Yoshié Bancroft’s Japanese Problem is creating early buzz, while Ruth Bruhn manages Green Thumb’s action behind the scenes
In our annual Fall Arts Preview, we talk to some of Vancouver’s rising talents in theatre, dance, music, comedy, and visual arts; plus, both critics’ and insiders’ picks for the season.
Yoshié Bancroft’s labour of love, Japanese 2
Problem, hasn’t even opened yet, and already the 31-year-old Jessie-award-winning actress and her creative partner, director Joanna Garfinkel, have been hearing from people across the country.
“It’s been really exciting, the response so far, and we haven’t done the show!” Bancroft laughs a little in amazement. “We did a small teaser version of Japanese Problem at the Powell Street Festival, but the response has been really positive. We’re getting messages from various organizations in Toronto, the Kootenays, the Interior, and people who are interested in bringing the show to them.”
It’s what Bancroft has been working toward since she toured the PNE Livestock Building in 2015 with a group from the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre. She’d grown up going to Playland, unaware that it was where more than 8,000 Japanese-canadians, just like her, were held and “processed” during the Second World War. Now, sitting here with the Straight at Kafka’s on Main Street, she’s two weeks from the first fulllength performance of Japanese Problem—staged right in the stables where the injustices took place.
She didn’t necessarily envision herself as a producer when she started acting at Arts Umbrella when she was 14, or even when she graduated from UBC’S theatre program in 2008. “But I feel like it kind of goes hand in hand with being an actor in this city,” Bancroft says. “You want to do certain work, so at the end of the day, if you’re not getting those jobs then you’re going to make the jobs for yourself.”
Japanese Problem isn’t Bancroft’s only project this month, let alone this fall. She’s costarring in Adult Company at the Vancouver Fringe Festival to September 16. Japanese Problem opens September 22, and after it wraps its run on September 30, it will tour to Kaslo, B.C., from October 6 to 8 as part of an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the internment. After that, Bancroft will head to Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver for The Double Axe Murders, running from October 25 to November 5. There will also be a Japanese Problem exhibit at the Nikkei Museum from September 30 through January 2018.
“I’m feeling a little tired,” Bancroft admits with a laugh. “But my heart is full and I’m so happy to be doing all the things that I’m doing. This year’s been full of validation, which has been really powerful as an artist.” > ANDREA WARNER
For the last six weeks, Ruth Bruhn has probably 2 been the hardest-working 23-year-old theatre professional in Vancouver. She’s pulling double duty, finishing up the season at Bard on the Beach as assistant stage manager and settling into her new role as the production manager at Green Thumb Theatre. “As we say at our weekly checkins, I haven’t cried at work yet,” Bruhn says with a laugh, sitting inside the Green Thumb meeting room, her dog, Stella, lying at her feet.
Bruhn is a quick study, but she was also predisposed to the craft. Her mother was a stage manager at the Playhouse before Bruhn was born, and in Grade 10 she talked her way into Gateway Theatre, first as a “child wrangler” and then as an apprentice.
“I was ‘little Ruthie’ who ran around, and I did about five or six shows with them before I went to Studio 58 for production,” Bruhn says. After graduation, she secured an apprenticeship at Bard and was hired back the following two seasons. She also stage-managed the East Van Panto, but it was Green Thumb’s touring production of Alone Together that changed everything.
“They got to know me and I got to know them, and then when this [production manager] position came about, I was like, ‘Hey, guys, I know I’m super unqualified but I’d love this opportunity,’” Bruhn says with a laugh.
Bruhn has been involved in stage management for a third of her life, but she “100 percent” had to prove herself because of her age.
“Even just talking with the scene shops and dealing with the maintenance of the vans and trying to negotiate with people who know I don’t fully know what I’m talking about yet,” she explains. “But it’s just keeping that conversation going with them, like, ‘Hey, I’m learning, but you’re not going to be able to take advantage of me.’ ”
Green Thumb has two shows hitting the road this fall: Not So Dumb by John Lazarus and Jabber by Marcus Youssef. The former is headed to elementary schools, while the latter is touring high schools. “Green Thumb is conversation starters for youth,” Bruhn says. “Even if it’s just one kid who’s like, ‘I didn’t even know what I was feeling was that,’ and is able to talk to somebody about it, that’s another big reason why I wanted to work here.” > ANDREA WARNER
Ruth Bruhn (left) has been involved in stage management for a third of her life but still had to prove herself; Yoshié Bancroft’s Japanese Problem started with a tour of the PNE Livestock Building. Emily Cooper photo.