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The first time I really connected with a playwright – I mean really connected – it was out of the blue and unexpected. It was a play about a Japanese woman struggling to hold on to her Japanese roots while living in California. Even though the playwright of this play was African-American, Japanese and Cuban – and I’m blonde and Caucasian – I felt very connected to her. I was both comfortable with and challenged by the themes in the play, and I wanted more – I wanted to explore and learn more about this playwright and her theatrical world.
I first read this play in a multi-cultural drama class as a senior in college. I was already slated to teach English in Japan right after college, so I was particularly interested in the plays about Japan. It was my first thorough look at Japanese modern drama, as opposed to Kabuki or Noh. As a woman living in the modern world, I found this play very relatable and accessible, even though the main character was a Japanese woman struggling to adapt to American culture. A year later, when I was living in Japan, I found myself thinking of the lead character in the play often – because now I had become the foreigner struggling to adapt to my foreign surroundings.
After returning from my travels and attending graduate school in New York City, I moved to Los Angeles. Before my move to L.A., I had been offered a job directing this particular play as a guest artist in North Carolina. The producers asked if I’d be interested in inviting the playwright to a performance. I had studied her body of work for over a decade, so of course I was interested!
After waiting for a response to an invitation for over a month, (an invitation that went through the playwright’s agent), I decided to take matters into my own hands and try to get to the playwright myself. Her newest play was just opening at a major theater in Los Angeles, so I made the decision to attend the opening night performance in hopes that she would be in attendance. After the show, I was nervous. I’d been a fan of her work for over a decade. I was now directing her play. And I wanted to invite her to come and see my work – my interpretation of her work. What if she wasn’t like I had dreamed she’d be?
I saw her come up the stairs and found my opening. I introduced myself and told her that I was directing her play in North Carolina – and that I’d love to talk about her possibly attending a performance. She was lovelier than I had imagined – both supportive and inviting – and said that she’d love to talk about it with me over tea. I was over the moon, to say the least – I will never forget that first meeting.
To fast forward a bit, the playwright agreed to come to North Carolina for one of the shows – and she even said that she was looking forward to it. Once I told the producers that she was available and willing to come, my next task was to write a grant proposal for her airfare and hotel – which was approved.
The playwright came to North Carolina for 36 hours. She saw the Saturday evening show and I will never forget those two hours. I was more stressed than I had ever been watching a show that I had directed. I knew how intimate a play was to a playwright – and it was very intimate for me as a director. How would she feel about how I’d interpreted her work? I took chances and made statements within the play that I prayed she’d respect and like. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It was perfect.
I couldn’t believe that my first professional directing job was directing my favorite play by my favorite playwright. Not only was this playwright able to see the play, but also I was able to meet and share that experience with her. It was a dream come true and a great way to start a career.