Jun 17, 2012
I Interview Playwright Part 467: Chiori Miyagawa
Q: Tell me about DREAM Act Union.
A: It was a wild ride collectively writing the play, Dream Acts, performing it, and managing the production together. Also trying to collaborate with folks from the advocacy field, who in the end never understood what theater is or what theater artists do, was very challenging. (This is not always my experience collaborating with people outside the theater-I’ve had 3 years of successful collaboration with nuclear disarmament activists and educators. But I found out that the immigration arena is more complicated and territorial.)
There is complete information on dreamactunion.org : about the failed and still failing congressional bill DREAM Act that inspired us, our team, the advisory board members, the production, the panel we put together, press, photos, everything! Also, you can find where to make donations to help undocumented youth continue their education after high school. There may be another production in NYC coming up, which Saviana Stanescu, one of the playwrights is pursuing, and the play should be published online soon at IndieTheaterNow.com – please stay tuned!
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m putting politics and activism aside and going back to art and humanity in a larger picture and longer terms.
I’m working on a play titled This Lingering Life, which is very loosely based on 8 Japanese Noh plays from the fourteenth century. It has 27 characters and spans 10 years or 100 years, depending on the audience’s state of mind. It takes place in this life and Bardo (the place in between life and death), with Nirvana (the indescribable ultimate happiness) just out of reach.
Also working on a play, I came to look for you on Tuesday. that has 19 characters (one of them is Goddess of Light). It follows a woman from ages 6 to 50, tracing her non-existent memories of losing her mother to a tsunami when she was a baby to facing an approaching hurricane as an adult. The play takes place on this planet, but not in any particular geographical locations comparable to the world as we know it.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I don’t have a story like George Washington’s cherry tree, which I seem to remember being told when I was a child. Also, my father used to repeat some proverb from some European country about how children should live in a house at a distance that does not cool the soup—meaning, a grown child (a female child) should cook soup and bring it over to her parents’ house from her own, and the soup should still be hot when the parents eat it. This story definitely made me put an ocean and a continent between my house and my parents’ house.
Aside from that, it became clear to me when I was about twelve that Japan and I were not a good match. I left when I was fifteen. I think it would have been okay if I was born there as an aristocrat in the sixteenth century or as an intellectual in the early twentieth century. Not as a woman--that would have been awful. I don’t particularly want to be a man, so I guess neither case would actually have worked.
I think I’m the writer and the person I am because I was born in the wrong country at the wrong time, and because I have a deep love-love-hate-hate relationship with my chosen country, the U.S. I appreciate my Japanese ancestry though, and I love love NYC.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Government subsidy of individual artists. I’m writing to you, Adam, from a huge, nice flat in Berlin that belongs to a Spanish couple who are conceptual choreographers. While my husband and I spend a month in Berlin, our hosts are in their flat in Madrid, working in a performance festival. They don’t live extravagantly, but they are able to make a life for themselves doing theater. There is a certain self-respect and peace of mind that comes with the full-time commitment to one’s art (I only experienced it once when I had a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship—and I knew it would end in a year. I teach for a living, which I consider fortunate given the lack of government funding of artists in the U.S.) But of course, this is not about changing theater. It’s about changing our collective cultural belief and attitude toward artists and attitudes of artists themselves, so I think it’s a little beyond my dreams.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Eugene O’Neill. I can’t say his plays influenced me, but I admire him because he overcame the obstacles in the form of his parents (I know something about this), pulled himself up by the sailor’s boots (I don’t know if those boots even had straps on them) and rose from suicidal darkness to write. And he wrote his best plays at the end of his life, unlike many of his peers whose best work was done in their youth. I find all that hopeful. I wish my hero wasn’t a white male, but he couldn’t help being one. I must mention my major influence and inspiration, even though it’s not theater-- Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatrical theater. Theater that can happen only in a theatrical space. There is a lot of successful and impressive theater that can be done just as well or better on TV or film. I don’t see the point in that. I prefer theater that doesn’t have a sofa on stage, or at least a sofa that we are supposed to believe is a “real” sofa. I like plays that has very little language AND plays that have a lot of ideas seriously discussed with lengthy text.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: First, I would say don’t follow your heart, but instead look around and make a plan. Second, don’t get distracted by what’s popular or what seems important, but write your own unique plays, and make sure each play is THE play that could be your last. They seem like contradictory advice, but they aren’t. I did it completely differently—I followed my heart only and was blind to everything else and madly kept writing as an experiment. I made my life up as I went, always flying by the seat of my pants. I would take my own advice if I was starting over and not live Helter-Skelter style. Maybe. Oh, and start an IRA early!
Q: Plugs, please:
A: 2 books of my plays are published this year. If you’re curious, please purchase them. I don’t get a cent from it, but I’d love the books to be moving around out there. Thank you!
Thousand Years Waiting and Other Plays
America Dreaming and Other Plays