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Empire of the Son : using research-based theatre to explore family relationships Shigematsu, Tetsuro Hugh 2018

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      Empire of the Son  Using Research-Based Theatre to Explore Family Relationships   by  Tetsuro Hugh Shigematsu  B.F.A. Concordia University, 1995 M.F.A University of British Columbia, 2011     A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF  DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY  in  THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES  (Language and Literacy Education)    THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA  (Vancouver)   October 2018   © Tetsuro Hugh Shigematsu, 2018       ii The following individuals certify that they have read, and recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for acceptance, the dissertation entitled:  Empire of the Son: Using Research-Based Theatre to Explore Family Relationships  Submitted by  Tetsuro Hugh Shigematsu  in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of  Doctorate of Philosophy in   Language and Literacy Education  Examining Committee: Dr. George Belliveau (LLED) Supervisor  Dr. Rita Irwin (EDCP) Supervisory Committee Member Stephen Heatley (THTR) University Examiner Dr. Karen Meyer (EDCP) University Examiner Chair: Dr. Carole Blackburn (ANTH) University Examiner Dr. Michael Finneran (University of Limerick) External Examiner   Additional Supervisory Committee Members: Dr. Teresa Dobson (LLED) Supervisory Committee Member   Dr. Carl Leggo (LLED) Supervisory Committee Member      iii Abstract My father died on September 18, 2015. Less than three weeks later, I stood onstage at The Cultch’s Culture Lab in East Vancouver and shared with an audience of theatregoers the story of his death and his life. At the centre of this dissertation is Empire of the Son, a theatrical script that explores my contentious relationship with my Japanese father. This exploration is based on memories, interviews, and artifacts such as photographs, documents, and letters. Within the spectrum of research-based theatre, on one end there is a body of plays created by researchers for specialized audiences within such academic disciplines as healthcare or education resulting in most often “closed/conference performance based on systematic research” (Lea, Belliveau, Wager, & Beck, 2011, p. 695). On the other end of the spectrum, well known plays such as The Laramie Project (Kaufman, 2010), or the work of playwright Anna Deveare Smith have been annexed by research-based theatre scholars in response to those who continue to question its legitimacy “as a credible genre of research reportage” (Saldaña, 2008a, p. 203). In other words, research-based theatre tends either to be created by academic researchers for conference/stakeholder audiences (Lea et al., 2011), or created for mainstream audiences by theatre artists who do not self-identify as researchers. Empire of the Son is uniquely positioned as a play created by a self-identified arts-based researcher yet has managed to reach mainstream audiences. At the time of this writing, it will have played in 17 cities, and across four countries. Rarely has a dissertation play been so widely seen. Developing, performing and touring Empire of the Son has allowed me as an artist/scholar to navigate the territory of mainstream theatre through a bewildering variety of circumstances and terrain that remains largely untrammeled by  iv arts-based researchers. These developmental and experiential contributions are theoretically and methodologically informed by research-based theatre (Ackroyd & O'Toole, 2010; Belliveau & Lea, 2016). This exploration forms the spine of this research as I examine key moments, tensions, and epiphanies I encountered while conceptualizing, performing and touring this research.    v Lay Summary At the centre of this dissertation is Empire of the Son, a theatrical script that explores my contentious relationship with my Japanese father. When it comes to Research-Based Theatre, the literature tends to focus on the creation phase: the dramatization of research, the process of taking the raw data of interviews and forging the performance text. But these resulting plays are almost always limited to very specialized audiences, with few performances. Empire of the Son is uniquely positioned as a research-based theatre play that has managed to reach mainstream audiences. By the end of my upcoming third national tour, it will have played in 18 cities, across four countries with over 150 performances to over 20,000 people. Rarely has a dissertation play been so widely seen. This research consists of my exploration of key moments, tensions, and epiphanies I encountered while conceptualizing, performing and touring this research.     vi Preface This dissertation is original, unpublished, independent work by the author,  T. Shigematsu.    vii Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................. iii	Lay Summary .................................................................................................................... v	Preface ............................................................................................................................... vi	Table of Contents ............................................................................................................ vii	List of Figures .................................................................................................................... x	Acknowledgements .......................................................................................................... xi	Dedication ....................................................................................................................... xiv	Empire of Rooms ............................................................................................................... 1	Foyer ............................................................................................................................................ 5	The Archeology of Knowledge .................................................................................................. 8	How to Evaluate This Work .......................................................................................... 11	Body of Literature .................................................................................................................... 11	Danger Ahead ........................................................................................................................... 13	Airborne .................................................................................................................................... 16	The Wisdom of the Unconscious ............................................................................................. 17	Focus Group ............................................................................................................................. 19	Room 1: The Workshop Lab ......................................................................................... 23	1.A Pre-Airborne ...................................................................................................................... 23	1.B Airborne ............................................................................................................................. 24	1.C The Case for Flight ............................................................................................................ 25	1.D Final Draft .......................................................................................................................... 26	1.E Dramatic Theatre and Performance Art, what’s the difference? ................................. 28	1.F Never studied ...................................................................................................................... 29	Room 2: The Rehearsal Studio ...................................................................................... 33	2.A Prelude to Intervention ..................................................................................................... 33	2.B Show-and-Tell .................................................................................................................... 34	2.C Fresh, Fresher, Freshest ................................................................................................... 35	2.D Intervention ........................................................................................................................ 35	2.E Gilding the Lily .................................................................................................................. 37	2.F What is the Difference? ..................................................................................................... 38	Room 3: My Parent’s Apartment .................................................................................. 41	3.A Permission .......................................................................................................................... 43	3.A.1 Rising Son .................................................................................................................... 43	3.A.2 Stop .............................................................................................................................. 43	3.A.3 CBC .............................................................................................................................. 44	3.A.4 LA ................................................................................................................................ 45	3.A.5 MFA ............................................................................................................................. 45	3.A.6 Now or Never ............................................................................................................... 46	3.A.7 Permissions .................................................................................................................. 47	3.A.8 Field Diary ................................................................................................................... 48	3.A.9 The Ask ........................................................................................................................ 49	 viii Room 4: The Antenna ..................................................................................................... 53	4.A Time Traveler .................................................................................................................... 53	4.B Candle ................................................................................................................................. 56	4.C Magic Spell ......................................................................................................................... 56	4.C.1 Incantation .................................................................................................................... 56	4.C.2 Skateboarding ............................................................................................................... 59	4.C.3 Touch ............................................................................................................................ 59	4.C.4 Daughters ..................................................................................................................... 60	4.C.5 Owed to My Sisters ...................................................................................................... 62	4.C.6 Give Me a Minute ........................................................................................................ 64	4.C.7 Quantum Theatre .......................................................................................................... 65	Room 5: The Sealed Doorway ........................................................................................ 69	Room 6: The Café ........................................................................................................... 71	6.A Emotional Distance ........................................................................................................... 71	6.A.1 Still Crying? ................................................................................................................. 71	6.A.2 Archival Video ............................................................................................................. 72	6.A.3 Waterfront Theatre ....................................................................................................... 72	6.A.4 Ode To My Sisters ....................................................................................................... 72	6.A.5 Watershed .................................................................................................................... 76	6.A.6 Empathetic Nervous System ........................................................................................ 79	6.A.7 Looking for Richard ..................................................................................................... 79	6.A.8 Toes Clenched .............................................................................................................. 80	6.A.9 Laughter ....................................................................................................................... 80	6.A.10 Ensoulment ................................................................................................................ 81	6.A.11 The Great Manipulator ............................................................................................... 82	6.A.12 Talk Radio .................................................................................................................. 85	6.A.13 Bilocation: The Art of Being in Two Places at Once ................................................ 88	6.A.14 Jupiter’s Travels ......................................................................................................... 88	6.A.15 Zen Staring Contest .................................................................................................... 89	6.A.16 In the Blink of an Eye ................................................................................................ 90	6.A.17 Listening to the Body ................................................................................................. 92	6.A.18 Tears ........................................................................................................................... 95	6.A.19 Crocodile Tears .......................................................................................................... 96	6.A.20 Red Sky at Night ........................................................................................................ 98	Room 7: Hotel Apartment ............................................................................................ 104	7.A Glass of Water ................................................................................................................. 104	7.B Preshow Ritual ................................................................................................................. 105	Room 8: The Light Lock .............................................................................................. 108	8.A Thunder Clouds ............................................................................................................... 109	Room 9: The Stage, Empire of the Son Script ............................................................ 110	Room 9A: The Screening Room, Empire of the Son .................................................. 190	Archival Video ........................................................................................................................ 190	Trailer ...................................................................................................................................... 190	Room 10: The Catwalk ................................................................................................. 192	10.A Crystal Ball .................................................................................................................... 192	10.B Black Tie ......................................................................................................................... 195	10.C Pandora’s Box ................................................................................................................ 195	 ix 10.D From the Road, Unlocking Edmonton ........................................................................ 198	10.D.1 Audience as Canvas ................................................................................................. 198	10.D.2 The Quietest Audience ............................................................................................. 200	10.D.3 Semiotics of a Theatre ............................................................................................. 201	10.D.4 Confidence Man ....................................................................................................... 202	10.D.5 The Voice ................................................................................................................. 202	10.D.6 Peter ......................................................................................................................... 203	10.D.7 Betty ......................................................................................................................... 204	10.D.8 What I do differently now. ....................................................................................... 205	10.D.9 Laughter is no Laughing Matter .............................................................................. 206	10.E From the Road, St. John’s ............................................................................................ 208	Room 11: Talkback ....................................................................................................... 211	11.A Hiroshima ....................................................................................................................... 211	11.A.1 Talk Back ................................................................................................................. 211	11.A.2 The Man from Hiroshima ........................................................................................ 211	11.A.3 Criteria ..................................................................................................................... 216	11.A.4 Two Kilometers ....................................................................................................... 216	11.A.5 Two Weeks .............................................................................................................. 216	11.A.6 My Marxist Nephew ................................................................................................ 219	11.A.7 The Devout Atheist .................................................................................................. 222	Room 12: The Dressing Room ..................................................................................... 229	12.ATransformation ............................................................................................................... 230	Contributions to Research-Based Theatre ................................................................. 233	How it’s already been peer reviewed .................................................................................... 234	Looking Ahead ....................................................................................................................... 234	Film ...................................................................................................................................... 235	Book ..................................................................................................................................... 235	International Touring ........................................................................................................... 235	National Touring .................................................................................................................. 236	An Educative Moment ........................................................................................................... 236	Metamorphosis ..................................................................................................................... 238	References ...................................................................................................................... 239	Appendix A: Press Clippings ....................................................................................... 248	    x List of Figures Figure 1. Selfie-portrait of the artist as a young man. ...................................................... 16	Figure 2. Conferring with my director, Richard Wolfe. Photo by Raymond Shum. ........ 23	Figure 3. Behind the scenes at Playwrights Theatre Centre. ............................................ 33	Figure 4. My father Akira, my daughter Mika, and my mother Yoshiko. ........................ 41	Figure 5. My father with his beloved shortwave radio. .................................................... 53	Figure 6. The kanji for Akira. ........................................................................................... 57	Figure 7. Enabled by a live video feed, this is what the audience see as I re-enact an acrimonious exchange between my father and my teenage self. .............................. 59	Figure 8. During a family reunion, my father became so dehydrated he had to be hospitalized. My sisters noticed he was lethargic. My brother and I did not. .......... 61	Figure 9. My spouse Bahareh emailing on behalf of VACT. ........................................... 71	Figure 10. In matters of intervention, it is the prerogative of the twin sister to disregard personal boundaries. ................................................................................................. 74	Figure 11. A winter in Edmonton, plus a beautiful apartment, plus writing deadlines, equals staying inside 20 hours a day. ...................................................................... 104	Figure 12. Teamsters accustomed to assembling minimalist fabric backdrops for touring solo-works, are often surprised when they encounter our 1000 lb. set. .................. 108	Figure 13. Checking in. Photo by Raymond Shum. ....................................................... 192	Figure 14. Empire of the Son posters. ............................................................................. 198	Figure 15. Talkback at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada. ............................ 211	Figure 16. Top: St. John. Middle: St. John’s. Bottom: Vancouver. ................................ 229	Figure 17. This is the checklist you will find in my dressing room when I am on tour. According to my stage manager Susan Miyagshima, my pre-show routine is unusual in its specificity and the sheer amount of time required. ........................................ 231	    xi Acknowledgements This project would not have been possible without the help of many people. First and foremost, I want to thank my advisor Dr. George Belliveau, who has attained something of a legendary status within our household. Each time I return home from a meeting with him, my family listens in amazement at the growing litany of things he is doing to help me: work, opportunities, and publications. But of all the qualities he possesses as a scholar and an artist, it is his kindness I admire above all.  