Department of Music, Theatre and Dance, Cal State L.A. | Spotlight

Anniversary of Japan’s ‘shinsai’ commemorated

Local staged reading helps raise funds for restoration of Japan theater community

Photo of CSULA team participating in the Shinsai event. (Photo by Montica Pes.)
L-r: Chris Goodson, Kymm Swank, Takuya Iba, Jocelyn James, Sarnica Lim, Kevin Harland, Lesley Asistio, Ricky Pak, Marc Cardiff, and Alicia Tycer. Photo of CSULA group reading at the Shinsai benefit performance. (Photo by Montica Pes.)
L-r: Kymm Swank, Jocelyn James, Alicia Tycer, Lesley Asistio, and Marc Cardiff.

Photo of CSULA's Shinsai event at the Japanese American National Museum. (Photo by Gabor Ekecs.)
A crowd filled the lobby of the Japanese American National Museum during the Shinsai: Theaters for Japan benefit performance.

The one-year anniversary of Japan’s devastating earthquake recently took center stage at the Japanese American National Museum, where Cal State L.A. students, alumni and faculty members assembled to support Shinsai: Theaters for Japan.

Shinsai: Theaters for Japan was a nationwide fundraising effort initiated by actor James Yaegashi, whose family lives close to the hard-hit Tohoku region of Japan. (Shinsai means “great quake” in Japanese.) The March 11 commemoration, coordinated by New York’s Theatre Communications Group (TCG), was held throughout 21 states.

Locally, the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at CSULA presented a staged reading, featuring several donated works by prominent Japanese and American playwrights and composers, to aid in the restoration of the theatre community affected by the 2011 disaster.

The selected readings included Sayonara II by Oriza Hirata; Charlie’s monologue from Seascape by Edward Albee; From The Sonic Life of Giant Tortoises by Toshiki Okada; Child is Father to Man by Philip Kan Gotanda; The Length of this Play has the Half Life of Uranium by Suzan-Lori Parks; A Guide to Japanese Etiquette by Doug Wright; and The Isabel Who Disappeared by Naomi Iizuka.

According to a Los Angeles Times’ article, CSULA was one of only two Los Angeles university or professional theater companies that responded to the call to assist Japanese theaters damaged by the natural catastrophe.

The Shinsai benefit performance was produced by CSULA graduate student Kymm Swank, under the supervision of faculty adviser Susan Mason, emerita professor of theatre arts. Additionally, the CSULA troupe included graduate students Montica Pes (co-director), Marc Cardiff, Ricky Pak, Chris Goodson, Jocelyn James (co-director), Fanshen Cox and Barbara Ishida (co-director); undergraduate student Mark Hao; faculty member Alicia Tycer; and alumni Lesley Asistio (co-director), Vashti Searcie and Sarnica Lim.

Professor Mason, who studied Japanese theater and lived in Japan for five months as a Fulbright scholar, enlisted Swank to organize the CSULA effort.

“This event attracted me as a model of national networking through performance,” said Mason, who has worked professionally as a dramaturg and critic. “I'm very interested in the activist possibilities of theater because of theater’s ability to convene.”

An M.A. candidate in theatre, Swank eagerly accepted the prospect of engaging the public in the performing arts. “It was a tremendous gesture,” she said, “and a great opportunity to work on some fantastic pieces.

“Creating work that speaks to and supports a community is very important to me,” she added. “This was an event that honored and reinforced a sense of artistic solidarity.”

With a total of 69 participating organizations nationwide, Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, said, “Shinsai: Theaters for Japan demonstrates the strength of our global theater movement when we reach out to each other in times of need. Shinsai is a part of TCG’s efforts to help theaters in this country and across the globe become more resilient in the face of adversity and disaster.”

Described by many as a “beautiful memorial,” CSULA’s Shinsai: Theaters for Japan event was made possible through collaborations with Jeanne Sakata, a local Japanese American playwright and actress, and the Japanese American National Museum.

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