love. I have loved her for years. It was a dream or getting to work with her as well. And for that to be cut short was really sad. Um, and thankfully the theater allowed the New York out of towners to stay in the house. You know, I heard all about all my friends leaving New York again. People were telling me it wasn’t fun there, so I decided I wasn’t going back. I stayed and I ended up staying in actor housing until the beginning of May. They told us they couldn’t house us anymore and we were understanding. But a lot of my best friends live here in Orlando, which was only three hours away from where I was staying. So, my best friend and boyfriend came to pick me up. Now, I’ve been crashing in their living room for about two weeks, going on three now. I'm just really thankful that I have a really awesome friend, and friends, who allowed me to, I guess, have a roof over my head for a little bit.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about right when the US started to shut down, and specifically what process you were in and kind of your initial reactions? Were you aware of the virus before the US started to take precautions due to international family?
I think we were all aware of it. Especially because Japan is so close to China and so much was happening there. But I don't think any of us expected it to become a global pandemic of this size. I remember, even when I left New York to come to Florida back at the end of February, there were only a few cases and they were mostly in the big cities. I knew it was growing but I thought it would be under control. And in Japan, there were a few cases as well, but it wasn't as crazy. Not a lot of people were dying, but also not a lot of people knew how severe the symptoms were going to be. That was definitely a shock factor. My parents are in Japan and I talked to them a lot. One of the blessings that came out of this is, you know, my parents now work remotely so I get to call them. Even with the time difference, and not just on weekends. And they keep updating me on what Japan looks like. I want to know how they're doing, what life is looking like for them and for my grandparents there, and I want to update them on what it's looking like down here.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about when the show shut down and the company's reaction and how you felt?
I think shutting down was a big shock to all of us in the company. I remember talking to people and we were discussing things like, “Well, what's going to happen to us? It's not as bad here as New York so maybe they won’t shut down,” and we were very hopeful and optimistic. Eventually the company was shut down. I remember waking up on Saturday morning, the day of the opening night and seeing the email saying that we had to close the following day. And part of me kind of saw it coming. But then, it really hit me that this was the reality. It was going to happen. It’s tough when you put in two and a half weeks of really intense hard work. I was really excited to get to do this show for a whole month and get to know more people, and also get to explore South Florida. There was also the worry of, “Well, what's going to happen to me in terms of where I'm going to go?” I knew that I didn't want to go back to New York, and a lot of people didn't want to go back either. So, we talked and we decided to ask the producer if they could keep us around. And also, the theater really wanted to postpone the show. So they told us we could stay, hoping that they would only be shut down for like a month before things returned back to normal. So mid April, we would all just come back, rehearse for a week and put on the show again. They thought it would pass. And then, as weeks went by, things weren't improving. So, we knew, I kind of always knew, that the show was not going to happen. But the producers were still really positive and they were also trying to refrain from losing a lot of money which would happen if they completely canceled the show. Every month they would aim to reopen. So, when April was cancelled they planned to reopen in may. And when there was no improvement, they planned to postpone until June. June was the latest they could postpone, so they eventually had to cancel the show. It's crazy to think about now. Like, it's not better, it's worse now. We were so optimistic that everything was gonna work out and get better, and things were going to go back to normal. But deep down I kind of knew. I wanted to think things would work out. Especially when things are not looking so good in the world, you want to keep that little piece of hope inside you.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what you've been doing during this time if you've been keeping up with your acting training or singing or if you've just kind of relaxed or if you're creating? What does a day or week look like for you right now?
So at the beginning of the shutdown, I wasn’t doing much because I thought it was gonna only last for one two months. I was really, like, “Oh, it's fine I'm just gonna take this time to read more books, you know, learn monologues.” I learned Shakespeare monologues and I took lessons online. I do a lot of self tapes and learn dances, which all really helped me stay creatively fulfilled. But ever since coming up to Orlando to stay, I don't really have that freedom of like doing whatever I want, whenever I want anymore, because I'm staying at a friends house. Which is fine, but also I'm starting to feel really tired of making myself stay creative and active. This week I've had a lot of anxiety. With my immigration issues, I wonder what's going to happen to us immigrant work artists. We are wondering when theaters are going to come back. And even if they do come back, will there be places for me as a dancer first? Because they say they don't want to do the big, dancey musicals, they want to do the small ones. And there's not a lot of roles that I can do for the small shows. So then, what does that mean? I keep going into a more negative headspace and that's stopping me from wanting to be more active. I still look on playbills and see if there's any things that I can submit for self tapes and whatnot, but I think even for those there's less than there used to be. Two months ago, all of the theaters were still looking for all their summer shows, but now everyone kind of canceled everything. So there aren’t even things that I can really look forward to submitting for. I've been given opportunities to do play readings on zooms and record songs. The drive that I had, back in March or April, was not as strong. But I don't want to force myself. I know that we're all going through it, it’s not just me. And I don't want to be in an even darker place by blaming myself or judging myself when forcing myself to stay active. So it's a struggle where I know I need to do it, but I only want to do it if I feel like doing it.
Q: What would you like to see change and shift When this pandemic ends and the performing arts world?
One thing I was talking to my best friend's boyfriend about is how auditions are run like big cattle call auditions in New York. There's like 300 girls showing up for this big dance call and it's crazy, but with all of the video submissions, I think that can definitely change. People can upload videos, and that can be like the first round. Theaters usually know what kind of dancers or actors they’re looking for. So instead of, you know, showing up at 5:30am in the middle of the winter with 300 other girls, we can minimize that number by sending in video submissions first. I hope that a better audition system will be put into place. The utilization of video submissions would be better for both the casting side and the actor/dancer side in terms of our physical and mental health. I hope things get back to normal. Before this began, I really enjoyed what I was seeing: the amount of theaters that were starting to integrate diversity and put their own twist into shows to make it more, I don't know, not culturally appropriate but just more “today.”
And as I said, there were so many new shows on Broadway Off Broadway regionally that were being produced. That included more POC’s and stories. New stories written for Asians and Asian Americans. And it was so exciting for me and my community. I'm so scared that development will stop because a lot of leaders are going to think more about finances, they're not going to take chances. I think a lot of people are noticing that they rely on the arts, especially in these hard times. Everyone is, you know, watching Netflix, and all these dances and concerts and shows are being live streamed for people at home. And at the end of the day, entertainment can allow people to escape the reality that is this global pandemic for a few hours. It takes us to a different place. So I hope that everyone can prioritize the hours a little bit more, whether that's, you know, going to see more shows, donating more funds, or the government not cutting funds for the arts. And I hope that there will be more support for the Performing Arts. With more people supporting and going to see shows, maybe producers and theaters will want to take more risks instead of taking the easy route. Giving and producing new work instead of doing what they know will be a hit.