I am profoundly grateful to the two other members of my thesis committee, Dr. Carl Leggo and Dr. Rita L. Irwin. When I found myself at a crossroads, feeling I ought to undertake a more conventional form of research, they wisely urged me to be who I am, and embark upon this road less travelled. It has made all the difference.  I wish to thank Dr. Teresa Dobson, for shaping me into a Vanier Scholar, and guiding me successfully to candidacy.  I am grateful to Graham W. Lea. Who could ask for a better exemplar? His scholarly excellence, creativity, and generosity continue to inspire me.  Within these pages I share a series of concentric stories. At the heart are my father’s memories. Surrounding those remembrances are reflections of how it all came together to become a piece of theatre. Finally, there is the meta-story, the experience of living with Empire of the Son, and all the new vistas and profound encounters touring has gifted me.  xii At every stage I have been supported by countless people, from the nurses who cared for my father, to the Teamsters who load and unload our trucks. While I am unable to thank everyone individually, I would like to acknowledge a few in particular.  I imagine other artists more talented than myself must wonder, “What does he have that I don’t?” The answer is my friend and producer, Donna Yamamoto, who has been there at every stage of this extraordinary journey. When we first met in 2011 on Mortal Coil’s production of Salmon Row, you noticed how I refrained from joining the rest of the cast at lunch because I was too busy working on my scholarship applications, and so you began bringing food from home for me. Your support has never wavered and only grown. When we took over VACT, you asked me the one question that would change my life, “What is it going to take to keep you interested in our company?” When I replied that I wanted to do my own solo work, you looked surprised, but you didn’t laugh. And now we find the whole world is within our reach.  Empire of the Son would not be what it is without the collaboration of many talented artists. In particular, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my dramaturg, Heidi Taylor and my director, Richard Wolfe. Thank you for reaching down and lifting me up.  Thank-you to my second family at Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, Andrea, Annie, Belle, Laara, Tiff, and Yvonne. Together and individually, you have given me a sense of community and belonging.   xiii I am thankful to Yukari and Mark. Whenever I am beset by doubts, knowing I have the friendship and support of such kind, smart and beautiful people renews my confidence.  I gratefully acknowledge that this research was financially supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Vanier Canada Graduate scholarship program.  Thank you to Kevin Williams at Talonbooks for kindly granting me permission to reproduce their beautifully published version of Empire of the Son, the play, within the pages of this dissertation.   I owe a debt of gratitude to my brother and sisters, Ken, Rié, Setsu and Hana, for the many ways they love our parents, and my family.  Thank you to my kids, Mika and Taizo. The joy you experience in everyday wordplay reminds me that the English language is not just a road, but a curving garden path filled with endless delights.  Finally, thank-you to my father, Akira Shigematsu, who impressed upon me the importance of developing a scholarly mindset without ever saying a word, and my mother, Yoshiko Shigematsu. Just now here at the beach, I asked my kids how they would describe her, and without hesitating, they replied, “She is super sweet, and kind and fun.”    xiv Dedication To my wife Bahareh, my love, my inspiration, my everything. Women’s labour is so often invisible. It is obvious that I couldn’t have done this, or anything else without you, but I want the world to know.  1 Empire of Rooms I never went to theatre school. Instead, I was a professional usher at The Centaur theatre in Montreal for 12 years. I use the term ‘professional’ only half in jest because I undertook my responsibilities with the earnestness of a young man eager to find his place in the world. Despite the menial nature of my duties, I had a keen appreciation for how my small role could have a larger impact. For some, an evening of theatre might be the glittering highlight of their social calendar for the whole year, and indeed given the advanced age of some of the subscribers I assisted, perhaps it may have been their last outing altogether. Whether it was veteran theatre mavens, or a young drunk couple who scored free tickets from a radio station, my task remained the same: to guide my audience from one space and into another. The most important piece of equipment a theatre usher wields is their Maglight. Unlike all other flashlights, an usher’s torch is not for the benefit of the one who wields it. Rather, the beam of the usher’s flashlight serves to direct the theatregoer’s attention, lingering on anything I deem worthy of attention. For the purposes of this research, I will reclaim my role as a theatre usher, guiding you with my flashlight through various rooms, but these are not rooms in the traditional sense of the word—the divisions of a building. Rather, these are spaces defined by activities they host, despite rapidly shifting walls, floors, and ceilings. Expanding our understanding of space, Irwin and Springgay (2008) write, “Contemporary art criticism argues that the relationship between artist and place is a complex discourse where place is re-imagined as ‘situation.’ Site moves from a fixed geographical category to a relational constitution of social, economic, cultural and  2 political processes” (pp. xx-xxi). Similarly, each one of my rooms represents a meta-space, multiply located, and unconstrained by the laws of physics. By way of example, consider the public bathroom. For all its architectural variety, the sequence of feelings evoked by such a space are remarkably consistent: the realization you are in need; followed by denial; the mental calculation, “Can I wait till I get home?” and the frantic hunt; concluded by a sense of accomplishment, autonomy, and liberation. In this way, all public bathrooms constitute one space given the unvarying grammar of their experience.  Presently, I am writing in one such space. This is my garret, “a room of my own” (Woolf, 1929, p. 3). As a man I am mindful of borrowing the language of a feminist, but as a writer of colour I recognize in her words the liberatory necessity of carving out a material space to think one’s thoughts. My writer’s lair can be in a café, a city bus, or an airplane, but it is usually located in the room adjacent to the kitchen. The smallest room in our house. My study is marked by my Ikea standing desk, which is less the imperial flag pole of the paterfamilias than the detritus of the obstinate squatter who refuses to leave. A contested space, the shelves around me are crammed with my children’s books and toys. A glance to my left reveals a Kenner Millennium Falcon and a Hasbro Darth Vader helmet complete with electronic voice changer.  Before this space became my study, it was the room where my father rested and eventually died. Just as many things can happen in one room, one thing can happen across multiple sites. My father died across many hospital beds, and together they form Plutarch’s ship of Theseus1. Whether it was the rental bed in my parent’s West End                                                 1 Born in 45 AD, Plutarch was a Greek Platonist who wondered whether a ship that had every single part  3 apartment, or a state of the art model in Vancouver’s St. Paul’s hospital, my father’s bed became the fixed centre of our world. In the fabric of space time, the gravity exerted by my father’s hospital bed bent the light of our perceptions. Going away for the weekend, taking the day off, going for a walk, all became impossible. Time itself seemed to slow to an excruciating degree. Such experiences—all centred on my father’s hospital beds—have become so stacked in my mind, I can peer through them as if gazing down a toy Jenga tower. It is through such a perspective that I can now recognize the structural consistency of these analogous experiences.  As your Usher, I will guide you now through a series of rooms: spaces marked by encounters; places where an idea or an action has lingered as sites of transformation.  The program will include the following 12 rooms below. Each room becomes a way to describe, analyze, and synthesize meanings that emerged from developing and eventually performing Empire of the Son. The rooms act as pivotal moments of insight that reveal and complicate understandings of research-based theatre creation and performance.  The full script of Empire of the Son rests at the heart of this dissertation2, as this marks the essence of the research, the culmination of my inquiry. Before the script are eight rooms, which respectively situate this work, the conditions that allowed and generated the development and writing of the play. The final three rooms that follow the play are spaces to reflect upon the meanings generated by exchanging the story and performance with audiences across Canada and beyond.                                                 2 If the reader is inclined to proceed directly to the play, they are welcome to do so.  4  Prologue Room 1: The Workshop Lab Room 2: The Rehearsal Studio  Room 3: My Parent’s Apartment  Room 4: The Antenna  Room 5: The Sealed Doorway Room 6: The Café  Room 7: Hotel Apartment  Room 8: The Light Lock  Interlude Room 9: The Stage, Script of Empire of the Son  Epilogue Room 10: The Catwalk  Room 11: Talkback  Room 12: The Dressing Room    5 Foyer USHER:  Any theatre usher can let you know what time the show will be over, but it takes one truly knowledgeable to direct your attention to the architectural details of a building. Because of the two-dimensional nature of this page, allow me to instead acquaint you with a pillar of the Canadian theatre community.   In addition to being an actor, a professor and scholar, Dr. Jerry Wasserman is also the editor of Modern Canadian Plays, the core text for university-level Canadian drama courses around the world. He wrote one of the Forewords for the published version of the play.  Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son was the surprise hit of the 2015 Vancouver theatre season, selling out its run at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and earning nominations for six Jessie Richardson awards.…It turned out to be a play of great emotional and theatrical intelligence: candid and funny, poetic and quietly moving. And this baby had legs. Empire of the Son was almost immediately booked for a 2016 remount at The Cultch, an Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal tour, and publication. These are no –  USHER:  Ahem! I’m afraid that’s all the time we have, Dr. Wasserman. Thank you for that fine introduction. I will now point my flashlight into the mirror at the playwright.   6 Although Dr. Wasserman may attribute the success of Empire of the Son to my talent as a playwright, from my perspective, there were many other factors at play. In 2015, there was a growing awareness regarding the lack of diversity within Canadian theatre, but reactionaries defended the status quo by citing the failure of past attempts—“hey, we tried…”—implying that non-white shows garner poor box office. “It isn’t racism. This is the market reality.” Belying this perception was the touring success of Korean Canadian Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience (2013 - present). But was this Soulpepper production of a Toronto-based playwright the mere exception that proved the rule? Theatre activists have always argued that Canadian theatre should diversify, not because it is the right thing to do, but out of enlightened self-interest: more inclusive programming will attract new audiences. After Kim’s Convenience played at the Arts Club on Granville Island in May of 2014, offering a glimpse of what Canadian theatre could look like, many in the Vancouver theatre community were primed for lightning to strike a second time. Stoking that interest in his Fall Arts preview, influential theatre critic Colin Thomas (2015, September 16, para. 26) alerted his readers to expect something interesting:  Shigematsu is a theatre newbie, but he has attracted an impressive team to work with him, including director Richard Wolfe and designers Pam Johnson, Gerald King, Barbara Clayden, and Steve Charles (set, lighting, costumes, and sound). By their friends shall you know them. Finally, as someone who has been active on social media for years, I have always been very open about sharing all aspects of my life, including my father’s health challenges. The death of my father, happening just 18 days before the world premiere, fueled intense  7 interest within the local theatre community. The proximity of his death and my subsequent public grieving was the theatrical equivalent of a fiery car crash. People naturally slowed down to take a look. All these factors conspired to create a set of circumstances that can never be repeated. The stars aligned for me. Although I tell journalists it took two years of work to develop Empire of the Son it took decades. As such, many of the references I cite predate my actual time working on this dissertation. Rather than shoehorn in canonical literature, I have attempted to more honestly reflect my true influences. As a result, this research is rife with references to TV shows, documentaries, movies, and YouTube clips, all decidedly nonacademic in nature. Such kitschy shrapnel has lodged so deeply within my gray matter, any surgery to remove them would kill the corpus. These gaudy shards and fragments have not only directly affected the creation of this piece, they have also had a profound influence on my development as an artist. Together, these non-academic references represent my attempt to trace a genealogy of ideas that underpin Empire of the Son. Although this territory of theatre creation has been explored before, I have shunned previously drawn maps, and avoided well-trodden routes. One of the aspects that make this research so ‘pure’ is that I have never had any formal theater training. I have never taken a single class in acting. Metaphorically speaking, I am a castaway who managed to survive on a deserted island without benefit of survival knowhow or Boy Scout training. As such, the peculiar techniques, rhythms, and rituals I have devised through the creation, performance, and touring of this work, I have come by through the lens of other art modalities and experiences. For example, my aesthetic commitment to inventing nothing, my stubborn refusal to lock the script, was a source of frustration for  8 my collaborators, but by breaking with tradition, I caught glimpses of epistemological frontiers by following ‘desire lines.’ Desire lines is a term from geography that refers to the pedestrian shortcuts that emerge to circumvent constructed routes that are circuitous or non-existent. Developers dislike unsanctioned desire lines so much, they will impose barriers to reroute foot traffic back onto the perpendicularity of sidewalks. Such policing of human movement is everywhere. “The various forms of education or ‘normalization’ imposed upon an individual consist in making him or her change… always moving towards a higher, nobler one in closer conformity with the supposed ideal” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 129). If such forces of conformity have the capacity to turn us into automatons, then artists are children who survived. In a childlike manner, my so-called career has been driven by curiosity. Beginning as a visual artist, I then became a filmmaker, a standup comic, a performance artist, a reporter, a broadcaster, and now a theatre artist/scholar. Always I am a scavenger feeding off the carrion of my previous incarnations. It is my hope that readers of this research, whether or not they are interested in this type of research-based theatre exemplified by Empire of the Son, will gain insights into the process of creativity, the incessantly recessive nature of truth, and alternative ways of being in the world (Brook, 1968). The Archeology of Knowledge Sometimes during post-show talkbacks, I share that Empire of the Son was created within the context of pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education. Such information can raise more questions than it answers. I then explain that the field of education is much broader than one might assume. Beyond teacher training, or  9 educational policy, the field of education also encompasses the arts-based research paradigm, which is a recognition that research with and through the arts is a legitimate form of understanding and examining experience.  As a subset of arts-based research, arts-based educational research has its share of detractors. Despite the fact that all research is rooted in autobiography, the explicitly reflexive nature of autoethnography, which Ellis and Bochner (2000) define as an autobiographical genre of writing that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural” (p. 739) rubs many the wrong way. Delamont critiques autoethnography for paying attention to “social scientists who are usually not interesting or worth researching” (2009, pp. 59-60). He also accuses them of being “literally lazy and also intellectually lazy” (2007, p. 2). Because my life is at the heart of this research, rather than be discouraged, I hold fast to Holman Jones’s (2005) call for autoethnography to make “personal accounts count” (p. 783). As a member of a marginalized community whose stories aren’t often shared on the Canadian stage, I know my responsibility is greater than if I were simply telling my own story. Autoethnographers such as Chang (2008) and Spry (2011) have met this challenge by situating their personal stories in relation to broader cultural contexts. Spry explains that “plaiting ethnography with autobiography emphasizes the cultural situatedness of the autobiographic subject” (p. 92). But she cautions that however personal such writing may feel, it does not constitute performative autoethnography “if it does not connect these emotions to larger social issues” (p. 108).   In contrast to research designed to prove or disprove theory, contribute generalizable findings, or offer definitive answers to questions, my approach to arts- 10 based educational research aims to explore and illuminate personal experiences. I share an epistemological kinship with Fels (1998) who explains how performative inquiry—her arts-based research methodology that utilizes drama as a venue for inquiring and learning—is “not a narrowing down but an opening up”, and thus it does not seek final destinations, rather it pursues the “opening of new horizons” (p. 33).  In a similar spirit, Irwin (2008) writes that “a/r/tographic inquiry does not set out to answer introductory research questions but rather to posit questions of inquiry that evolve over time” (p. 77). Not long ago, one of my mature students caught me by surprise. She said, “I’m interested in hearing about how your relationship with your father will develop now that he has died.” That seed of a question—weighing a mere 18 words—has sprouted tendrils within the recesses of my memory, interrupting and entangling settled ways of thinking, enabling me to continue walking with my father despite the borderlands of death. When my friend Munish Sharma learned my mother was now living with my family, his happiness for me was palpable. He extolled the wisdom of having three generations live together. While the parents are busy working during their peak-earning years, grandparents who live with their grandchildren are ideally positioned to directly transmit their values. Writing about his own parents, Goodall (2005) explains how “what we inherit narratively from our forebears [sic] provides us with a framework for understanding our identity through theirs” (p. 497). Extending this concept further, through writing about our parents and grandparents, such understandings can then be passed along to our children. My kids can no longer spend time with my dad, but  11 because I have recorded and retell his personal stories, they live with him in another way. How to Evaluate This Work Even though arts-based research has been part of academic scholarship for a few decades, for many it remains a novel concept. Some still ask, “Is artistic inquiry a legitimate form of research?” If so, how does one judge it? What criteria are in place to evaluate an arts-based thesis? Body of Literature There is a growing body of critical literature that addresses the question of how to assess performance-based qualitative research. As pieces that are tasked to carry out both the scholarly work of social science as well as being successful as aesthetic works of art, the following touchstones or guideposts serve as a form of poetics to effectively contextualize such work. • Does the piece contribute to our understanding of social-life? (Richardson, 2000). • Reflexivity: Does it make explicit the construction of the research? (Bochner, 2000). • Does it impact me emotionally and intellectually? (Richardson, 2000). • Does it express a reality? Does it seem “true”? (Richardson, 2000). • Does it honour the research context, the fact-fiction balance? (Prendergast & Belliveau, 2012) • Does it use all the elements of the theater to share the research? (Mackenzie & Belliveau, 2011).   12 • Does it share the artistic within the academic to provide the reader entry points into the work? (Belliveau, 2006; Irwin & Springgay, 2008). • Is there a balance between the instrumental and the aesthetic in the work? (Beare & Belliveau, 2008; Saldaña, 2010; White & Belliveau, 2010). To provide multiple entry points for the reader, at the heart of this dissertation I share an artistic dimension. As such this thesis is partly aesthetic, partly scholarly, and partly theoretical. Such markers can assist the reader in evaluating whether or not this work is successful.  While many arts-based researchers have been influenced by the above criteria, for me such a lens remains a traditional form of assessment. For example, the call to balance the instrumental (research) and the aesthetic (theatre) suggests a dichotomy between scholarship and artistry. As an artist/scholar, these two dimensions are not far apart, and in fact often overlap or are woven. The work of scholarship involves gathering evidence to prove or disprove certain ideas, while creativity can be seen as the process of adjusting variables to ascertain how to best affect your audience. Both endeavours share a similar cycle of action-research: planning, taking action, observation, and reflection. As a theatre artist, this process of scholarly reflection is set into my creative system because I am constantly testing and revising. The resulting changes could be as minor as the elimination of a pause, or as a drastically new design. Such a recognition may represent a new understanding of how the work of scholarship can fit into the creative process.  