EAST WIND: Breaking Silence and Breaking Boundaries

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By MIYA IWATAKI

“WE WILL GAMAN NO MORE!” — Yuji Ichioka, testifying at the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings in L.A. in 1981

“Tales of Clamor” is experience and experiment masterfully pulled together by traci kato-kiriyama and Kennedy Kabasares and premiering at the Aratani Theatre Black Box in Little Tokyo.

In exploring the many facets of silence endured by our parents and grandparents, “Tales” audiences can experience, on a visceral level, the breakthrough out of a painful past of armed-guard, barbed-wire concentration camps through the emotional acting of seven stellar performers whose spoken words are owned and further enhanced by personal family memories – and stunningly revisited during each performance.

The intimacy of the 88-seat Black Box setting on stage (!) allows us to feel a special closeness to, and even familiarity with, the sometimes heated exchanges among JA family members.

And the Black Box setting is only one of the innovations. “Tales” boldly experiments with “circus” elements throughout featuring aerial artist Kennedy Kabasares – and even the cast members in one very symbolic, extremely moving scene. This is not “circus” as we normally think of it. It is visual and physical artistry, creatively and cleverly integrated into the production in a way that enhances the story.

Another innovation is the creative partnership with NCRR (National Coalition for Redress/Reparations during the timeframe of the play), a grassroots community organization. Traci and Kennedy are artistic activists who have a long and close relationship with NCRR. Their intent was to explore different elements of silence through telling the important story of, and the decisive impact of the CWRIC hearings, and the testifiers who Broke their Silence.

They also wanted to highlight the key role that NCRR played in getting hearings beyond only Washington, D.C. — and convincing the CWRIC to add more hearings in seven major cities with significant JA populations. Over 750 people testified at the hearings!!

I felt it was an honor and opportunity to be able to work with such talented young artists, and to share our own stories and memories in the development of this important piece. Los Angeles was the only CWRIC hearing where all of the testimonies were filmed and preserved.

NCRR has been eager to share their DVDs of the hearings, and “Tales” integrates the footage and soundtrack in the most amazing and meaningful ways! The power of those testimonies still brings tears, arouses anger and inspires pride in our people for standing up and speaking out! They also hold many lessons for us today, as we again see racism, detention and families separated.

It took a lot of courage, commitment and thought for our community to break silence and testify about such deep personal and painful; angry and agonizing tales of clamor. That “journey” to the hearings is explored through – family relations, NCRR house meetings, struggling to get people to testify.

Dan Kwong is the director of “Tales” and I feel his guiding presence throughout the production. Dan is one of the most creative multimedia artist/director/playwrights. I’ve always been a fan of his quirky humor and view of the world in his performance pieces. He is the perfect match for this unique, thinking-way-outside-the-box, multi-anecdotal, multi-dimensional play.

We Show Up in Different Ways

Takayo Fischer (second from right) talks about camp memories in “Tales of Clamor.” She is joined by (from left) Jully Lee, Greg Watanabe, Sharon Omi and Kurt Kuniyoshi. (Photo by MICHAEL PALMA)

The “Tales” ensemble Nails It! Each actor plays various characters ranging in age and time or era. And what is wonderful is that each actor has at least one “moment.”

Takayo Fischer’s “moment(s)” have me in awe. Her ability to reach down so deep and keep it so real in each performance blows me away.

Greg Watanabe (“Allegiance”) is a forceful presence throughout, but there is one powerful moment where (dammit!) he has me in tears each time.

Jully Lee (“Mexican Day” as Hisaye Yamamoto) brings special energy and earnestness to her character’s advocacy; there are a couple of very dramatic moments in the play where both her stillness and calm response hit me hard and stayed with me.

Sharon Omi has shown a surprising intensity in heated exchanges with Kem (traci’s character) that drive the story.

And Kurt Kuniyoshi, with his sonorous voice, breathes life, anger and agony into his characters.

It’s killing me not to be more specific, but I promised not to give away too much. As partners, some of us NCRR folks were able to see the play as it developed. Each time I saw, there were new developments that made it better!!

The intimate Black Box setting makes it ideal to follow each performance with a “Shareback” session with the cast and two members of NCRR. The Sharebacks I’ve stayed for have been sometimes quite emotional; and always interesting – there are so many lessons to be learned from our camp experience and the current detention, family separation, immigration and other racist policies today!

So, that very strong positive buzz going around on “Tales of Clamor” is all true! The play will run on Fridays through Monday night through Sunday, March 3. Bring family and friends. I’ll see you there!

GAMBARE!

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Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Congressman Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for a weekly radio program, “East Wind.” She can be reached at [email protected]

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