The­atre artists find new free­dom on-stage

THE­ATRE

The Georgia Straight - - Fall Arts Preview > Who To Watch -

SHIZUKA KAI

The great thing about the­atre is 2

that it can ab­sorb all kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences—even fol­low­ing your wildlife-photographer dad around while he tries to get up close and per­sonal with po­lar bears and wild wolves. That’s one project the mul­ti­tal­ented Shizuka Kai is cur­rently work­ing on: a pup­pet-the­atre take on her un­con­ven­tional up­bring­ing—which, she says, made a def­i­nite im­pact on her un­con­ven­tional art.

“Watch­ing him fol­low his dreams head-on has helped me be like, ‘I need to fol­low my dreams, and keep push­ing for­ward, no mat­ter what,’” Kai tells the Straight, on the line from the West End.

There’s no date set for the as-yetun­ti­tled pup­pet pro­duc­tion, but Kai has no short­age of work lined up for the com­ing sea­son. The Jessie Award–win­ning cre­ator is do­ing set de­sign for sev­eral lo­cal pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Carousel The­atre for Young Peo­ple’s Ele­phant & Pig­gie’s “We Are in a Play!” and Rice & Beans The­atre’s Chicken Girl. Other projects are in the works for Boca del Lupo and Théâtre la Seiz­ième—and that’s just the set­de­sign as­pect of Kai’s life. She’s also a mu­si­cian, a singer, a mask-maker, a play­wright, an il­lus­tra­tor, an ac­tor… If it can be done on-stage or in the stu­dio, she’s prob­a­bly tried it.

“The­atre gives you a free­dom to do dif­fer­ent things and try dif­fer­ent things,” the 36-year-old ex­plorer com­ments. “So I think that’s kind of where I am—and that’s how I’ve been, not to be cocky or any­thing, fairly suc­cess­ful in that sense. Most peo­ple that are suc­cess­ful in the­atre gen­er­ally do more than one thing.”

Also con­tribut­ing to her suc­cess has been her train­ing, in Ja­pan and at Stu­dio 58. “A work ethic: that’s what they teach you there,” Kai says of the Lan­gara Col­lege the­atre pro­gram. “And Ja­panese peo­ple tend to be re­ally hard work­ers.…when you see art­works that are very, very de­tailed and would take, you know, a ba­jil­lion hours, I usu­ally find that the artists are Ja­panese. ’Cause they’re very good with the small, teeny-tiny de­tails that they just sit there and work at for­ever.”

There’s an­other side of her Ja­panese her­itage that she thinks is sig­nif­i­cant. Her father, who’s work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary about Ja­panese wolves—once thought to be ex­tinct, but now ru­moured to be alive—has re­cently dis­cov­ered the Kai fam­ily crest. A pair of wings crossed within a cir­cle, it de­notes samu­rai an­ces­try.

“It makes me more pas­sion­ate about things, def­i­nitely, be­cause ‘I am a samu­rai war­rior,’” Kai says with a laugh. “It’s good mo­ti­va­tion.”

> ALEXAN­DER VARTY

AMANDA SUM

Amanda Sum’s first ex­pe­ri­ence 2

with mu­si­cal the­atre as a child got her rolling to­ward a promis­ing ca­reer—but it al­most didn’t hap­pen.

She was six in 2003 when her mom heard about auditions for a Gate­way The­atre pro­duc­tion of The King and I. Sum read­ied “Zipa-dee-doo-dah” for the au­di­tion, while her year-older sib­ling pre­pared a song from My Fair Lady.

“But I got too ner­vous and said I couldn’t do it,” she re­calls, speak­ing to the Straight over the phone from a Hastings-sun­rise café. “My mom au­di­tioned and so did my sis­ter, and both got the parts.” It wasn’t un­til an­other lit­tle girl could only per­form half-time that Sum was able to step in as one of the royal chil­dren.

“So that’s how I got my first show with­out au­di­tion­ing,” she says with a laugh. “Auditions still freak me out, in a sense, but I kind of know how to pre­pare for them now!”

Clearly, she’s right. Sum is still in the midst of SFU’S the­atre-per­for­mance pro­gram, yet she’s al­ready cre­at­ing a buzz on lo­cal stages. She ap­peared in direc­tor Chris Lam’s uniquely dou­ble-cast mu­si­cals Dog­fight in 2016 and Spring Awak­en­ing in 2017, both on the Pa­cific The­atre stage. Then, in 2017, she tack­led Al­ley The­atre and Ne­world The­atre’s ab­surd, sprawl­ing ren­di­tion of the Apoc­a­lypse Now satire The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness at the An­nex The­atre. The part, which ac­tu­ally con­sisted of mul­ti­ple roles, earned her praise as “a source of con­stant de­light” in the Straight’s re­view.

But The Wolves, the all-fe­male play she’ll re­visit this fall at Pa­cific The­atre, may be the work that most excites her. It had a short run at the venue last spring, and tells the hor­mon­ally charged com­ing-of-age story of a teen girls’ soc­cer team.

Sum, who had per­formed an early read­ing of the script, went to great lengths to nab the part. “I don’t have a soc­cer back­ground per se,” she ex­plains. “I didn’t know what to ex­pect. So I thought, ‘If they’re go­ing to ask me to drib­ble the ball for a cou­ple hun­dred me­tres, I don’t know if I’m gonna get the part.’” Her so­lu­tion? Head­ing out to the field with a friend who could run her through drills.

It turned out she needn’t have wor­ried: she won the role, and the show gen­er­ated such ex­cite­ment that Pa­cific The­atre is bring­ing it back from Oc­to­ber 19 to Novem­ber 10 (in a pro­duc­tion by Spoon The­atre, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Rum­ble The­atre).

“To this day I tell peo­ple this is my favourite show I’ve done,” Sum en­thuses. “The script it­self is very true to not just the teenage fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence, but also to the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. When you watch it, you see your high-school self.

“And then there’s this shared feel­ing of ‘We know that we’re an all-fe­male team and we’re do­ing this to­gether,’” she adds, point­ing out that the show has taken off, earn­ing a Pulitzer Prize drama nom­i­na­tion for play­wright Sarah De­lappe in 2017. “I feel like teenage girls por­trayed in the me­dia are sort of one-di­men­sional. These ones feel su­per com­plex and they’re nav­i­gat­ing joy and loss to­gether. But, at the same time, they’re so young and they want to laugh and have fun.”

Amid that project, and start­ing up her fourth and fi­nal year at SFU, Sum is look­ing to chal­lenge her­self in other ways. Look for her to per­form her first solo live mu­sic show at Cafe Deux Soleils on Com­mer­cial Drive on Oc­to­ber 6—an­other step into the un­known. Could it be that, on some level, she’s still try­ing to en­cour­age that kid in­side her who was too shy to au­di­tion?

“I think it will feed me and make me vul­ner­a­ble and push me with what I’m com­fort­able shar­ing.”

> JANET SMITH

The Wolves,

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