13 Danger Ahead As you will soon see, the structure you are about to enter is atypical. Architecturally speaking, it will be less Frank Lloyd Wright, and more MC Escher. To construct a more conventional space and write about my play in a systematic way would be to deny the spirit and the form of Empire of the Son. From Aristotle’s poetics to the well-made play, Western storytelling is largely based upon formula, a tradition for which I have a deep and an abiding respect. Indeed, I count myself to be a true believer in craft, but it is precisely this internalized orthodoxy that I’m challenging. Classical structure carries its own politics. Form dictates content. For example, had I written Empire of the Son in the genre of the well-made play, it would be a reduced theatrical experience. Instead of using just one performer, a realist drama would require an ensemble of actors. In fact, it was the very constraints of the solo work, the monotonous nature of monologues, that forced me to creatively discover other ways in which to open up the story visually, resulting in what Jillian Keiley (2016, December 12), the Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre, called, “exhilaratingly original” (para. 1). By eschewing linearity, an inciting incident, plot points, and act climaxes, my story had to find new forms of internal connectivity. As a result, one theatre critic described it as “poetic, associative” (Thomas, 2016, October 31). Much like the play, this research travels back and forth through the years, transforming time and space. Similarly, the development, creation, performance, reception, and reflection of this research has never been linear. For example, while on tour, walking back to the hotel from the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, I might have a flash of  14 insight of the play’s development. Similarly, without warning, the researcher’s textual voice shifts from one persona to another.    15  16 USHER:  If you look ahead, you will see a dozen passageways, representing the 12 rooms. Before I take you into the first room, I want to linger here for a moment. Notice how this place, this antechamber, exists in shadow—the shadow of a cross. Airborne When I was a child I attended the Bible Fellowship Christian Academy, a religious private school. I recall one of the teachers claiming that between the 2,000 year old Dead Sea Scrolls and the 400 year old King James Bible, there was only a 10% drift in accuracy that took place among the countless transcriptions in between. Until this day, I cannot decide whether a 10% drift is a little or a lot. On one hand, a 10% textual drift over the course of 1600 years is an impressive track record, but then again, we are talking about the Word of God—where one word in ten might be off? Perhaps that means I only have to obey nine of the Ten Commandments? Clearly, I was not destined to be a theologian like my elder brother, Reverend Ken Shigematsu. Either way, that unwavering 90% points towards this underlying idea that the Word of God remains inerrant as a Platonic Ideal, hovering above all the scribal corruption and fallibilities of humankind. Such a reverence regarding the sanctity of text has bled into English itself. Indeed, Shakespeare and the King James Bible occupy so lofty a perch upon the spire of the Western imagination, it is hard to distinguish them. For example, can you  guess if the following quotes are of Biblical or Shakespearean provenance? “Put a knife  Figure 1. Selfie-portrait of the artist as a young man.  17 to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.” “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”3  It has been said that if film is a director’s medium, and TV a producer’s medium, then theatre is where the writer reigns. Indeed, credit requirements usually stipulate that the playwright’s name be no less than 50% of the font size of the play’s title, and that, “No one shall receive larger or more prominent billing.” In theatre, if the playwright is God, their play the Holy Scripture, then the stage manager is the cane-swinging nun, ready to rap the knuckles of any wayward player who dares drop a preposition.  But as someone who is both writer and actor, I am the apostate who knows the playwright is no prophet. On the contrary, as an actor I most certainly know better what felicitous phrasing will fall most trippingly off the tongue beneath the hot gaze of a live audience than that pallid scribe who toils away in monastic silence. Such a binary conception of the self has informed my methodology as a writer. During workshop presentations, the text I compose is deliberately loose as I know it will mutate the moment I look into the eyes of my first audience. This takes pressure off me as a playwright. In this manner, paper—that most neutral of surfaces—transforms from the tyrannical blank sheet in the playwright’s typewriter into the crumpled crib sheet of the derelict performer who—in failing to be off book—has instead scrawled their best adlibs.  The Wisdom of the Unconscious Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke once pronounced, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy” (as quoted in Detzer, 2005, p. 233). In a                                                 3 Shakespeare wrote neither. These are verses Proverbs 23:2, Job 19:20.  18 similar manner, long ago I learned that my most meticulously prepared text reliably crumbles upon collision with a live audience. As such, I refrain from writing down a story for as long as possible.  The first iteration might be recounting a memory to a friend at a cafe. Based on their reactions, their amusement, their bemusement, their laughter, their silence, I would ‘rewrite’ this story in real time, using their micro expressions as a flight instrument to fly through the fog of narrative nascency. Given such evanescent malleability, where does the story exist? In his book, Story Robert McKee (1997, p. 179) asks, what is the “substance” of story? He argues that in all other art forms, the answer is self-evident. A composer has his instrument. The dancer has her or his body. When I was in art school studying sculpture, every semester we changed media: plaster, clay, wood, metal, stone. Whatever visions danced in our heads, the professor reminded us that it was incumbent upon us to “listen” to the materials, “Don’t force wood into doing what comes easily with clay.” Every material, every medium speaks its own mother tongue, its own native language. So it is with a story. It wants to be something specific. It is within the zero gravity of performance that the text gives birth to itself, seeking its own structure. Spalding Gray worked in a similar manner. He described how, “I speak rather than write” (quoted in Georgakas, Porton, & Gray, 1993, p. 37). He also described how, “none of my monologues have been previously written down. They’re always worked out on stage” (Gray as quoted in Dery, 1986, p. 58). On stage, within the mild trance of live performance, one has greater access to the unconscious, which is far more capable of iterating text more elegantly—conveying  19 more precise meaning in fewer words—than the fully conscious act of thoughtfully dipping one’s quill into the inkwell, allowing me to rewrite within the moment of performance. I consciously and unconsciously reshape the story, expanding moments of perceived interest, skipping mundane passages, while filling in the new negative space with adlibs, some of which may be worth keeping. In his 2013 acceptance speech for the Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay, screenwriter and film director Quentin Tarantino provided a glimpse into his writing process. He reads scenes out oud to his friends, yet he doesn’t solicit their feedback. Rather the awareness of their attention suffices. “When I read it to you, I hear it through your ears and it lets me know I’m on the right track” (QuentinTarantinoFans, 2013 2:24). Tarantino’s relational, yet non-conversational process confirms Bakhtin’s assertion that it is within the space between the addressee and the speaker that meaning is co-created (Bakhtin, 1986; Holquist, 2002), as both imbue utterances with meaning. Explaining this phenomenon Mckee (1997) writes, “For at the nucleus of a story is a ‘substance,’ like the energy swirling in an atom, that's never directly seen, heard, or touched, yet we know it and feel it.” How? Through “the audience's reaction to this substance” (p. 135). My desire to keep words airborne for as long as possible is because the only way for me to know if a story sings is by looking into the eyes of my listener. Focus Group However informative this intimate process may be, it cannot remain here. For my purposes, a more reliable test is sharing this process before a group of invited guests. As I migrate these one-on-one performances from the café to progressively larger stages, crossing the threshold from the ostensibly conversational to the explicitly  20 performative, rather than writing down a draft, I might draw icons or ideograms on my palm to aid me in recalling the structure of the story. The story will change constantly, but towards the end, say after several dozen iterations, this once notional, amorphous, rambling anecdote will have congealed into something hard, with precise phrasing. Through repetition the substance of the story solidifies. At this point, a director can angle the performance in such a way that the subtext suffuses the text with meaning.  As audiences become progressively larger and more anonymous, their role becomes clear. The collective attention of a group of strangers forms a kind of narrative wind tunnel, and only under such conditions can one truly know if their assembly of words can become airborne. This is my process. But, permit me to continue past this point where my actual writing process ends, and my fantasy begins. Unbeknownst to me, an audio recording would be covertly made, and someone else would secretly transcribe a ‘definitive’ version for the published book version of the play. The living text would continue to mutate, but now only incrementally, reaching immutable status only when every line functions consistently, even in the hands of another actor.  When another tour of Empire of the Son is imminent, we will schedule a brief rehearsal period to get the text back into the body. Given how up to a year can go by between tours, it takes discipline not to glance at the printed version prior to performing it for the first time in the studio before my colleagues. Eager to please, actors naturally want to impress the rest of the team by being off-book. But the scholar in me hankers for the empirical data that can only be generated once or twice a year. Diving right in after such a prolonged absence, the most easily recalled passages I deem to be the ‘best  21 written.’ They possess an internal logic that makes their recollection feel natural, inevitable, even inexorable. Regarding those sentences that seem to defy easy recollection, I am always reminded of Keith Johnstone’s (1981) observation, “if an actor forgot a move that had been decided on, then the move was probably wrong” (p. 24).  Regarding those pesky lines that fail to come back to me easily, I will resist the impulse to calling “line.” Instead, I’ll gamely try out several variations, taking multiple attempts at articulation, until a clear winner emerges as the most natural way to express this idea. What never fails to surprise me is how closely this ‘new’ text, matches word for word the definitive published version.  I remain a big believer in the power of forgetting. When I was the head writer for the Vancouver-based sketch comedy group, The Hot Sauce Posse, we always began our writing sessions by going around the table, pitching our best ideas. After the groans and laughter died down and everyone was finished, I asked each person to write down on the back of a napkin as many premises as they could remember, not their favorites mind you, just the ones they could easily recall. After hearing as many as 30 pitches, only a handful stuck in the mind, but they stuck for a reason. In the parlance of programming, forgetting is not a bug. It is a feature. With the text now carved more immutably back into the present, the baton of change now passes into the realm of performance.  22  23 Room 1: The Workshop Lab USHER:  Usually patrons don’t recognize me without my usher’s uniform, but if you and I were to meet outside this two-dimensional portal in the real world, and you found yourself engaged by an anecdote I was sharing with you, chances are, you are in my workshop lab. We could be at a café, on a street corner, on a plane, even your house, we could be anywhere, but if I’m telling you a story, in my mind, our shared environment has been repurposed into an experimental space. Full disclosure, I am taking mental notes. I am paying attention. I am studying your reactions, as I rewrite the story I am telling you. Welcome to my Workshop Lab. 1.A Pre-Airborne Empire of the Son is a solo theatre work inspired by my father Akira Shigematsu, a man I never really knew. Like many, I never had a single conversation with my father beyond the transactional. When his health began to falter, I dusted off the only object we ever had in common, an old reporter’s microphone. I worked for the CBC, my father worked for the BBC. As a second-generation public radio broadcaster, the formality of the long form interview was just the pretext we needed to give ourselves permission to speak to each other. For two years we spoke as if no one else were listening. Eighteen days before the show opened, he died. And Empire of the Son took on a life of its own. Seventeen hours of recorded audio, verbatim transcripts, coupled with my own   Figure 2. Conferring with my director, Richard Wolfe. Photo by Raymond Shum.  24 recollections constitute a dataset of actuality—documentary evidence—a multi-dimensional matrix of “the truth.” In contrast to a fictional narrative, where the author is free to add unlimited new characters and plot developments, I found myself exploring a finite story continent whose geographical features were fixed. For example, my father Akira knew very little about his own father Akio, and there were other incidents he declined to talk about. Such limits constituted no-go zones, narrative shorelines. Yet within the finite parameters of what remained of my father’s memories, there were vast landscapes. As an itinerant traveler armed with a sketchbook, I could choose how to render them, the theatrical equivalents of pencil sketches, watercolour, or oils. For example, when it came to the audio recordings I could simply play the tape, or I could perform the transcript. Alternatively, I could play a recording of my vocal performance impersonating my father, or I could use a live video camera and stage the scene in miniature and project it against a movie screen. I now had material in hand that I could manipulate theatrically. Fictional worlds are limitless in their possibilities. By contrast, my father’s life or his original account of it is fixed. The number of minutes recorded, the number of words he used is finite. And of course, now that he is dead, what questions remain, there can be no more answers. Yet freedom remains.  1.B Airborne Like riding thermal updrafts over such a consistently grounded world, a guiding ethos for me as a writer/performer was to honour my impulse to keep the words airborne for as long as possible. When I recorded my father’s stories, I rarely revisited them. Had I been  25 a more exacting historian, I would have double-checked the fidelity of my transcriptions, and fact checked his personal memories against the historical record.  Instead, I would contemplate their possible meanings, and learn what they meant to me by relating his recollections to others. By refraining from revisiting the audio recordings of his stories, his memories have become as internalized as my own. Like recalling a vivid car accident, one hour, one day, one week, or one year after it happened, no two retellings of an incident are exactly alike. It wasn’t always this way. 1.C The Case for Flight When I performed on stage, I used to feel like I would imagine a nervous figure skater at the Olympics feels. I was so focused on delivering exact phrases so precisely I could scarcely breathe. Even when I was the author, I still felt constrained by the traditions of theatre where the text was held as sacrosanct, immutable, no different than any other play. I felt like I was holding my breath. I wanted to breathe.  Nowadays I’m in a much different place. If my mind goes blank on stage, I’ll let the audience know that this isn’t in fact a dramatic pause, but that I’ve simply forgotten my lines. I reassure them that the words will come back. They always do… eventually. And they wait, their expressions gleaming. In those moments, the quality of their attention makes it feel like I’m basking in sunlight on a summer’s day. I can breathe again.  A guiding value for me as writer, and as a performer, is my wish to keep the words airborne for as long as possible. By keeping the script subordinate to the immediate exigencies of moment, I can be present and ideally, my performance can be as supple, relaxed, and responsive as conversations with your best friend.  26 1.D Final Draft Whether one is acting or improvising, from the audience’s vantage point, such distinctions are rarely obvious. When a theatre audience witnesses a performance, they naturally presume they are seeing the definitive version of a story: The Platonic ideal of an incident’s narrative form. In one sense, this misconception becomes self-fulfilling on opening night when theatre critics are in attendance. Ready or not, their account enters the public record as the official description for posterity, even though the work will continue to change.  But, any performance, any draft of a script is more akin to a single page with a flipbook animation. If one could stand outside the dimension of time and see every iteration stacked atop one another, and flipped through it, there would be a clear beginning, followed by a constant evolution of movement. In like manner, Kurt Vonnegut describes how fourth dimensional beings wouldn’t see humans being as two-legged creatures, rather they would see them as, “great millipedes--with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other” (1969, p. 87). In regard to the script, sometimes the ending is less clear. As a writer/performer, I never consider a story finished. They “do not begin or end, they merely change form,” (Davidson, 2013, p. 254). Like a cup of coffee absentmindedly placed on the roof of a car, a piece’s progress might be unexpectedly interrupted, never again to be revisited, but that is never the intention. Final drafts are recognizable only in hindsight.     27 Misremembering is usually regarded as a mistake: The failure to adhere to the absolute, a corruption of perfection. As a theatre actor, if I so much as switch the order of two words within a line of dialogue, my stage manager is obligated to inform me of my waywardness. Even if neither the stage manager nor the actor is inclined to be so fastidious, both readily conform to this unquestioned tradition.  Such a ritual speaks to a hierarchy of cultural values that privileges the playwright’s text above the physical labour of the actor who functions primarily as a worker, whose task is to carry out the instructions of the playwright and director, little more than a button in the theatre machine (Wirth, 1980). Over the years, as an actor I felt increasingly alienated from the labour of lifting someone else’s words from the page. Dissatisfied with being confined to deciding how I will perform, in the rebellious spirit of Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski, I wanted to decide what I performed. By taking over the means of production (writing the script, choosing my director, etc.), I ceased being a cultural proletarian. By doing my own solo work, I am seeking “ a greater conscious agency in the lived life” (Buss, 2005, p. 19).  To be clear, this was not simply a matter of an actor arbitrarily shifting genres out of caprice. As a performer inhabiting a racially marked body, I was bound by predefined phenotypical constraints, e.g., no one was going to hire me to play Hamlet at The Stratford Festival. Nor do I bemoan this. As an actor who belongs to an underrepresented community, the decision to be entrepreneurial contains the promise of social equality. As the South Asian actor Mindy Kaling (2011) advised, “Write your own part... It is much harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands” (p. 87).   28 Much harder work indeed. Because the process of creating a new solo work takes me at least two years, I continue to act occasionally in other productions. What is the biggest difference I have observed between performing my own work verses in others? Within the closed creative ecosystem of the writer/performer, the traditional binary of playwright/actor and its implied hierarchy collapses yet traces of this duality remains in the rubble. In practical terms, when my stage manager dutifully points out textual inaccuracies after one of my own performances I can playfully reply, “let’s consider that another rewrite, shall we?” Although glib sounding, such a declaration speaks to an underlying tension between divergent traditions, and the tectonic rift between epistemological continents. 1.E Dramatic Theatre and Performance Art, what’s the difference? What is the difference between theatre and performance art? Some have defined it as the difference between acting and action. Others have suggested it depends on the colour of the walls: black means theatre, white means performance art. Although flippant sounding, such a superficial distinction speaks directly to their divergent provenances.  In his book Postdramatic Theatre, Lehmann (2006) describes performance art as one example of “postdramatic” theatre, an increasingly used reference point within the discourse of contemporary theatre. As Lehmann describes, “Postdramatic Theatre refers to theatre after drama. Despite their diversity, the new forms and aesthetics that have evolved have one essential quality in common: they no longer focus on the dramatic text” (2006, p. i). Such a distinction represents a major shift in Western theatre.  For centuries, theatre and drama appeared so closely related, that despite radical transformations and evolutions of theatre, the concept of drama—the model of  29 suspenseful dramatic action, predominantly told in dialogue—endures as the normative conception of theatre. Indeed, many continue to use ‘drama’ and ‘theatre’ interchangeably.  In performance art the focus is not on the drama itself, but rather the text of the performance is considered in relation to the situation of the performance and the stage. By pushing back against the traditional hegemony of the playwright as primum mobile, postdramatic work shifts the focus away from the primacy of the written text, and instead strives to produce an effect between the audience and performer. Gone is the corpus, in its place, maximum corporeal presence.  As an unstable object of study, performance art defies easy categorization, but Lehmann points out how such examples of the postdramatic consistently tend to reveal “more presence than representation, more shared than communicated experience, more process than product, more manifestation than signification, more energetic impulse than information” (2006, p. 86). 1.F Never studied When a new cast first assembles for the inaugural table read, a familiar query during the first Equity-union mandated break is, “Where did you study? What theatre school did you attend?” In any theatre town, the semiotics of local acting programs are well known enough that they provide an efficient shorthand: who taught them, their methodologies, their aesthetic sense, and perhaps even what they might be good at. When I’m asked where I studied, I cheerfully reply, “I didn’t.” Occasionally I will ask other cast members if they have ever worked with the likes of me: someone who has never formally studied acting. The answer is always no, but according to Lehmann  30 (2006) my experience is not unique. He points out how given the postdramatic emphasis on staging scenically dynamic formations over illustrating stories, “it is no coincidence that many practitioners of postdramatic theatre started out in the visual arts” (p. 68). True to form, in my college days in Montreal, while my close friends were attending theatre school, I was in art school where my instructors became more interested in my explanations of my artwork than the artwork itself. Excitedly, they would point at me—rather than my artwork—and say, “That! Do more of that!” To give me a better idea of what “that” was, my professor, Corinne Corey lent me her VHS tapes of New York monologist Spalding Gray.  