Marcy Arlin, artistic director of the Immigrant Theatre Project, has started a blog series for Theatre Communications Group (TCG) chronicling the work of immigrant theatre artists who often labor out of sight of mainstream theater goers. Her first interview is with playwright Chiori Miyagawa, author of Thousand Years Waiting, America Dreaming, This Lingering Life.
A couple of the Q&A exchanges struck me as particularly relevant to Ragtime, especially in relationship to how Tateh, who in the play is steadfast that he is an artist not an activist, reinvents himself through his art and by bringing together innovation and tradition. The bolded text in the section’s below are my emphasis.
Q: How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
A: It has mattered in different ways at different times of my life. At the beginning, it was very important for me to be American. Because of this commitment to be one thing, my Japanese language deteriorated over the years. Those were strange years—my attitude allowed me to join the mainstream theater, but I was also in a process of losing something, too. Only recently, I came to understand that I don’t have a particular culture or identity that wholly describes who I am. I’m a hybrid of acquired American beliefs and imagined Japanese sentiments. I now try to think of it as an asset rather than a liability as a theater artist and a human being.
Q: How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
A: My ethnicity and representation in the field is a larger issue I can’t possibly attempt to address here, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. I do speak with an accent, but haven’t noticed that it matters too much in the non-profit theater community. Sometimes people ask me to be part of some translation project even though I’ve never translated anything. But that rarely happens. Overall, I find theater people to be very cool—they just let me be Chiori. Once I step out of theater, like into academia for example, I am still told and asked many outrageous things, such as, “You are the voice of your people.” Or, “Do you get published in English?”