Culture is a funny thing. We tend to think of culture as something that gets passed down to children, and it does. It also gets passed up. I remember watching a grandmother tenderly taking the hand of her grandchild as they entered an early production of Anime Momotaro. The very proper lady wore a beautiful coat made from kimono fabric. She professed that her own grandmother had told her the story of the “Peach Boy” and that it was an important part of their heritage. The granddaughter carried a Hello Kitty backpack, wore light-up tennis shoes, and was covered in so many glittering objects that she almost gleamed with cuteness. I secretly wondered two things: 1) which of these two women was more in touch with her Japanese “culture,” and 2) who would have more explaining to do after the performance?
This production was born in Hawaii at Honolulu Theatre for Youth, a theatre that regularly performs in a variety of Asian styles. With this project, we aimed to use an aesthetic vocabulary familiar to young people: the world of anime. Every day, hundreds of young audience members entered our theatre with backpacks covered with Japanese cartoons and chatted about graphic novels, video games, card games, and “J-pop.” How would they tell a traditional story?
Around the time we started thinking about this project, we were extremely blessed to be able to send a Honolulu Theatre for Youth company member, Alvin Chan, to Japan and China to study with master theatre practitioners as a TCG/Fox Fellow. His time studying classical theatre styles aligned with our resident designers and actors immersing themselves in the world of Japanese cartoons. As we researched and experimented in the rehearsal hall, we found that traditional Japanese theatre techniques were extremely useful in staging a change in perspective, abstracting moments of violence, and even producing tears on demand. Alvin and I are extremely indebted to our Honolulu family of talented artists who sunk heart and soul into this project to make these discoveries.
If Anime Momotaro was born in Honolulu, it has grown to maturity in Bethesda under another team of collaborators and with the support of Imagination Stage. We cannot believe our fortune to work alongside such a team, and we humbly give credit to the amazing talent who have shaped the show through their work onstage and off. We would especially like to thank the theatre’s leadership for their support and commitment to the project and to all of you Ogres out there who continue to make theatre so much fun!
Eric Johnson (Director/Adaptor) is delighted to return to Imagination Stage where he previously directed Liang and the Magic Paintbrush and Callisto 5. Currently, he serves as Artistic Director of Honolulu Theatre for Youth, where he has dramatically increased the company’s commitment to new work, including the first season of entirely new work in the company’s 58-year history. Prior to HTY, Eric was an Artistic Associate at the Fulton Opera House and the Founding Artistic Director of Blue Shift Theatre Ensemble. His work has toured nationally and internationally throughout Spain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. As a freelance director, Eric’s credits include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Center Theatre Group, Childsplay, Imagination Stage, and the Kennedy Center New Visions/New Voices Festival. He is a proud alumnus of the TCG/NEA Early Career Directors Program and the Princess Grace Fellowship. In 2010, Eric was named one of Pacific Business News’ “40 Best Business Leaders Under Forty.”