While my friends were learning Ibsen, Chekov, and Strindberg, I was studying such solo performance artists as Eric Bogosian, Laurie Anderson, John Leguizamo, and Anna Deveare Smith. From what I could gather, it seems this latter group drew their inspiration from everywhere but the traditional theatre. Bogosian has been described paradoxically as a “playwright who has seen few traditional plays and an actor who has appeared in even fewer” (Carter, 1987, p. 168). Similarly, Forced Entertainment, regarded as one of Britain’s leading experimental theatre companies, describe their work as accessible by anybody “who was brought up in a house where the TV was always on” (quoted in Lehmann, 2006, p. 10). The combination of decidedly lowbrow influences coupled with a lack of accessibility to the uninitiated, positions performance art at the very margins of culture. The challenge for many performance artists is that theirs is such an iconoclastic vocation, so underground, so decidedly avant-garde, it would be antithetical to their punk rock ethos to be annexed into staid cultural institutions. Indeed, performance art first  31 began as a backlash against the excessive commodification of the art world (Goldberg, 2001). In the 1970s, artists wanted to create art that defied easy acquisition. The appeal of performance art is that collectors can’t simply hang it above their couches or sell it at a profit.4 In other words, performance artists have always resisted repetition, capture or purchase (Parr & Parr, 2005). After all, how would you purchase Chris Burden5 shooting himself with a gun, or Carolee Schneemann6 pulling a scroll from her vagina? Terraforming a world within such rarefied atmosphere precludes others from forming a supportive ecology. In other words, there will never be agents for performance artists because 20% of nothing is still nothing. Despite beginning in earnest in the 1970s, with the conspicuous absence of material stakes, performance art has never produced a supportive infrastructure.  Fiona Sturgeon Shea (personal communication, November 26, 2014) explains how in her capacity as Creative Director of the Playwright’s Studio Scotland, she has witnessed performance artists coming in out of the cold, so to speak, and learn how to repurpose their skills as solo artists by mastering the craft of writing ensemble plays. Having already accrued cultural capital as mid-career performance artists, they are able to convert this currency and receive conventional theatre grants to pay the rent. Ironically, the currents of culture are such that theatre itself is slowly turning towards the continent of performance art, or the postdramatic, and it is here within this rift that I find myself caught between two competing traditions.                                                   4 A noted exception is Mariana Abramovic who very successfully sells photos, DVDs, and catalogues of her performances. 5 See Chris Burden (2007), by Fred Hoffman. 6 See Imagining Her Erotics (2003), by Carolee Schneemann.   32  33 Room 2: The Rehearsal Studio USHER:  If one wanted to learn about how a show is put together, they would do well to spend time in the rehearsal studio. If the theatre auditorium is the dining room, then the rehearsal studio is the kitchen. Do not let the fluorescent lights or the casual street clothing fool you, this is where theatre is made. There is no need for ushers here. We are on break now. Feeling convivial, I turn to you, “Seen any good films lately?” 2.A Prelude to Intervention Akin to the Kurosawa film, Rashamon (1950), where multiple characters all offer apparently honest, yet contradictory accounts of the same incident, Empire of the Son is a world that self-organizes along the meridians of two seemingly irreconcilable magnetic poles: a commitment to a world where nothing is invented, and an acceptance that the truth can never be known.  In contrast to an ever-changing performance text, I also integrate immutable artifacts: archival radio pieces. During the two year research phase of Empire of the Son, while conducting interviews with my father, I learned that a complete collection of my father’s radio programs are archived as vinyl records at the University of British Columbia’s Rare Books and Special Collections.  By sampling my father’s Japanese language radio programs during his years at Radio Canada International, and juxtaposing it with what just happened this morning, I  Figure 3. Behind the scenes at Playwrights Theatre Centre.   34 was able to remix distant past with the recent past. This may sound convincing on the abstract plane, but my hifalutin reluctance to “stick to the script” didn’t fare so well on the ground. 2.B Show-and-Tell The run of Empire of the Son began on October 6, 2015. Prior to my father’s death on September 18, 2015, I would stumble into the rehearsal space each morning, and I would breathlessly tell everyone what took place during the previous 12 hours: updates on his condition, the latest fight amongst my siblings. Unrehearsed, unwritten, unprepared, these impromptu “morning show-and-tells” were nevertheless performances: barely theatre yet still theatre. At the same time as I was watching my team listen, I was watching myself with a DuBoisian (1903) double-consciousness. I remember my stage manager Susan Miyagashima standing at the back of the room listening to me with tears streaming down her face. On one level, an outsider may have observed me as someone under considerable strain venting about his dying father, fortunate enough to be surrounded by sympathetic friends. And that would be a pleasant fiction, but reality was more complex. These people weren’t really my ‘friends.’ Like backpacking in your twenties, I loved these people with the ardent abandon that only guaranteed transience enables. This was a temporary workplace. These were my temporary co-workers. Yet this was no ordinary office. Weighted down by the barometric pressure of a looming world premiere, I never forgot that I was a performer, testing out material on them, and the subtext that animated my delivery was always the rhetorical question, “don’t you think this should be in the show?”  35 The veil between life and art had all but disappeared. The only qualitative metric that seemed to matter to me was, the fresher the better, more recent is more vital. 2.C Fresh, Fresher, Freshest You know something is awry with your creative process when those you trust become less candid with their feedback. Usually this happens when an artist’s ego prevents them from being receptive to criticism. But is it possible to be too receptive? During the final rehearsal for Empire of the Son, I noticed my collaborators were becoming increasingly cautious in providing feedback to my stories because my kneejerk response was always, “consider it gone,” accompanied by the sound effect of the virtual trash can emptying.  “No, wait!” they would protest. “There was nothing wrong with that story.” “Don’t worry,” I’d say dismissively. “Let me tell you about something that just happened.” We were three weeks out from opening night, and rather than rehearsing a finished text, I seemed stuck in a devised mode, my wheels were spinning us into a deeper and deeper rut as I presented new stories daily under the pretext of urgent personal updates.  2.D Intervention Despite the impending premiere, the script for Empire of the Son remained a highly unstable object. Like a wave cruising along the ocean surface, the contents that constituted its form were in constant churn. Deleted stories were immediately replaced by new ones. Perhaps such prodigious output may have been impressive at first, but quickly grew old for my collaborators.   36 As rehearsals progressed, I would find myself engaged in increasingly tense battles with my dramaturge and my director who insisted it was time to freeze the script. “No more new stories.” Yes, of course. But life was changing quickly. Things were happening between rehearsals. How could I withhold these “updates”? This is real life. You can’t stop real life!  “You have to stop.” My director Richard Wolfe was averse to confrontation, but he was finally staging a long overdue intervention. Jabbing the script with his index finger, he explained, “Every time you change the story,” pulling out the Stage Manager’s production Bible for emphasis, “Susan has to renumber every line by hand.”  “From the beginning of the script, or from just the start of each story? Shouldn’t Susan have software that can repaginate automatically?” Of course, these were just thought clouds. I didn’t dare ask such impertinent questions out loud. Instead, I only nodded, feigning a penitent expression. Whatever lead-time we had left to adequately prepare was all but gone. In moments like this, where I am being berated by an authority figure, I occasionally experience time dilation. I have many thoughts quickly.  There was no doubt in my mind that these people I had entreated to accompany me on this journey were my cultural superiors. These senior artists were generous enough to reach down and pull me up, but at this very moment, they may have well been wondering if I were in fact a drowning man about to drag them under with me. Meanwhile, my stage manager Susan Miyagashima closed her eyes, gently shook her head and waved an imaginary fly away, as if to say, “Don’t worry about me, Tetsuro. I have no problem renumbering lines.” When each person had said their piece, I said, “I understand everything everyone is saying, but my father will be dead in 72 hours.” Facial  37 expressions changed instantly, followed by an outpouring of sympathy. This wasn’t a line. It wasn’t a strategic move, but it had the effect of a verbal checkmate. I was no longer on my heels against the ropes. I was repositioned to break up the script again, pieces were once again in motion.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why I remained so stubbornly averse to locking the script. Perhaps it was my subconscious insecurities as a professional actor who had never been trained. “If I tell the audience what just happened, it’ll be anything but stilted!” Maybe it was the childlike faith I had placed in my world-class team of designers—truly the grown-ups in the room—who could be relied upon to accommodate my caprices. Perhaps it was my attempt to claw my way from one part of the dramatic spectrum to another: from the realist Strasbergian performance of an immutable text to the post-dramatic turn towards performance art. Or maybe I was simply acting out as a son who didn’t know how to better deal with his father dying. 2.E Gilding the Lily Whatever the reasons, beneath it all, I had a quiet faith that what was happening in my life outside the rehearsal studio was suffused with tremendous vitality. My father was in the process of actively dying. In my mind, his imminent death was so fascinating, there wasn’t much left for me to do as an artist. I was reminded how, “in the presence of extraordinary actuality, consciousness takes the place of imagination” (Wallace Stevens as quoted in Lensing, 2004, p. 118). When death happens, creative powers become redundant. In the presence of such profound mystery, there is no need for invention. One simply has to observe and report.   38 The last story to make it into the lineup describes how the undertakers arrived to pick up my dad’s body. I must have retold that story about a dozen times over the course of an hour in the rehearsal studio, with each iteration getting progressively shorter. It was easy to recall exactly what “Josh” had said because it had just happened the day before, but it was also confusing. 2.F What is the Difference?  Such an approach contradicted everything I have ever held true as a writer. My creative writing students have ranged from murderers in prison to housewives in Las Vegas. No matter who they are, I am constantly urging them to graduate from an adolescent notion of “The Truth.” That their efforts to recount what “really” happened may be of interest to them personally is of little value to others. We are craftspeople and our toolkit includes conflation, dramatic license, expansion, excision, knives and dynamite. Art is a lie that tells the truth. This is what I believed.  But now I was like a sushi chef suddenly bewildered by my own craft. Here on the counter, an entire salmon lays on my chopping board, so clearly a fish, but with a few cuts, it is now sashimi? How can a single gesture render what was once sea creature into an entrée? Fish, sashimi, fish, sashimi. There is no transubstantiation. Nothing changes but the surface it rests upon. By switching out the wooden chopping board for a ceramic dish, its value increases exponentially.  In the same manner, life, theatre. The changes I had wrought upon the story were so minimal, there was no artfulness to it at all. I had always understood the role of the artist as akin to the artisans of the Colonial economies, where life provided the raw materials of sugar and cotton, and the application of skill and labor turned them into  39 commodities like rum and textiles. Yet here, I was perplexed that a story could be created with so little value added. Who am I? What role do I play? What am I bringing to the table?    40  41 Room 3: My Parent’s Apartment USHER:  There is no greater intimacy then inviting you into my parents’ apartment. My mom and dad have lived in many places, but it is their place in Vancouver’s West End that endures in my memory. Their one-bedroom apartment at 1122 Gilford Street might not be what you would expect of an old-world Japanese couple whose courtly manners had been frozen in time. As you can see, there is no tatami, no shoji, no alcove with an ikebana arrangement in an earthenware ceramic vase. Instead it resembles the den of an elderly Chinese couple eking out an existence in old Kowloon. In their small one-bedroom concrete apartment, a rented hospital bed is their biggest piece of furniture. Lining the walls are Ikea particle board bookshelves that sag beneath the detritus of a life. A binder containing audiocassettes of the New Testament read aloud in Japanese; a dialysis machine the size of an old Apple LaserWriter; a self-supporting white binder that held step-by-step, flipchart instructions on how to do Peritoneal Dialysis without causing the patient a fatal infection; and stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes filled with Baxter brand bags of clear dialysis liquid. The factors that have conspired to produce this precise aesthetic is as follows: advanced age, being immigrants, having little money, not caring and having death as a roommate. My parents are not sentimental hoarders, but if you searched carefully, you might find small   Figure 4. My father Akira, my daughter Mika, and my mother Yoshiko.   42 mementos of my past achievements. Perhaps an audio cassette tape recording of my very first interview as an artist for a national CBC radio program, or a yellowed newspaper clipping from a community newspaper.   43 3.A Permission 3.A.1 Rising Son Long before Empire of the Son, I wrote and performed another solo work about my father called Rising Son back in the early 1990s, which I now recognize as a kind of prequel. When I was a teenager, my father and I had a violent, acrimonious relationship, and in lieu of therapy, Rising Son was my way to work through my conflicted feelings. It was too small a show to be reviewed by the major newspaper critics in Montreal, but I did receive one write up by The Montreal Bulletin, the local Japanese community newsletter. “Poignant… bittersweet…. dramatic…. This Japanese Canadian is definitely a rising star and his work should be supported and seen” (Horibe, 1994). Rising Son began attracting attention for me, but then my family staged one of their many interventions.  3.A.2 Stop One day over our dining room table in Montreal, my mother said to me, “By the way,” such was the preface of her most important pronouncements, “when other people ask about you, dad says ‘my son makes fun of my accent for a living.’”  I didn’t know how to take this remark. I asked her, “Is this dad being sardonic?” He did have a dark, self-deprecating sense of humor. “Or does he really mind?”  My mother was so classically Japanese in her response. Tilting her head to one side, she sucked wind thoughtfully, and said, “I’m not sure.” Translation? “You need to stop, right now.” And so, I did.  44 Now as a performer, this was a tremendous setback for me. Of all the characters I have ever played, my dad has always been the audience’s favourite. There is a thrilling quality to him. Menacing yet adorable, high status but beleaguered, proud yet shy. If my onstage persona “Tetsuro” is a monochromatic drawing, my father “Akira” is a vibrantly coloured Van Gogh, dripping with wet paint. As a young man in my early twenties, I was counting on playing my dad to be my shtick. But if my father wanted me to shut my big mouth, I had to respect that. This may sound rather mature, but in fact I was actually rather petulant. I thought, “If I can’t play my father, if I can’t tell this story, then I don’t want to do theatre.” 3.A.3 CBC The very last time I performed material from Rising Son, CBC Radio producer Yvonne Gall recorded me performing Black Belt, White Lie, a comedic reenactment of how I exploited the All-Asians-know-Kung-Fu stereotype in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a street fight in Surrey, a working-class suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia.  When that segment aired, I later learned that Michael Donovan, (the executive producer of Salter Street Films in Halifax), began laughing so hard he had to pull over to the side of the road, which is how I ended up writing for the satirical television program, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. From there I was hired by CBC Radio One in Vancouver, where I worked as a show reporter on The Afternoon Show, before having the good fortune of being chosen to replace the Bill Richardson on his much beloved national program, The Roundup. I did not see this coming. For a long time, I did not like my father. I vowed to be nothing like him. I went to art school. Got involved with theatre. Started doing comedy, then one day a  45 producer recorded one of my bits, then BOOM! I found myself working for CBC Radio. How does that even happen? (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 8) 3.A.4 LA After my years with the CBC, my family later moved to Los Angeles. After completing a passion feature film project, Yellow Fellas, I was cast as the impertinent samurai-in-residence on Deadliest Warrior, where I talked smack and killed Vikings. According to The Kansas City Star, this was a ratings juggernaut for Spike/MTV, attracting some 1.7 million viewers per episode, a 70% surge over the network’s regular prime-time ratings (Barnhart, 2010). While waiting in line at Disneyland with my family, disreputable looking young men would approach my wife, hand her their devices, and ask her to take their photos standing next to me.  I was perplexed by this world of flashy broadcast media. I had come a long way from performing at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse in Montreal, but even though my face was being seen all over the world, and my voice had been heard by millions, I still felt silenced. 3.A.5 MFA  During all those years, deep down I wanted to be back on stage. I became tired of show biz because I wasn’t telling the story I needed to tell. I was also growing weary of living in such a seasonless place. In Southern California’s endless summer, it was either hot or hotter. Before I knew it half a decade had passed in the soporific heat. I longed for the icy winds of the Great White North to reinvigorate my creative spirit, but I would settle for the rain. My family moved back to Vancouver, where I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.   46 3.A.6 Now or Never It was during this period that my father’s health began to falter. “He had Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes that left him completely blind, kidney failure, multiple strokes” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 16).  I began to think about his life, and my life, and how the two formed a kind of rhyme scheme through our work as public radio broadcasters. We both had millions of listeners, but we never spoke with each other. In my whole life, I never had a single conversation with my dad beyond, “Pass the soya sauce.” And I was fine with that. He could die with things as they are, and I would be at peace with that. But now that I have two kids, I knew if they are anything like me, there will come a day when they start wondering about their cultural identity. They would start asking the same questions I had asked myself, “Who am I? Where do I come from?” They would start asking questions about grandpa, and I didn’t want to have to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” So, for their sake, I realized it was now or never. Because we didn’t really have any practice talking to each other, I deployed the only object we ever shared, a radio microphone. I began interviewing him as if I were doing the longest of long form interviews. Over the course of many hours, I heard him recall meeting the Queen of England, watching Marilyn Monroe sing happy birthday to JFK in person at Madison Square Garden, and standing in the ashes of Hiroshima.  The desire to tell my father’s story had never faded away completely, but hearing these stories brought the impulse back to the surface. I felt myself reentering the orbit of my father’s narrative world. In a radio piece commemorating Father’s Day, I reflected:  47 They say that people who get lost wandering through the wilderness often end up right where they started. This is because without sidewalks people don’t walk straight. Everyone veers to one side, even if it’s ever so slightly, and this angle when given enough distance eventually forms a perfect circle. (Shigematsu, 2002, June 14) 3.A.7 Permissions The writing, performance and touring of Empire of the Son constitutes: a scholarly approach to creating theatre. When playwrights ask me about what it is like to make theatre within the context of doing a PhD, I explain the biggest difference is the importance placed on honouring permissions and ethics. When the American writer Anne Lamott declared on Twitter, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better” (2013, April 23). It was retweeted over 2,000 times. This precise quote has over 15,000 hits on Google. Clearly, this call to arms has struck a chord with multitudes, emboldening the silenced towards acts of literary retribution, but such a creed can ultimately lead to a narrative of solipsistic victimhood, and denies the possibility of intersubjectivity and divergences of meaning.  