Uncovering meaning in new and undervalued artistic works

Photo courtesy of Kishdia Rio Shinobu Kai

Love: Part One a stage reading, will be presented by the Dorothy Somerset Studio at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on February 9.

The play is part of the Enacting Culture/s series, a series of talks, performances and screenings looking to expand the awareness of students and the wider community to previously untapped or undervalued art and stories.


Love: Part One is a newly translated play from contemporary Japanese playwright Kishida Rio. The reading won’t be a polished production as the cast will only have five days to rehearse, but it will be a way to showcase the play to a brand new audience.

“This is a way to test a brand new script,” says Colleen Lanki, a PhD student at UBC and the Artistic Director at Tomoe Arts. “This is also a way to see how it plays to a Canadian audience. It’s a weird play. It’s a wonderful play, but a weird play.”

Lanki, one of the translators of the piece, says a lot of Rio’s work is quite out of the ordinary. The performance will be in a black box theatre, but there will be quite a lot of colour within the show.

“It’s an avant-garde play,” says Lanki, “it’s not exactly realism. For instance, there are a number of people who are dead in the play and are ghosts, one of which is a woman’s ex-husband whom she killed. There’s a man who comes home after ten years and meets his wife but she’s ten different people. It’s not your typical love story.”

This sort of weirdness is par for the course for Rio, who began writing during the 60s and 70s in Japan’s angura, or “underground” period. Though Love: Part One wasn’t written until 1985, it contains a lot of the rough, fragmented, and almost nightmarish qualities that characterized the angura period.

“Whenever I’ve taught this stuff in a classroom,” says Lanki, “people’s eyes cross and their minds get blown away a little bit, because some of it is really out there.”

Rio was one the few Japanese women writing during this period and won the prestigious Kishida Prize – a Japanese theatre award – in 1985, but she is often overlooked or not even mentioned when it comes to foreign appreciation of Japanese art.

“She gets ignored, and it makes me crazy,” says Lanki. “In English anthologies of Japanese contemporary art she’s not there, and I don’t understand why not.”

One of the issues facing Rio’s work – and the work of other artists in similar situations – is that it isn’t known here in Canada because it hasn’t been translated, but it can’t be translated if it isn’t known. Lanki sees Love: Part One and other translated or yet to be translated works as useful in expanding our horizons as a society.

“I feel like it creates a balance,” she says. “The stories are fascinating, and it gives us insight into different ways of thinking and seeing the world. What gets translated is what we get to know about a place. It’s movies, books, plays: what gets translated is what gets understood. It can be very important.”

Connections and awareness

Hallie Marshall, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at UBC, along with Anne Murphy, associate professor in UBC’s Department of Asian Studies, have created and organized the Enacting Culture/s series as a way to connect students through stories and art.

“We want to encourage students from different faculties to come together on a regular basis,” says Marshall, “creating more connections between different disciplines. We want to make sure they’re not separate.”

Enacting Culture/s has included lectures, screenings and now stage readings from a diverse range of sources. For the readings, the plays chosen aren’t those normally presented at downtown theatres.

“There are a lot of plays,” says Marshall, “that have been sort of forgotten about, even if they were popular in their time. We want to present a public forum for plays that typically don’t find a space at UBC as well as Vancouver in general.”

In attempting to draw attention to plays that are overlooked or unknown in Canada, Marshall hopes Enacting Culture/s can raise the awareness of all the art and artistic capabilities that exist and can be made available.

“There’s a range of stories that get told,” she says, “and we’re trying to expand that, to open up the access that students and faculty have to performance that is out there.”


For more information, please visit www.pwias.ubc.ca.