Insightfully, Jill Ker Conway (1998) asks, “what exactly is the process of questioning the past?” (p. 177). Conway suggests that “cultivation of that voice—the power of speaking for one’s self—is a prerequisite for maturity, because until we've found our own voices we can't settle down to ask ourselves and others probing questions about life in the present” (p. 180). One such probing question might be, how many stories can you relate where the bad guy was you? How many incidents can you relate where the  48 other person saw you as the villain, or an agent of oppression? How many stories can you tell where you are the antagonist? Playwrights by their very definition must develop the ability to experience phenomena from a multitude of perspectives.  When I was doing an MFA in Creative Writing, my non-fiction professor declared, “Great writing involves great betrayal.” Almost everyone nodded in agreement.  As ethical rigor becomes a paramount value, the ease of having such a cavalier attitude towards the people in your life becomes a thing of the past. These are the notes from the date of the last interview with my father. 3.A.8 Field Diary Akira Interview Feb 14, 2015  A question for me has been, to what degree have I been forcing my father to participate in these interviews? He's old, and tired, and sometimes our conversations last for hours.   On this last visit, I decided to give him a break. Or perhaps to put it more honestly, I was preoccupied with my own personal work. And I felt, rather than wake up him up, and get up from bed, I'd take advantage of this rare “me” time. But very unusual for him, he called me over to his bedside, and he was sitting up. I peered down at him as I stood by the edge of the bed. I asked him what he wanted, “Do you want some water? Are you hungry? Do you need to use the oterai?” He was like a baby who could talk. I went through the usual list but to no avail.  Finally, I asked him if he would like to come and sit out in the living room. He said, “yes!” with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. We were sitting in silence next  49 to one another on the couch for a while, when he asked me if I remembered his hometown of Kagoshima. I said, “Hold on a second,” and I began assembling my recording equipment.    What followed was a remarkable conversation. I finally broached the topic I have been avoiding for two years now. 3.A.9 The Ask “My son makes fun of my accent for a living.” Those 10 words were enough to stop me from telling the story I wanted to tell for 25 years. I was afraid to ask for my father’s permission to tell his story. If he said no, I would be pulled back into silence.  Whether or not he granted me permission, I had known for some time now that I would soon have to stop interviewing my dad. Not because there was nothing left to ask, but because I couldn’t subject him to this process any longer. He was emaciated. His blind eyes were cataract gray, and he took so long to answer my questions, I had to check in with him to see if he was still awake. In what turned out to be our final interview, I finally summoned the nerve to ask him. “Dad, haven’t you ever wondered why I’ve been interviewing you all this time?” “No,” he replied. “As you know, I have been working on my doctorate, but the heart of my thesis is writing about your life story. Do I have your permission to tell your story to others?”  My dad looked so utterly perplexed. He shook his head in disbelief. “I cannot fathom why anyone would have even the slightest interest in my life.”  The whole enterprise struck him as preposterous. It was as if I was suggesting to him, “Dad can I take your toenail clippings, and sell them for medicinal purposes on  50 eBay?” He simply saw no value in what he perceived to be the banality that was his life, and he couldn’t imagine why anyone else would either. “Dad, I’m sorry, but I think you’re wrong. In fact, I should apologize because I must confess, I have already shared some of your stories, and I can assure you, people find them captivating. And, so do I. So, Dad, do I have your permission to share your story with the rest of the world?” “Yes!” he exclaimed.  The fact that he answered so quickly made me think he was confused. Perhaps he thought, I was offering him his favorite beverage, 7 Up. By this point in our conversation, my mother had returned from her errands, so I asked her to translate asking him for his permission in Japanese, and again he said, “Yes.” Permission recorded and in hand, I could have let it rest there, but I knew between my penchant for cowardly procrastination, and his deteriorating condition, we would not revisit this topic again. I needed to be certain.  “Dad, I don’t understand. Twenty years ago, you wanted me to stop playing you. Why are you saying yes now?” “Because if you tell my story, then my life will have had some meaning.” I felt my eyes become hot. All this time I had been looking to my father to provide me with the meaning of life. Because even though I have two children of my own, and I appear to be a fully-grown man, part of me still feels like a kid, and before my dad died, I needed him to tell me that one story, give me that one insight that would help make it all make sense.   51 When it came to telling my father’s story, I always felt so needy. As I asked him question after question after question, I thought I was taking, taking, taking. It never occurred to me that by doing this work, I was providing meaning for him. And in this photograph, I am barely visible, a small infant fast asleep in his arms.  And I’m amazed that I could’ve ever been so small to have been held, and that he could’ve ever been so large to hold me. (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 17) During those final moments of our last interview, I felt a shifting of places. He held me as a child, but now I was holding him. My father never got to see me perform my version of his story, because on Sept 18, 2015, two weeks before Empire of the Son opened, he died.    52  53 Room 4: The Antenna USHER:  As an usher, I’d like to now direct your attention to the air around you. Listen closely, that sound you hear, consists of air particles vibrating. The atmosphere is also filled with electromagnetic radiation. Radio waves are all around us. You cannot see them, but all it takes is a simple transistor radio to hear them. Consider the humble radio antenna, a telescopic piece of metal. It is quickly becoming a heraldic object. Pity, as it is a tangible interface between the visible world and the invisible. 4.A Time Traveler In 2007, I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs, This American Life. On this episode, My Brilliant Plan, I was fascinated to learn about an African American scientist named Dr. Ron Lawrence Mallett, who lost his father to a heart attack when he was only 10 years old. This loss would lead directly to his life’s work of inventing a time machine. Single-minded in his determination, he received the proper education to figure out the math, so he could invent the technology that would enable him to travel back in time to warn his father about his impending death. It is a scenario he has imagined repeatedly. After knocking on his childhood apartment door 11B, he would explain to his father:  You know, I know that you're going to have a hard time understanding or believing this, but I am your son... And I come from another time. And I’m here   Figure 5. My father with his beloved shortwave radio.   54 to tell you that you are going to die… in the near future…. if you don't take care of yourself, you’ve got a very weak heart. If you change, you will live. And that's what I've come here to tell you. (Glass, 2007) I found Dr. Mallet’s story to be a moving reminder of how research is so often inextricably rooted in personal biography, how the questions we ask can be inspired by our wounds. Ten years later in 2017, I was listening to the BBC podcast, Shortcuts. This episode featured a different man named Andrew Nissenbaum, similarly obsessed with the possibility of time travel. In response to the question, “Can you tell me the first time you thought of time travel?” he answered, “I started taking it very seriously after the death of my daughter,” who was only seven-years-old. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. … Losing a child is just unimaginable… I would do anything to bring a dead child back” (Long, 2017, November 28). When I juxtapose these two stories of time travel and personal loss in my mind, they form one idea. Is this what happens when you experience profound loss, but you have no religion to give you solace? Is this what happens when you want the impossible, but you do not believe in an interventionist God? These two men remind me how faith—the belief in something for which there is no proof—is not the exclusive domain of the religious. In the absence of a comforting system of belief, hope can be powerful. It defies gravity, resists entropy, finds cracks within dimensions. It bends time itself to its will. Because if there is a hidden path that leads back to your loved one, then hope coupled with imagination multiplied by creative intelligence will not be denied. I do not believe in heaven, nor do I believe I will ever be reunited with my dad,  55 but in my own way, I realize I am making my own way back to him. As explorers, we only blaze the trails we can imagine. To traverse the abyss of death, if we cannot imagine being carried by the wings of angels, we must find other ways. For some, such a bridge is made up of mathematical equations, for others it is the numinous power of words. Every night as I stand in the wings, listening to the Front of House speech, I feel a sense of apprehension, not because I am about to step out on stage all alone, but because I might not be. At its most powerful, a performance of Empire of the Son has the potential to be a kind of séance.  After my father died, my close friends would periodically check in on me. “How are you doing these days with your dad and everything?”  I would honesty reply, “I’m fine. I never think about him.” I now realize such a reply may have sounded callous, but I knew that with every new city marked on my calendar for an upcoming tour, those evenings would be spent with my father. Sometimes as writers we feel guilty for being lifelong spies, we take and we take and we take, but now I’m not so sure. I think it might be more accurate to say, we don’t steal, we apprehend, we seize, and we perceive. If life itself is formless, inchoate, through story we give it form. We imbue it with meaning. These words that we weave, these tapestries are the only blanket we can share with each other against a cold and an indifferent universe.  When I perform my father on different stages, I can often feel his spirit. When I look up, it is easy for me to imagine him looking down between the twin amber lights above the chair on stage right, a constellation which remains constant for me no matter what the time zone. Knowing I have his blessing allows me to meet his imaginary gaze,  56 and channel him with abandon. Reflecting upon the loss of his own family member, I join Belliveau in declaring, “We’re still connected” (2015, p. 9). 4.B Candle USHER:  If ushers carried candles instead of flashlights, how much more magical would an evening at the theatre be?  4.C Magic Spell 4.C.1 Incantation A question I often hear is, “Doesn’t performing Empire of the Son over and over get old?” One would think so, but the answer is no, not yet. The reason why it has yet to grow old for me is because I do not think of myself as a hapless actor doomed to recite the same text every night. Rather, I have come to see this ritual through an occult lens. Like an accidental sorcerer, I now realize that the text of this play works like a spell. spell /spel/ noun  a set of words used to invoke some magical effect, such as summoning a spirit.  This definition resonates for me. The historian/poet Al Cummins explains: One of the biggest principles of Western Forms of Magic is this idea of reflection. As above so below, in being like something, that thing moves towards you, and is more inclined to lend you some of its power.” (Long, 2017, November 21) If I could begin my performance of Empire of the Son by channeling my father I would, but where would I go from there? Reverting to me would be anticlimactic for the audience. So instead, I perform a full five minutes on stage as myself before I borrow his  57 power. The second time I bow on stage, I descend deeply as myself, but I rise as my father, announcing sternly to the audience, “My name is Shigematsu Akira. Please do not call me Akira. You may refer to me as Mr. Shigematsu” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 5). With these 11 words, I summon the spirit of my father.  This is the ideogram for my father’s given name.   Figure 6. The kanji for Akira.  Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick wrote, “There exists, for everyone, a sentence—a series of words—that has the power to destroy you” (1981, p. 68). For my father, it took only one word to shatter his equanimity: hearing his own name. Only my father’s own father could call him Akira. My mother called him Akira-san. Whenever anyone else who had the impertinence to address my traditional Japanese father by his given name sans honorific, this pierced him like a poisonous thorn. “Akira” was a three-syllable trigger that would make his cortisol spike. “In the middle of the night, he would yell out in his sleep—Don’t call me Akira!” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 38). Meta-culturally  58 speaking, Cummins offers an explanation regarding how an utterance so simple could spark such a powerful reaction: Some words are considered magical. Most typically, the names of spirits, or the names of god, or if we think about the idea of knowing something’s true name it gives you some kind of sense of, if not authority over it, then at least the ability to call it effectively, and then it has to come. (as cited in Long, 2017, November 21) Names have such power. Words have such power. Bound up within its syllables are lost etymological histories of how they came to be. Even without fully understanding their meanings, their sonic vibrations wield minute magnetic fields. Combined in concert, they have the power to sway the course of causality. The text of Empire of the Son is 10,000 words long. As far as spells go, this makes for an exceptionally long incantation, but its magic is deep. This magic does not take place on stage, but within the mind, within the recesses of memory. This is not the magic of sleight-of-hand, or hocus-pocus, but it does exploit the trope of misdirection. If I have any power on stage, it is because I do not self-present as a magician, or a Bodhisattva, but as an impertinent adolescent, the ironic fulfillment of that universal blessing/curse, “may your dreams come true.” Immigrants sacrifice so their children can have better lives, but what they do not anticipate is the shallowness of character so often begat by the comforts of suburbia. As a teenager, I patiently explain to my father the reason I am unable to do yard work.   59 4.C.2 Skateboarding  Figure 7. Enabled by a live video feed, this is what the audience see as I re-enact an acrimonious exchange between my father and my teenage self.  “There’s a new flavour of Slurpee, I have to go try” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 19). The audience can clearly see I am nothing but a fool. As I prance about on stage, aimlessly musing about such trivial matters as the minutia of my workout routine, or how I prefer shirts that accentuate my biceps, the audience is lulled into false sense of security. Once their guard is lowered, 75 minutes is enough to change someone. Repeatedly, I have learned how people behave differently because of one line near the end of play, “Every day my kids hug Grandma good morning and good night. My mom can survive anything, but no one should live without being touched” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 46). 4.C.3 Touch I have learned how a friend of a friend, now makes a point of touching her mother each  60 time she visits her. It is a new tradition. Something neither mother or daughter was comfortable with at first, but such awkwardness is now being tempered through repetition. Irwin and Springgay (2008) remind us how, “Touch becomes a mode of knowing through proximity and relationality and poses different ways of making sense of the world” (p. xxi). If we are fortunate, touch is something we can take for granted as children, but as adults we soon lose touch with touch. A man in Edmonton shared with me excitedly, “my mother is in a long-term care facility. When I go see her, I’m going to…” And with that, he touched me on the shoulder so lightly, I could scarcely feel it. Small steps. 4.C.4 Daughters As part of her foreword to the published version of Empire of the Son, my producer Donna Yamamoto wrote:  One of Tetsuro’s closest friends is a Tibetan artist named Kalsang Dawa, who didn’t hesitate to express his disappointment in Empire of the Son. Kalsang had witnessed Tetsuro do incredibly witty impromptu performances. So after waiting to see what Tetsuro had been working on for two years, he said, “I just expected a lot more.” Are your friends that honest? But there’s a postscript to this story. Kalsang is a new father. His partner, Aranka, has just given birth to their second daughter, and he admitted to Tetsuro that even though he knows it’s stupid, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment that she wasn’t a boy. Kalsang is self-aware enough to recognize this as an outdated idea, but having grown up next to China all his life, he couldn’t help but be influenced by a culture that prizes sons over daughters. Seeing Tetsuro onstage for less than seventy-five  61 minutes was enough to change his mind. [Weeks later], Kalsang confided in Tetsuro that now he realizes “having daughters is a good thing.” This is the power of art. For all its bedazzling spectacle, its technical wizardry and all the powerful emotions it evokes, Empire of the Son is also a remarkably subtle piece of social criticism. (Shigematsu, 2016, p. xiv)  In his text Theatre, Education and the Making of Meanings: Art or Instrument? (2007), Anthony Jackson describes educational theatre as having the power to catalyze “attitudinal or behavioural change on part of the audience or in the creation” (pp. 1-2)  If Kalsang’s youngest daughter Saskia grows up beneath the clear sunlight of her father’s love, unclouded by old fashioned notions about gender, my sisters are to thank.  Figure 8. During a family reunion, my father became so dehydrated he had to be hospitalized. My sisters noticed he was lethargic. My brother and I did not.  62 4.C.5 Owed to My Sisters When did this change in my friend take place? In the play’s only spoken-word passage, Ode to My Sisters, I contrast the medicinal magic of daughters’ affection, against the emotional distance of sons. When I deliver this passage before an audience, I always search for a woman whose sad expression betrays the experience of having endured what I have only observed. When we make eye contact, I feel the flame of my own compassion leap. And for a few moments, the entire theatre lights up.  My sisters are multilingual in the languages of love.  They coo, and cluck, and purr with mellifluous felicity.  They speak in tongues,  not because the Spirit has descended upon them,  but because it never left.  Make no mistake, my sisters are grown women,  mothers but not matronly, but maybe magicians, maybe wiccans,  because in the blink of an eye they become little girls again.  “Goodnight, Daddy, otosan, I love you, ai shtitru,”  cooing affectionate little girls,  while my brother and I remain like British Beefeaters,  arms by our sides, silent,  while my sisters shapeshift into a basket full of kittens,  and with every kiss they bring him back from the brink of death,  and if this isn’t magic, then I don’t know what is.  (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 43)  63 For this story alone, I am grateful for the role of art in my life. For it has allowed me to “journey well in the world by learning to journey well in words” (Leggo, 2008, p. 12). Without words I would be lost. The culture of our family is such that I cannot simply tell my sisters, “Thank you for the way you loved Dad.” I cannot. It is inconceivable. But I can tell this story, and my family can hear it. During the premiere run in 2015, there were 18 performances, and my eldest sister Rié watched 16 of them. (She skipped matinees explaining, “Twice in one day would be too much.”) Of all my siblings, she was the one who fought most vehemently to keep my father alive. I believe that her experiencing the text again and again was her way of healing. Seeing my father’s life on a continuous loop, life and death, life and death, allowed her to break out of her own cycle of doubt and regret. If it took me a thousand performances to help my sister make peace, that would be no chore. Because my mom lives with my family now, when I leave to go on tour, it falls to her to pick up my parental slack. She claims not to mind. My mother describes my father to others as the best man she has ever known. She expresses this sentiment with a vehemence that suggests others might not believe her. And so, as strangers across the country “laugh, cry, feel excessively uncomfortable and mourn for a man they never knew” (Law, 2015, October 16), my mother takes solace in this. Truth be told, when I read through the text of Empire of the Son, I tend to shrug my shoulders. My reactions span from, “it’s not bad” to “it’s pretty good.” As a performer, I suppose it is hard for me to get excited about words on paper. It isn’t that I’m not capable of being amazed, or filled with wonder, on the contrary. The people in the front row do not have the best view. I do. I can see each person’s face, and how their  64 expressions change.  4.C.6 Give Me a Minute During its initial run, the box office staff at The Cultch reported behaviour they had never witnessed in their patrons before: A rush to buy tickets immediately after the show’s performance. People wanted to share the experience they just had with others. As theatre critic Colin Thomas wrote, “I'm telling all of the people I love most to see this show” (2015, October 9). The Front of House staff also had to adjust their post-show routines. Usually after the show, the house lights fully illuminate to allow patrons to gather their belongings and leave the theatre, but after most people left, the lights were dimmed to half to accommodate those who weren’t getting up from their seats.  Because I had returned backstage to my dressing room, I never saw who stayed behind, but my stage manager Susan Miyagashima couldn’t help but take notice. Given the intimate size of the VanCity Culture Lab, her booth was merely curtained off in in the last row. Susan couldn’t step out until the last patron left the theatre. She recalled, “It was all the dudes who sat in the theatre who needed time.” They required about 10 minutes of sitting alone in the darkness with their thoughts to regain their composure before rejoining their wives and their daughters. Does a wizard grow weary of reciting lengthy incantations? Not if the magic works.    65 4.C.7 Quantum Theatre At the Vancouver Art Gallery, there is always at least one dark room with a film looping. You can peer in, sit down, leave, sleep, make love with a stranger. The film is indifferent. Your presence changes nothing.  During the final rehearsals before the opening night of Empire of the Son I too was on a loop. In the rehearsal studio at Playwrights Theatre Centre, I was doing dry runs repeatedly for the benefit of the design team. Periodically, my producer Donna Yamamoto would poke her head in and ask if someone else could sit in. She never had to ask. During that period, I was always so grateful for that one person who had not yet heard the words. It didn’t matter if it was an intern, or the partner of one of the designers, the presence or absence of that one stranger made all the difference.  Theatre is quantum theory in action. Through the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality, transforming its very nature. In The Empty Space, British theatre director Peter Brook (1968) wrote, “A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged” (p. 72). Seeing that one person listening for whom the words were new, whole regions of my brain lit up. I am no longer reciting text by rote. I am now explaining, cajoling, flattering impressing, teasing, persuading. Far from reciting lines, I am actively trying to touch them, move them, push and pull them with everything but my hands as I usher them into a shared experience.   During talkbacks, the one thing I always want to impress upon the audience is how integral they are to the creation of the theatrical moment. People sitting in the  66 darkness naturally assume they are a neutral observer. Far from that, “Stanislavsky calls the audience the ‘third artist’ in theatre, the first two being author and actor” (Carnicke, 2009, p. 157). In an ensemble show, the first actor to exit the stage, gets asked by his castmates, “How is the house?” The answer is never, “There are two people asleep in the front row. The rest of the orchestra appear on the fence, but the people in the balcony seem ready for a good time.” No, the audience is always a singular entity. In my experience, they are like a leviathan. The larger they are, the more slowly they react, but those reactions are bigger. “To act without a public is like singing to a place without resonance. ... The audience constitutes the spiritual acoustics for us. They give back what they receive from us as living, human emotions” (Stanislavski, 1936, p. 204) The presence or absence of an audience is so key, so perplexing, sometimes, I’ll conduct the following thought experiment. It is a slow night on tour. Outside a snowstorm is raging, or perhaps a swine flu pandemic. For whatever reason, we begin the show with an empty house. I stop and ask my stage manager if we should simply call it a night? She points out that latecomers are admitted five minutes into the show, so let’s keep going and if no one shows, we’ll take it from there. At the five-minute mark, sure enough one lone theatre patron is ushered in. With all the empty seats, they plop down front row, centre.  Grateful to have an audience member, I continue the show revitalized. Unfortunately, this person cannot stay awake. As she drifts in and out of consciousness. I too, shift from dry run to performance and back again, based upon her level of consciousness.   67 As she begins to close her eyes, I can feel myself becoming transparent. When she nods off, I would tell my stage manager to radio the Front of House and bring in some coffee and chocolate for the patron. I will gladly pay. I will even happily endure the crinkling of unwrapping the candy bar, and the loud sipping of hot coffee. I need her to stay awake, because without her attention, I do not exist. I am a dream, and she is the dreamer. 68  69 Room 5: The Sealed Doorway USHER:  If you look closely at this brick wall here, you will see variations in the brickwork. Do you see it? That’s okay if you don’t. Some say this was a staircase that led to a subterranean passageway used by bootleggers. Others say this was a former entrance that lead to the upper balcony, where non-white people had to sit back in the day. I’ve heard another usher claim there’s a body of an old stagehand back there who fell from the riggings, and if you listen closely enough you can hear him moaning. I have my own theories, but until someone takes a sledgehammer, we’ll never know what kind of spaces are back there.   70  71 Room 6: The Café USHER:  I don’t drink alcohol, so I almost never go into bars. I don’t drink coffee either, but I’m in cafés all the time. Coffeehouse culture has a long history as an inclusive meeting place for writers, artists and intellectuals. In contrast to boozy alehouses where brawls could break out, coffeehouses have always fostered a meeting of the minds. There is something about the stimulation of people milling about, coupled with the physical constraints of two people sitting at a small table that enables a conversation to meander far and wide: emotional milestones, the semiotic of tears, old documentaries, past careers, Zen parables, the art of movie editing, and different approaches to acting. Before you know it, cups are empty and flocks of words have flown past. 6.A Emotional Distance 6.A.1 Still Crying? My friend Julia recently asked me if I still cry during my performances of Empire of the Son these days. “These days” being several years after the death of my father. I always assumed that the further away the day of his death receded in my rear-view mirror, the less affected I would feel in the moment of performance, and the harder it would be for  me to get there emotionally, but unexpectedly, that has not been the case.    Figure 9. My spouse Bahareh emailing on behalf of VACT.  72  6.A.2 Archival Video When I watched the archival video for Empire of the Son for the first time, a full year after its original premiere, I observed in my performance things I was not aware of the first time around. On opening night, less than three weeks after my father died, I could see how my body appeared to be clenched tight. I scarcely had my lines memorized, the blocking was not in my muscle memory. My already limited capacity to multitask was being stress tested. I was anything but playful. I was rigid. From an actor point-of-view, I was barely holding it together.  6.A.3 Waterfront Theatre Fast forward a couple of years later to a reading I was invited to give at the Vancouver Writer’s Festival in October of 2017. My wife and daughter were sitting in the front row at the Waterfront Theatre. I performed the following excerpt from Empire of the Son. 6.A.4 Ode To My Sisters Every time my father went into the hospital, it seemed less and less likely that he would ever come out. Conference call with my sisters. “How is Dad doing? Should we come?” And I stopped.   My sisters never ask my advice about anything. I’m the baby of the family. But here they were. “Tetsuro, tell us. Should we come?” If they don’t come and something happens, I’ll never live it down. But for some reason I can’t bring  73 myself to say it. So, I say, “Listen closely because I’m only going to say this once. No one here is telling you not to come.”   My sisters booked their flights from all points to Vancouver, indirect flights, weird connections, and by some coincidence all three sisters landed at YVR within thirty minutes of each other. As we all piled into my car, everyone was giddy, literally giggling. Sure, the circumstances were crappy, but this was an impromptu family reunion. We only saw each other once a year if that. But now we were all together, and everyone was so happy.   PROJECTION: STILL IMAGE of TETSURO’s sisters, HANA, RIÉ, and SETSU, and TETSURO in the car.   As I began driving towards St. Paul’s, one of my sisters said—  SOUND: AUDIO CLIP of HANA, RIÉ, and SETSU talking with TETSURO in the car on the way to the hospital.   74  Figure 10. In matters of intervention, it is the prerogative of the twin sister to disregard personal boundaries.  HANA: (recorded) By the way, we are not really here for Dad. That was just a pretext.  RIÉ: The real reason we’re here is because we decided it was time to stage an intervention on your moustache.  SETSU: We’re serious, it’s over the top. We think your facial hair is extremely aggressive, and aggressively antisocial. It’s really going to limit your opportunities.   HANA / SETSU / RIÉ: Yeah, you look really untrustworthy / dubious / supercilious / insouciant / oleaginous.    75 Did I mention my sisters all scored within the top one percentile on their SATs?  (on mic, looking at photo) What are you talking about? This is a handlebar moustache. It’s a classic gentleman’s moustache.   SOUND: AUDIO CLIP continues.   HANA: (recorded) Maybe that’s the look you’re going for, but as an Asian it looks like you have two question marks on your face.   RIÉ: Questionable look, questionable character.   PROJECTION out.   When my sisters say stuff like that, deep down, I know they’re probably right. They’re always staging these interventions on me, half-joking, half-serious. But secretly I was just happy not to have to talk about my father’s condition. They’d see for themselves soon enough.   When we got to my dad’s hospital room, without a word my sisters dropped their coats and their bags and they climbed into bed with my dad. That blew my mind. They could’ve levitated and I would’ve been less impressed.    76 But they lay in bed with him. And they touched him the way daughters touch their fathers when there’s a lot of love. All these hours I’d been spending with my dad: bringing him heated blankets, feeding him chips of ice, describing the weather outside his window, I can honestly say it never occurred to me to climb into his bed, to lie next to him, to touch him.   In the way we express affection towards our father, my brother and I are like characters trapped in a Frank Capra movie. My brother Ken is a pastor and his favourite film is It’s a Wonderful Life, and together we are about as fulsome in our expressions of affection as Jimmy Stewart. “Gee, Pa, just try and hang in there, will ya? And hand to God, you’ll be as right as rain.” Our brotherly affection is in black and white, but my sisters’ love is in Technicolor, and in surround sound.  This story is one I have performed numerous times outside the context of theatrical runs. It is one of my ‘go-to’ excerpts, because it stands alone, and for me it is emblematic of the play. 6.A.5 Watershed When I began performing this story on this occasion at the Vancouver Writers Festival, partway through, I paused mid-phrase for such a long time, my wife and daughter became convinced I had forgotten my lines. I hadn’t. I simply couldn’t bring myself to say another word. I felt physically powerless before the intensity of my feelings. Time was when I had to search within, use memory to return to a place in order to experience something anew. I had to use my imagination’s divining rod to seek out fresh imagery,  77 new perspectives that would allow me to find untapped wells of emotion. But now feelings were surging through me unbiden, uncontrollably. Standing on that stage on Granville Island, before the smallest of audiences, tears streamed down my face, and I spoke through my lines with the measured care and deliberate breathing of an old dancer whose body knows the choreography, but every movement injures her further, slowing her down even more. I could scarcely get through that performance. I could see my wife’s sad expression in the front row. She was looking at the stage, but not at me.  I could only regard her for a moment. To have made direct eye contact would have made the energetic loop circling between us accelerate out of control. Do I still cry during my performance of Empire of the Son these days? More than ever. This irony is not lost on me. When I first began performing in 2015, soon after the death of my father, my inability to cry was the catalyst for the play. At the beginning of the show I explain to the audience: I’d Like to Be Able to Cry So now my father’s funeral has been placed upon my timeline, and I’m watching it approach. And when that day finally comes, I’d like to be able to cry. I haven’t cried since I was a kid. So, I’m not gonna be able to just do it on the day of the funeral. Because if I do start to lose it, I’m gonna think oh wow, it’s happening, I’m actually doing it. “Quick, someone take a photo! Instagram me!”—Ah, forget it, moment’s passed. For me to really cry at my father’s funeral without self-consciousness, I figure I got to cry at least a couple of times, so on that day, it’ll be no big deal, just another emotion. So, I want to thank you for coming out.  78 Because this is not something I can do on my own. I just can’t stand in front of the mirror at home and will myself to cry. Maybe that’s something actors do. I don’t know, I’ve never been to acting school. But I do have this ‘actorly’ intuition. My sense is, if I open myself to you, and you open yourself to me, then maybe together we can summon a spirit I haven’t felt since I was a kid. I have two kids, and they’re gonna be there at my father’s funeral. And when my kids see me being all friendly, shaking hands, making jokes, everyone else will be thinking, “Oh look at the good son, putting on such a brave front,” but my kids will be thinking, Daddy really is a sociopath, superficially charming, but fundamentally lacking true empathy. Can’t even cry at his own father’s funeral. So, for me this capacity to cry isn’t just a trivial matter, because I think the tenderness of our hearts is directly related to our capacity to feel joy. I mean, if there are no valleys within, can there really be mountain peaks? Maybe my interior is just a well-groomed golf course with slight undulations. So tonight, we are going to explore geologically unstable territory. Together you and I will do a little jig over some fault lines and see what happens. Vancouver theatre critic, Colin Thomas, took note of this challenge I issued for myself and wrote: Shigematsu’s script includes a central conceit: he has never cried as an adult, but his dad died on September 18, and he wants to weep without self-consciousness at the funeral—so these performances are an opportunity to rehearse. Within that container, the storytelling is poetic, associative—and often funny. (Thomas, 2016, October 31, para. 7)   79 Thomas observes how I am attempting to share the burden of my anxiety with the audience, i.e., by not crying, by being so tightly bound by the constraints of masculinity (Shields, Kuhl, & Westwood, 2017), I am dooming myself to an arid interior life. To make matters worse, by being an emotionally remote father, what damage was I inflicting upon my children? By being yet another emotionally absent father within a long chain of Shigematsu men who do not cry, what kind of psychological oppression was I reproducing? 6.A.6 Empathetic Nervous System I am not a neuroscientist, but I have long believed that empathy—the ability to feel what someone else is feeling—may have a distinct nervous system. Certainly, it is clear when this most human of capacities is absent. Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy.  6.A.7 Looking for Richard I first began to wonder if empathy might be its own discrete system within the body when I first watched the 1996 documentary Looking for Richard, wherein the American actor Al Pacino explores William Shakespeare’s enduring impact on popular culture. In a memorable scene, Pacino walks the streets of New York City, and asks passersby for their candid opinions on Shakespeare. An African-American panhandler earnestly declares: We should introduce Shakespeare into our academics. You know why? 'Cause then the kids would have feelings. We have no feelings. That's why it's easy for us to get a gun and shoot each other. We don't feel for each other. If we were taught to feel, we wouldn't be so violent. (Pacino, 1996)  80 These words have stayed with me for more than 20 years. This insight didn’t serve as a personal reminder of the cultural value of Shakespeare, but the phrase, “then the kids would have feelings,” did cause me to wonder if our lifelong capacity for empathy can be traced back to a single catalytic moment. 6.A.8 Toes Clenched In 2016, I was attending the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in the Yukon, when a fellow theatre artist related to me a fascinating experience. During a talkback after a play she performed, a teenage boy shared how distraught he felt for one of the characters in the play. In fact, he didn’t realize he felt this way until the very end, when he discovered his feet were aching due to his toes being so tightly clenched within his Doc Marten boots. He was amazed at how visceral a response he had to what transpired on stage.  If theatre has a special role to play in education and social development, I believe it has a singular capacity to function as a stimulus to activate a young person’s empathetic nervous system (O'Toole, Adams, Anderson, Burton, & Ewing, 2014).  6.A.9 Laughter When you hear laughter ring out at another table in a restaurant, we naturally assume someone said something funny. Perhaps they told a joke. Likely, there was a punch line. Such inferences show how narrowly we define laughter. To prolong the collective enjoyment of ridiculing a friend, we make the distinction, “we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” The interchangeability of prepositions suggests that there are only two meaningful categories of laughter: derisive and friendly.  However, if you observe social interactions closely, it becomes clear we laugh for a great many reasons: to ease tension, as a social lubricant, the spontaneous laughter  81 between friends versus the volitional laughter between strangers, or as a sign of satori—the sudden recognition of a truth. Indeed, for me as a performer, I’ve learned to use laughter as a barometer to signal when the audience is connecting with a story on a personal level.  Rather than crafting setups and punch lines, something I learned to do in the writers’ room at This Hour has 22 Minutes, I try to tell the truth as honestly as I can, and then let the audience tell me where the laughs are. Indeed, veteran improvisers come to understand that the biggest laughs come not from the witty riposte, coruscating repartee, or the most strikingly clever ideas. They tend to come from the most honest reaction in the moment, e.g., “Uh, what?” A simple truth unadorned, however inarticulate, tends to trigger the loudest laughs.  6.A.10 Ensoulment In his book, Sudden Glory (1996), historian Barry Sanders wrote that according to Aristotle, the moment of “human ensouling”—when a soul enters the body—occurs about 40 days after birth, and is marked by the sound of the baby’s first laugh. Ancient Greek philosophers are not the only ones who believed a baby’s first laugh signaled ensoulment. In her story, A Radiant Curve, Navajo poet laureate Luci Tapahonso described the first time her grandson, Isaiah, laughed.  One fall afternoon in 1998, my daughter Misty called to tell us that her infant son Isaiah had just laughed aloud. It was anticipated, because when a Diné, or Navajo, baby laughs aloud for the first time, a First Laugh ceremony is usually held…. because before this first genuine expression of emotion, the infant still “belonged to” and lived in the world of the Holy People. The first laugh marks the first step  82 of his or her moving away from this sphere and the beginning of the child's participation in the human family’s network. (Tapahonso, 2008, p. 7) Aristotle and Navajo philosophy are just two examples of the sacred function of laughter, which suggests its function as an index7 in the semiotic sense of the term, akin to a solar eclipse: a perceivable indicator of a larger cosmological occurrence. Even if we consider laughter in only its most narrow sense of the term—the involuntary sound we make when we find something funny—our contemporary culture richly rewards those individuals who can incite such pleasurable states at will. 6.A.11 The Great Manipulator It is revealing that there is no word in the English language for the following concept: the ability to make other people feel what you are feeling. The closest term I have encountered comes from the American singer Aretha Franklin, who defined “soul” (Sheafer, 1996, p. 35), as the performer’s capacity to incite specific emotional states in the audience at will. Now as someone who may well suffer from blunt affect (having less than average emotional expression), this does not preclude my ability to make others feel. On the contrary, emotional detachment may well be necessary to consciously orchestrate the feelings of an audience with volition and virtuosity.                                                  7 According to Pierce’s Theory of Sign Relations, an index refers to their objects via an actual causal link: smoke is an index of fire, a weather vane is an index of wind direction,  a thermometer is an index of body temperature. The relation is actual: the object really affects the sign. (Cunningham & Shank, 1997, p. 4)   83 When I worked for CBC Radio One as a network host, one of my producers Ross Bragg, ridiculed another host for crying into the microphone. He regarded such behaviour as self-indulgent because “no one cared.” Just because you are feeling something intensely doesn’t mean others will feel it too. In contrast, he expressed his admiration for my so-called ‘technique’ thusly, “You feel nothing, but you can make the entire country weep.” Ross was referring to the last program we recorded together, the final taping of The Roundup where in the closing minutes of the final show I addressed a question that was on many listeners’ minds. Now that The Roundup has come to an end, what will Tetsuro do now? Ross knew I was planning to move to Los Angeles to finally complete an independent movie I had been working on for many years, but sharing such a scenario struck me as tone-deaf, pretentious and so very un-Canadian. It would be the radio equivalent of donning a pair of Ray-bans and waving, “See ya!” as my convertible peeled out of the parking lot. Instead, I described how sitting behind this microphone, I so often envisioned all the small transistor radios that sat on wooden shelves in old boat sheds, the receivers perched on messy kitchen counters, the dusty bedside clock radios that never changed stations. Now that I’ve had the privilege of having my voice squeak out of all those countless little speakers, I wanted to see those places for myself.  I talked about maybe taking a road trip that would begin with me standing on the peak of Grouse Mountain, looking out across the Georgia Straight, past Vancouver Island to Japan, the place of my ancestors, and driving all the way to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, where I would look across the Atlantic to England, the place where I was born. I  84 told my listeners if they happen to see an out of place looking long-haired Asian man pumping gas in their hometown, it might be me.  Concluding a national Canadian radio program by taking an apocryphal road trip wasn’t a bad conceit. In reference to our call-in line, 1800-SAD-GOAT, I said flatly, “The goat is dead,” followed by dial tone. From behind the mixing board, Ross pressed the button for the talkback mic, and said that the entire country was now misty-eyed, but I think that was his way of admitting he felt something. I must admit I was surprised by the sheer number of invitations I received to stay at people’s family homes. Initially, I questioned their wisdom. They don’t know me. They might have children! But as I thought about it further, such offers of hospitality began to make sense. When we were newlyweds, and our lax schedule permitted regular late-night television watching, my wife and I wouldn’t have hesitated to let American talk show host Conan O’Brien babysit our future kids. This is the power of parasocial interactions (Auter, 1992), where the many can get to know the one, and that relationship can feel as real as the connection you enjoy with your closest friend. During a meet-the-public event, I once met a carpenter who diffidently confided that he listened to me everyday in his workshop alone while working. I was struck by what an intimate privilege this role afforded me. Spending two hours with a lone listener every weekday is a tremendous amount of quality time. In The Atlantic, David Foster Wallace wrote:  Consider the special intimacy of talk radio. It's usually listened to solo—radio is the most solitary of broadcast media…. This is a human being speaking to you,  85 with a pro-caliber voice, eloquently and with passion, in what feels like a one-to-one; it doesn’t take long before you start to feel you know him. (2005, para. 26) Wallace frames this type of connection as one sided, and thus reinforces the prevailing perception that such seemingly personal interactions are in fact “illusory and are presumably not shared by the speaker” (Horton & Strauss, 1957, p. 580). As someone who sat behind the microphone, I like to think that I did feel something, but apparently my producer did not concur, “You feel nothing, but you can make the entire country weep.” Although intended as a compliment, at the time I wasn’t comfortable with my colleague’s characterization. I thought it made me sound manipulative. However, I must admit I rarely felt emotion in the studio. Between the text that I wrote, which I deemed sufficient, and the performance where I knew exactly what not to do, feelings simply weren’t necessary to accomplish the task at hand and move the audience. Looking back, I may have been subconsciously modeling my behaviour after a scene I found mesmerizing in the 1988 movie, Talk Radio, written and starring the monologuist Eric Bogosian. In fact, in retrospect I may have even internalized the protagonist’s values. Bogosian plays an infamous talk radio host, Barry Champlain. He leans into the mic. 6.A.12 Talk Radio BARRY I’m not going to cut you off, Betty. You’re too interesting to cut off… What you are saying reminds me of a little story … (Pause. He looks at his drink, swirling it in his glass.) Two years ago, I visited Germany, never had been there and wanted to take a look at Hitler's homeland. Are you familiar with Adolph Hitler, Betty?   86  BETTY I’m familiar with Hitler.   BARRY Good…. Now, although in fact, I’m not Jewish, I decided to visit what is left of a concentration camp on the outskirts of Munich. Dachau. You join a little tour group, go out by bus, everyone gets out at the gates.… It’s rather chilling. A sign over the gate says: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” It means “Work will make you free,” something the Nazis told their prisoners…. Of course, most of them never left…. Are you still listening, Betty?   BETTY I hear all your lies …  BARRY Good. I want to make sure you’re not missing any of this…. Now, as I walked along the gravel path between what remained of the barracks, where the prisoners slept, and the gas chambers, where they died, I saw something glitter in among the stones of the gravel. I bent over to see what it was. What I had found was a tiny Star of David. Very old. Who knows, it might’ve belonged to one of the prisoners of the camp, perhaps a small boy torn from his parents as they were dragged off the slaughterhouse.… I kept that Star of David… I know I shouldn’t have, but I did. I keep it right here on my desk. I like to hold it sometimes. (Swirling his glass of booze and studying it) In fact … well, I am holding it right now…. I hold it in my hand to give me courage… maybe a little of the courage that small boy had as he faced unspeakable evil can enter me as I face the trials of  87 my own life … when I face the cowardly and the narrow-minded… the bitter, bigoted people who hide behind anonymous phone calls full of hatred and poisonous bile.… People who have no guts, no spine, so they lash out at the helpless… The grotesquely ignorant people, like you, Betty, make me puke… People who have nothing better to do than desecrate history, perhaps… Only to repeat it… Are you still with me, Betty? (Pause) Betty!   BETTY keep talking, Jew boy. Life is short … (Click). (Bogosian, 1994, p. 25)  On one hand, we root for the talk radio host Barry Champlain—progressive champion of the underdog, defender of the oppressed against the intolerant. He is a rhetorical gladiator slaying our ideological enemies with such panache on our behalf. Yet we are also wary of him because we can see he is lying. Barry is not holding a Star of David, he is swirling a glass of booze. Only someone without integrity could exploit human tragedy so glibly. Emotionally manipulative, his histrionics—the showing of emotion purely for effect—displays such virtuosity, we can’t help but be bedazzled by the magic even as we are shown the trickery behind it. And herein lies the paradoxical truth that made this scene so riveting for me—the artful telling of a lie to convey a truth. It makes me wonder, what is the mental state one must attain to play upon the feelings of an audience with such agency?  88 6.A.13 Bilocation: The Art of Being in Two Places at Once During the run up to the premiere of Empire of the Son, my dramaturg Heidi Taylor recommended I watch the video: Deborah Hay, not as Deborah Hay | A documentary by Ellen Bromberg. You know when you are in a relationship with someone else I find either my attention goes to the other person, and I forget about myself or my attention is on myself and I don’t give enough attention to the other person. When I practice dance, I am practicing both of those things at once…. and so my practice is really about being here and being in relation at the same time. And I think one of the things that you see a lot for instance in dance is you see performers either kind of looking out into some kind of fake reality, a fantasy world of out here… they are not seeing the audience, or they are seeing the audience and they are entertaining the audience… nice and jazzy, but the attention is not here, as a dancer, as a performer, as a choreographer my practice is that I have to be here, in order to be in relationship with you, and it’s that juggling if that how can I be here and be in relationship with my audience at the same time. (dance-tech.TV, 2012, 9:12) I have watched this video several times in an attempt to better understand how to do “both of these things at once.” 6.A.14 Jupiter’s Travels Sometimes when I am on stage, I ask myself, “am I as comfortable as if I were sitting in a La-Z-Boy reclining chair?” Admittedly, this is an odd question to ask, but I trace this  89 query to a book I read while living in Japan during the 1990s, Jupiter’s Travels, Four years around the world on a Triumph, by Ted Simon. There is one passage that remains forever highlighted in my memory. One morning in June 1977, I rode over the Jura Mountains into France. The Triumph had stopped protesting and was running freely. All my equipment was in working order. I sat in the saddle with the same ease that others find in an armchair, and could maintain that position comfortably for twelve hours or more. (1979, p. 442) Imagine, riding around the world on a motorcycle, but being as physically comfortable as if you were sitting in your own living room. Being out there, on the very edge of yourself, yet feeling completely at ease is the most optimal state you can experience as a performer, or as a spiritual seeker. 6.A.15 Zen Staring Contest A Buddhist girlfriend of mine once related to me a version of the following parable. During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master.  Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”  90  But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. “And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?” (N.A., 2016, Aug 26. para. 8) When I first heard this story, I scoffed. What a simplistic display of macho one-upmanship. Mockingly, I recursively continued the story, “And do you realize,” the samurai whispered, “that you are standing before a man who could find himself in hell without blinking an eye?”  6.A.16 In the Blink of an Eye Years later, my cynicism about this story diminished when I read about how the renowned film editor, Walter Murch, discovered one of the most important creative insights of his career. While he was editing Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film, The Conversation, he realized that every time he decided to make a cut, Gene Hackman’s character, Harry Caul, would blink very close to the point where he used the razor, leading him to conclude that people blink each time they have a new thought or emotion. Murch came to regard the act of blinking as emotional punctuation in relation to editing. Our rate of blinking is somehow geared more to our emotional state and to the nature and frequency of our thoughts than to the atmospheric environment we happen to find ourselves in. The blink is either something that helps an internal separation of thought to take place, or it is an involuntary reflex accompanying the mental separation that is taking place anyway. (2001, p. 62) Murch’s theory that people blink for reasons beyond ocular lubrication is shared by others. According to researchers, we blink in order to gather our thoughts and focus our  91 attention, (Nakano, Kato, Morito, Itoi, & Kitazawa, 2013), and after—but not during—the telling of a lie (Leal & Vrij, 2008).  For me, these similar insights from the disparate worlds of film editing, brain physiology and deception research shed new light upon that old parable. If one accepts the premise that the centuries-old practice of Buddhism is a kind of proto-neuroscience for bringing the brain under conscious control, then rereading this fable: “And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?” suggests that the point is not simply winning a staring contest, but effortlessly maintaining a serene state of mind, no matter how fraught the circumstances. In his book exploring Zen Buddhism, Sayama describes this central concept.  Samadhi is a Sanskrit term [and] can be described as a relaxed concentration in which a person does not freeze because of fear or cling because of desire. In samadhi a person transcends dualism, is fully present moment by moment. (1986, p. vii) I have become conscious of achieving a state of relaxed concentration that is so maddeningly elusive in performance yet is so utterly natural in everyday life. This is one of the paradoxes of mastering any artistic practice: what is effortless in daily life is often nearly impossible in art. Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Through performing Empire of the Son, I have come to understand, our work as artists is to journey outward, and if we venture far enough, our work will eventually lead us back to where we began.  92 6.A.17 Listening to the Body Nowadays, when I am reunited with an old friend after a period of prolonged absence, I try to notice my body: how I am both relaxed and alert at the same time and remember what that feels like. It is a good feeling. It feels good for my friend too no doubt. To be the object of someone’s undivided focus is an increasingly rare experience these days, as the French philosopher Simone Weil reminds us, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” (Pétrement, 1976, p. 462).  Using that memory as a form of calibration, I aim to achieve a similar state before an audience. Once the text is in my body I try to exercise the discipline of mushin, or “no thought.” I already know beforehand the feelings I wish to incite in the audience moment by moment. If I focus my attention on the audience, while coaxing my body to relax, by holding this space, I can surprise myself as invention springs forth unbidden.  During an initial table read, the mark of the beginning actor is the one who fails to read ahead, and when it comes time to read their part aloud, they resort to “sight reading” in the moment, betraying their lack of understanding of the text, as they phrase things incorrectly, conveying mistaken assumptions about the meaning of a line that is contradicted by new information revealed at the end of the sentence.  The more experienced actor reads ahead, gets an understanding of their section, and knows how to “reach” for the end, making clauses and thoughts subordinate to the overall thrust of the passage, and the scene. But the truly grounded actor superficially resembles the ill-prepared amateur on the surface. They do not read ahead. Instead they listen intently to their fellow actors, inspiring them to react truthfully in the moment.   93 Often such choices may be “wrong,” or inappropriate, but such commitment lifts the words off the page, giving rise to unexpected moments that are alive. It is magical to behold such vitality because everyone in the room recognizes they are witnessing something so authentic it can never be repeated. In a similar manner, when I am on stage and there are a few minutes where I do not have to talk because a recording is being played, the journeyman professional in me is always tempted to “read ahead:” silently queuing up the next few lines of text into my Random Access Memory as a safeguard against every actor’s worst nightmare: “corpsing”—blanking on stage. A storyteller must resist this impulse.  Although such a precautionary process is too subtle for an audience to notice, they can absolutely feel its antithesis. Once the text is in the body, if I am in the right place: Centred, in a state of relaxed concentration, in the moment of performance I feel so tranquil and energized, I do not know what is going to happen next. The moment I inhale, I truly do not know what I am about to say until this seemingly new thought ‘occurs’ to me in the moment. I speak with the same feeling of spontaneity with which one converses in real life where no rehearsal is required.  This stunt, this tempting of fate, is so subtle, so miniscule, perhaps only fellow actors can appreciate such technical minutiae: a delicate tightrope balance visible to none but felt by all.  After seeing my latest theatre work, 1 Hour Photo, Joel Wirkkunen, host and co-founder of The Flame storytelling series in Vancouver, wrote to me, “You are the most relaxed, most skillful storyteller I have ever seen.” I highly doubt I am the most skillful  94 person at anything, but I will concede it is hard for me to imagine feeling more comfortable on stage than I do lately.  In kyudo, popularly known as Zen archery, the target merely serves as an outward manifestation for an internal state of mind. In like manner, never stumbling once over the recitation of 10,000 words is a similar kind of bull’s-eye, as I direct the target of my focus over the course of 75 minutes.  If the audience is fully engaged, they couldn’t care less if you occasionally stumble or stutter, but knowing they are in the presence of someone who is in control enables them to relax and enjoy themselves. As Calgary theatre critic, Louise B. Hobson observed: Tetsuro loves to tease. You can see his eyes twinkling and a slight grin under his handlebar moustache, so you always know you’re in the presence of a master manipulator who knows just how far and how long to play a certain heartstring. (2018, Jan 17)  Here again, I wince at the term “manipulator,” but if I think of the word in its primary sense, “control in a skillful manner,” then it enables me to think of myself as a metaphysical masseuse for the audience, as I remove emotional obstructions, and restore their natural flow. One of the most impressive pieces of acting I have ever seen is Willem Defoe’s depiction of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.8 This “Blessed are the Meek” scene is one of the best-known passages in the Bible, but Defoe somehow manages to make it sound like he is                                                 8 You can watch the video clip here: bit.ly/2EVo3ty, or search for it on Youtube using the terms: last temptation sermon.  95 improvising. Thinking out loud, he is skinlessly alert to all those around him. He sparks off their doubts and reactions, until he becomes incandescent with the excitement of experiencing one epiphany after another. This is not an actor who tore out a page from the Bible and memorized it. This is an actor who is vividly imagining a world where this canonical text hasn’t yet been embroidered into folksy wall art. These wild, unorthodox notions are only just dawning on him in that very moment.  6.A.18 Tears Tears are held in such high regard among actors, they are practically fetishized. A common question from young actors is, “how do you cry?” Even the renowned actor Meryl Streep was not immune from such speculation. I know that when I was in drama school, the big thing was how to cry. You get to a certain point in a play and you're supposed to break down in tears. And I remember when I first came to New York I saw Irene Worth in ‘Sweet Bird of Youth ,’ and I went back and just kvelled, I made a fool of myself. I said, ‘I don’t know, I just think you're the greatest actress I ever saw!’ I said, ‘But you know, how do you cry like that?’ And she said, ‘How can you not?’ (Attanasio, 1986) Such a sphinxlike response may not have been of immediate help to the young Ms. Streep, but eventually it would be. In the realm of performance, be it sleep, death, a yawn, laughter, a sneeze, physical violence, each of these behaviours or responses can be artfully feigned, but not tears. This physiological response that manifests itself in shining rivulets is held in special regard because one cannot simply fake it convincingly. In order to cry, an actor has to go deep, plumb depths, return to the scene of an emotional crime, or imagine something truly heartbreaking, but even the saddest of  96 scenarios soon lose their potency. Like a drug addict who is forever chasing the dragon, an actor must find within her emotional store of memories ever fresh, newly affecting scenarios to induce this state. But at what cost? Should one really cry?  This question of what is happening in the mind of a performer in the moment of performance, and whether it is relevant to an audience is a matter of ongoing debate between actors. In 2011, I witnessed a fascinating argument unfold backstage for Mortal Coil’s production of Salmon Row. 6.A.19 Crocodile Tears The question at hand was this: when called upon to cry, should an actor really go there, or is it better to simply fake it? For the uninitiated, the answer seems obvious, ‘faking it’ is offensively ersatz, deceitful, a falsehood, a lie. We want our art to be truthful, but if one has been exposed to the full range of acting performance your opinion becomes more nuanced. As I stood there watching this argument unfold, I recalled a young woman enrolled in John Abbot’s theatre program in Montreal. Sobbing hysterically, she was really having a moment on stage. It was likely a breakthrough for her as an artist, a necessary step in her development as an actor, but in that moment for us as an audience, all we felt was a mingling of pity, concern, and mild irritation. When watching good theatre, we feel empathy for the character on stage, but here we felt “fremdschamen”— embarrassment for the actor. It broke the story trance. Back to the greenroom of Salmon Row, as the debate regarding “to fake or not to fake” raged on, the older of the two debating actors proceeded to demonstrate. She covered her face with her hands, dropped her head to her knees and began bouncing her  97 shoulders up and down, while moaning. Such an engineering-like description cannot do this demonstration justice because the effect was utterly convincing and immediate. She then raised her head perfectly composed and asserted that it simply doesn’t matter what the actor is feeling, as such preoccupations are entirely self-indulgent. All that matters is what the audience experiences. Equally important is an actor’s responsibility to protect their instrument, their body, their psyche. Protect? Protect from what? In that moment, I did not know what she meant.  Fast forward a couple of years later during the premiere run of Empire of the Son. Cindy Reid, the Managing Director of The Cultch, stopped me outside the theater and offered me tickets to take my entire family to see one of the international circus acts that was running concurrently in their other theatre space, the York. Surprised by her generosity I said, “Thank you so much! You’re making me feel like an important person.” Cindy touched my arm, and replied with an unexpected degree of gravity, “You are an important person. All of us up in the office are concerned about you.” I must have looked perplexed because Cindy went on to explain that what I am doing is very unusual.  Every night when I am on stage, I am on the very edge of myself, revisiting such fresh wounds. I suppose that was true. My father had died only several weeks prior. But the concern with which she spoke, seemed to be less about an actor performing in a show, than the distress over a naïve mystic gulping down the South American hallucinogenic ayuwasca six nights a week. Apparently The Cultch’s staff was concerned for my psychic well-being. Until that conversation, I never really paused to consider the precarious nature of what I was doing on stage.  98 Sometimes, I think of performing Empire of the Son on tour as taking a nightly beating, but not all beatings are created equal. Injury results from the body being suddenly forced to move in ways beyond its accustomed range of motion in the midst of chaos or violence. In order to protect itself, the body clenches tight, creating knots which ultimately restricts movement, making one even more prone to injury. The body becomes rigid, vulnerable, and prematurely old. Beatings tend to be costly, but sometimes, directed, focused and rhythmic poundings can make your tendons suppler, more lithe. Increased flexibility results in the ability to execute acrobatic feats that were not previously possible.  6.A.20 Red Sky at Night Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.  This adage continues to serve as a mnemonic device for anyone going out to sea, increasing their chances for a safe return. There are equivalent understandings in theatre. For example, theatre mavens know to avoid seeing plays on Tuesdays because Mondays are dark9, and few ensembles have the discipline to run Italians10 on their one day off. From the actors’ side of things, there are other omens of which to be aware: a bad preview usually heralds a good opening. Conversely, a great preview often foreshadows a lackluster opening night.                                                 9 Usually, Mondays are the working theatre actor’s day off.  10 To do an Italian is to recite the play’s entire text allegro, at a brisk pace.   99 For the premier run of Empire of the Son, I had the dubious fortune of a great preview. In light of the short window of time between my father’s death on September 18, 2015, and the world premiere 18 days later, I changed the script’s beginning, end, and part of the middle. Usually a text is completed at least five months prior to rehearsals, but we locked the text only 48 hours prior to our preview.  I managed to memorize my lines well enough that I could execute the dexterously challenging business of manipulating the live cinema camera, perform puppetry with miniatures, and recall my blocking well enough that I managed to find the pools of light in which to stand. From a macro perspective, if the show didn’t do well enough to dramatically change the fortunes of our producing company, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre would likely come to an end. Such pressure was entirely my own fault. A couple of years prior, I had asked VACT to back this idea of mine, “Ignore all these other proven plays. Instead, let me do a one-man show about my dad.” Recklessly, the company agreed to bet everything on this elevator pitch. We were all in. During that first and only preview prior to opening night, I managed to cry, despite or perhaps because of all the tremendous pressures I felt. My director Richard Wolfe once lamented to me how unfair opening nights are. After only two weeks of rehearsals, all the critics gather at the very beginning of a run, and no matter how much the show matures, only the critical impressions of that one unripe performance enters the public record for posterity.  Now that I have performed Empire of the Son well over a hundred times, I know by mid-show whether I will cry by the end. There are certain pressure points along the  100 body of the performance, and if I can hit most of them, I can get there. By the time I am nearing the end of the show, my self-control will be riddled with a spider web of fractures, and my emotions are ready to flow. That is how I previously defined a “good” show. On that first opening night, I took my first mighty swing: Describing the aftermath of the incendiary raids on my father’s hometown of Kagoshima. Nothing. “That’s okay,” I reassured myself, “There’s more emotional targets to come I can still hit.” Ode to My Sisters—celebrating my sisters’ medicinal affection, The Train Station—how my dad waited for his dad for over a year, West End Apartment, but each time, I felt nothing.  I could recognize the critics in the audience scribbling away in their notepads. My ambition was to circumnavigate the world with my show, but I wouldn’t be getting out of the harbor if the all-important opening night reviews didn’t give me red skies. In situations like this, the temptation is often to act harder, more vehemently, more emphatically. What an actor lacks in feeling, they often compensate with sheer volume. Instead, I took a step back. Although I am not a trained actor, when in doubt, I believe it is better to go smaller, to be still, and become a Noh mask upon which the audience can project. If a tsunami is to come, it is caused from earthquakes beneath the surface of the sea. No amount of howling wind upon the waves can summon it.  As I recall, the audience was very quiet that night. I walked off the stage feeling like I had struck out. Much to my surprise, the reviews for Empire of the Son were superlative.   101 The Vancouver Sun hailed it as, “A powerful display of emotion... a riveting, emotional theatrical experience” (Thorkelson, 2015). VanCity Buzz declared, it as “understated perfection... poised to be one of the most important of the season,” (Lu, 2015, October 9). As an actor, such a disconfirmation was revealing for me. During that opening night performance, I felt emotionally impotent. And yet, the experience for the audience was all the more powerful compared to the “successful” preview where I had managed to cry openly. I recalled when my director Richard Wolfe asked me to think about all the times I watched interviews of survivors in conflict zones, how they display no emotion at all, recounting what happened catatonically, and yet our hearts go out to them. We think, “what if it was my loved one who died?” Empathy travels beyond halfway.  If I stand before the audience, overcome with tears streaming down my face, it may be fascinating for them voyeuristically, to see an emotionally constrained man finally break down, but then it becomes all about me.  Extending Bakhtin’s (1986) notion of a chain of utterances, I have become conscious of this sphere of emotion that moves between the performer and the audience. It is a locus of affect, that shifts back and forth during the performance, and its location determines their aesthetic experience. I describe this ball of energy to young people in terms they can understand. Assuming the stance of Ryu, the legendary hero of the Street Fighter videogames, I place my wrists together, and thrust my palms outwards and release a fireball while yelling “Hadōken!” They immediately get it. Although esoteric sounding, the father of modern acting Stanislavsky himself became convinced that the Hindu practice of yoga and its conscious manipulation of invisible forces held the key to  102 unlocking the actor’s subconscious. “In a successful performance, he explains, prana rays (luchi) pass between actors and their partners and between actors and their audiences, thus becoming the vehicle for infecting others with the emotional content of the performance” (Carnicke, 2009, p. 178).  When that first-year actress was having a breakdown, that sphere was entirely within herself. No doubt she was having an illuminating moment as new alloys were being forged within, but it left us in the audience cold. So now, I no longer fret over whether I’m feeling the emotions or not. It’s an inconsequential coin toss, because it works either way. Nowadays, as an actor, I have come to have more faith in the power of the text. Sometimes, this means getting out of the way, and allowing the words to do their work. Calgary theatre critic Hobson observed, “Because these moments are recalled without emotion they have their own emotionally devastating impact, as do so many of Shigematsu’s observations” (2018, Jan 17, para. 13). While such a mode of performance requires less energy in the moment, to arrive at that state, takes the unexpectedly hard labor of doing nothing.    103  104 Room 7: Hotel Apartment USHER:  Although I have stayed in many places while on tour, the memory of one apartment hotel eclipses all others. It was turgidly named “The Icon Towers” in downtown Edmonton. If I wanted to inspire unrealistic envy of the touring lifestyle, this outlier of an apartment would be the place I would invite you to come visit me, “Oh this old place?” I would comment breezily as I ushered you through all the different rooms. The view is panoramic. The only downside of such spaces is eventually you have to return to your lesser dwellings, but for now this is home. Welcome. 7.A Glass of Water The emotional labour of performing Empire of the Son is such when I step on stage, I need to be as clear as a glass of water. This purification takes all day. Whether in my hometown or on the road, my day should be unmarred from microaggressions, unstimulated by flirtations, completely uncoloured from all social interactions. On tour, ideally, I never have a single conversation until I arrive at the theatre. At the beginning, this new discipline of deliberately doing nothing was conceptually challenging. I had to abandon the very work ethic, the same workaday rhythms that made Empire of the Son possible in the first place. This is harder than it sounds.  No matter how often an actor experiences it, the transition from weeks of long rehearsal days being suddenly replaced by one performance in the evening is surprisingly   Figure 11. A winter in Edmonton, plus a beautiful apartment, plus writing deadlines, equals staying inside 20 hours a day.  105  abrupt. Your days are yours again, and not a moment too soon. By the time the run commences, there is a backlog of errands and social obligations to catch up on, but for Empire of the Son, I needed to be derelict in those duties.  7.B Preshow Ritual After a day of austere emptiness, when the clock strikes 4:00 PM, the countdown begins to my 8:00 o’clock performance. First a shower, then a nap.  At the beginning of the premier run for Empire of the Son in 2015, I noticed how helpful it was if I fell asleep in the car as I was being driven to the theatre by my wife, Bahareh. A more attentive husband might have spent that time catching up on all that I had missed during intensive weeks of rehearsals—what was happening with the kids, etc., but I discovered that if I said nothing, and only slept, that nap had the function of dividing the day anew.  Such temporal mitosis reminded me of the insight the American self-help author Steve Pavlina had when he experimented with polyphasic sleep—the practice of sleeping twenty minutes every four hours. He explained that being awake while others were fast asleep afforded him a new perspective, “I saw time as passing continuously.” Pavlina’s observation helped me realize to what degree my own perception of time, however widely shared with others, is not objective.  Specifically, I do not see time as passing continuously, but broken into fragments, the largest being entire days. I experience every square on the calendar as a lifetime writ small, born anew in the morning, and falling dead asleep at night. Even our idioms reflect such a rhythmic conception of time, reassuring us not to worry, because “tomorrow is  106 another day.” Sleep it off,” we are told, “you’ll feel better in the morning.” No matter how bad a day we are having, each morning, the slate gets wiped clean, and we get to start over, as if every day was New Year’s Eve.  It is always easy to recognize someone who has just woken up. There is a telltale blankness to their expression, as even the most familiar of surroundings now seem bewildering. Like waking up to freshly fallen snow, naps erase the steady culmination of a day’s extraneous details.  My preshow nap is followed by a walk to the theatre alone, often through inclement weather11. Such nap-induced blankness grounds me for performing Empire of the Son. Usually, the well-prepared actor asks herself, “Where was I? What was I doing just prior to my scene’s entrance?” She wants to know her prior emotional state that will in turn colour her performance in the here and now. But the emotional labour of this performance demands I arrive on stage tabula rasa.                                                    11 The seasonal windows for touring Canadian theatres tend to be late fall, and early winter.  107  108 Room 8: The Light Lock USHER:  As an usher, one of my main responsibilities is to seat latercomers. During an appropriate moment in the show, I’ll guide patrons through this first set of doors. Once those outside doors close, my colleague sitting in the auditorium will then open the inside set of doors. This simple two-step procedure stops light and noise from flooding in and breaking the spell of the performance. Making theatre magic is a team effort! We all have a part to play. Like a dark room, the light lock is simply two sets of doors that protects the artistry inside from being overexposed. In our smaller studio space across the way, in lieu of stage wings, there is also a light lock for the actors that leads to the stage. In fact, let me show you.   As you can see this is a very plain space, not much bigger than an elevator, lit by this here blacklight. That music stand holds the wireless headset for the Assistant Stage Manager who announces to the Stage Manager that the actor is in position, and ready to go. If you’re high strung, or given to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, this is where all your unproductive thoughts will occur. This light lock is the Rubicon, the torpedo tube, the high diving board, the sprinter’s starting blocks, the downhill skiers starting gate. A fraught space that spawns endless   Figure 12. Teamsters accustomed to assembling minimalist fabric backdrops for touring solo-works, are often surprised when they encounter our 1000 lb. set.   109 metaphors. Standing here, you can almost feel the residual manic energy every actor who ever stood here, poised like astronauts ready for their spacewalk, skydivers poised on the threshold. This antechamber to the stage is a place of maximum anticipation.  8.A Thunder Clouds Every night, as I listen to the Front of House speech while standing in the light lock, I feel a touch of apprehension. Not because I am walking out before an audience all alone, but because I may not be. I do not believe that I will ever see my dead father ever again, but as I count down the bars of music to my entrance, it is also the countdown to a séance. I do not know what I will see. I do not know what I will feel.     110 Room 9: The Stage, Empire of the Son Script USHER:  We hope you enjoy Empire of the Son, written by Tetsuro Shigematsu. Please turn off your cell phones.     110  111  112  113  114  115  116  117  118  119  120  121  122  123  124  125  126  127  128  129  130  131  132  133  134  135  136  137  138  139  140  141  142  143  144  145  146  147  148  149  150  151  152  153  154  155  156  157  158  159  160  161  162  163  164  165  166  167  168  169  170  171  172  173  174  175  176  177  178  179  180  181  182  183  184  185  190 Room 9A: The Screening Room, Empire of the Son    USHER:  Despite the thousands who have seen this show live, the view count for this archival video you are about to see will be comparatively low. That is because, this unlisted link below is usually reserved for cultural decision makers who buy shows like this one to program their theatre seasons years in advance.        Archival Video https://youtu.be/WA_B0ufLCDQ Trailer https://bit.ly/2KRPXND  191  192 Room 10: The Catwalk  USHER:  The catwalk is the walkway suspended from the ceiling of the theatre. As an usher, I never visited there. As an actor I still don’t, but this is the place where my eyes naturally settle. When I am focused and in the zone of performance, I look straight ahead, but when my thoughts begin to wander, rather than try to suppress them, I find it is best to follow them.  To look down at your feet is the ocular equivalent of slouching, dissipating energy. To look to the side is to suggest there is a more interesting drama taking place offstage. And so, I look upwards. The religious in the audience might think I am looking at my father. Fellow actors might intuit I am letting premature tears evaporate. The truth is up there in the catwalk, my thought bubbles are collecting like helium balloons. The ceiling is full of them. 10.A Crystal Ball The penultimate story of Empire of the Son describes an undertaker taking away my father’s body. The emotional power I can summon in this scene is the actorly equivalent of the pole vaulter’s sprint. The momentum I attain here directly determines the lift I can achieve during the final moments of the show.  My father was carried from our home for the last time on September 19, 2015.  Figure 13. Checking in. Photo by Raymond Shum.   193 His instructions were to have his body donated to science; specifically, the Department of Cellular and Physiological Science at UBC. For years I’ve been waiting for this white van to pull up, and then having to deal with a pair of movers as they manhandle my dad’s dead body. But that’s not what happened. The doorbell rang and there was a man with all the earnest sincerity of a young Mormon missionary. So, I asked him –   TETSURO: How long have you been doing this job?  UNDERTAKER: Four months.  TETSURO: What do you know now that you didn’t know before?  UNDERTAKER: Nothing. I mean we all know we’re going to die, right? But I will say this—I do appreciate the littler things.  TETSURO: Like what?  By this time we were outside. UNDERTAKER: Like the rain. Just being able to feel it on my skin because—these bodies I carry out—can’t.   AUDIO CLIP of the plucking of a stringed instrument like the pinprick of rain.   During this penultimate scene, the moment I am reliving is my memory of standing at the end of my driveway, watching the undertaker’s vehicle pull away. As I stand on different stages in different cities, I am always back on that same driveway. But within this  194 recurring lucid dream, I have yet another dream. Here within the snow globe of memory, actual occurrences intermingle with things imagined. My sisters and my mother stand in the doorway, their arms folded against the autumn cold. It was raining that day, but in my mind, there are peals of thunder and flashes of lightning.  The young undertaker said, “I do appreciate the littler things: like the rain, just being able to feel it against my skin because these bodies I carry out can’t.” I imagine raindrops hitting my outstretched palms. I stand in the rain, with my face to the sky. Here, if I am open, then sights and sounds will flash to me unbidden.  I see my mother’s face through a window, as she looks at the vehicle carrying her husband’s body away. I hear my daughter’s voice asking me, “Can you feel the rain?” I have seen towering thunderheads parting to reveal the cosmos. I saw a sudden gust of wind fling open the French doors of the room my father died in. I see rainwater seeping across wooden floors. I think of all the times I parked the car, and then heaved my father into his wheelchair outside the hospital entrance for one of his countless visits, and how thoughtlessly careful I was to shield him from the rain. I should have taken his hat off. I see my father’s life unspool like a filmstrip, and the finite number times he got caught without an umbrella. Somewhere in the folds of time, between the sheets of rain, I am there behind a misty veil, shouting at him to remember what this feels like, but he cannot hear me. The audience is privy to none of this. All they see is me standing on stage, palms upwards, and my eyes focusing REM-like on these things they cannot see. Sometimes, I  195 cannot feel the rain. The tears are not there, and I am fine with that because the words have been delivered, and the barometric pressure inside them has changed. 10.B Black Tie During the final moments of the show, I produce one last object from my black suit. When I look down at the shiny black tie in my hand on stage, in my mind I see my son Taizo’s face. He is inconsolable. Like an image from a dream that has the power to communicate before it is understood (Eliot, 1929), I will recall this image of my son’s expression during my 2018 tour of Alberta. For reasons I will never understand, it made me shudder with sorry. But after a few times, it lost its power.  Years ago, I found a photo which I have since lost. But it’s okay because I can still see it. It’s this sepia-toned shot of a handsome young Asian man standing on a beach. He is very well-dressed. He has on a white linen shirt, khaki trousers. On the back of the photo it reads “Dad and Hugh, Isle of Wight.”—Hugh is my middle name—I was born in London. And in this photograph, I am barely visible, a small infant fast asleep in his arms. And I’m amazed that I could’ve ever been so small to have been held, and that he could’ve ever been so large to hold me. (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 16)  10.C Pandora’s Box And so ironically, I find myself in the ideological camp that I continue to philosophically oppose. I maintain it does not matter what the performer feels. The experience of the audience should remain paramount. And yet, I’m beginning to understand that perhaps this isn’t a simple binary choice. It is something more complex, and more nuanced than that.   196 It turns out the staff of The Cultch were not the only ones concerned over my well-being during the premier run of Empire of the Son. Other actors after having seen my performance have also offered advice. David C. Jones recommended I get a small box and keep it in my dressing room. He suggested that as part of my postshow ritual, after I undress out my costume, and before I don my personal clothing, to take out my box, and slowly close it, knowing full well it would remain hermetically sealed for 22 hours. Although I have yet to try this ritual, I am moved by my fellow actor’s concern for my welfare. Perhaps a part of me revels in the notion of being an emotional daredevil, a metaphysical Evel Knievel, shining as brightly as a red-hot filament. Is this sustainable? Likely not. Should I care? Yes, but the literary Romantic in me would rather quote Edna St. Vincent Millay.  My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!   197  198 10.D From the Road, Unlocking Edmonton 10.D.1 Audience as Canvas The loudest audience I ever had was when I performed Empire of the Son for a group of Asian American theatre artists. This personal milestone took place in 2016, as part of the National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival in Ashland, Oregon. As an Asian Canadian theatre artist, I found myself surrounded by a tribe of my American cousins. North and south of the border, we were artist/activists fighting the same battle: the cultural underrepresentation of Asians on stage. These were my people. When it comes to arts and entertainment, even successful Canadian artists are accustomed to languishing in relative obscurity, while those who achieve international renown are mostly Americans. A Juno is not a Grammy. When it comes to cultural output, we are culturally conditioned to think of us Canucks as country mice compared to the big city Yankee rodents. So, imagine VACT’s surprise when Empire of the Son—the only Canadian entry—became the toast of this Asian American theatre festival, and beyond. That year, “ConFest” was hosted by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—the largest repertory theatre in the United States, and our show was heavily promoted to their own patrons as well. But for this particular performance, the audience was filled almost entirely with diasporic Asians whose very raison d’être was to see this kind of theatre in the world.   Figure 14. Empire of the Son posters.  199  It was a matinee performance at the Black Swan Theatre, and the audience was so raucous, I didn’t know what to do with myself physically because the laughs were so unending. Should I stay in character? Should I acknowledge them? Should I improvise new blocking to kill time? It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before or since.  This audience was so ravenous for these personal stories that reflected and affirmed their existence, I was reminded of what American author Barry Lopez once wrote, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive” (1993, p. 48). As a performer, it is always heartening to warm your hands by the fire of an appreciative audience, but their heat singed my eyelashes. As a person of colour who seeks solidarity, that was an awe-inspiring experience, but as an artist who wants to improve my craft, I didn’t learn very much. At the time of this writing, we have brought Empire of the Son to 13 different cities. If a play’s run can be thought of as a painting in progress, the size of the canvas has less to do with the number of seats, than the length of the run. In other words, there are more lessons to be learned within a 100 seat theatre over three weeks, than a 1000 seat theatre over a weekend. It is the number of performances within a city, not the number of seats in a house which will dictate the depths of the lessons you will learn. If the calendar print out of my touring schedule runs more than one page, chances are I’ll have more than one “supercluster:” a Friday evening performance, followed by two shows on Saturday, then a Sunday matinee. Practically speaking, this means that in within 44 hours, I will perform Empire of the Son four times. Although taxing, I embrace  200 these 444 superclusters because they come closest to approximating the most extraordinary performing circumstance I have ever encountered.  My brother, Ken Shigematsu, is the senior pastor of one of the largest churches in Vancouver, British Columbia. Every couple of years, my brother will hear me say something so spiritually enlightening, he will ask me to share it directly with his congregation. Even though I do not identify as a Christian, I always jump at the chance to “co-preach” with him because there is nothing outside of Christendom I have ever encountered that can approach the madness of his weekly performance schedule. At the time of this writing, Tenth Church has four services in three locations on any given Sunday. That means I can test out the material at 9:45 AM in Mount Pleasant, make changes at 10:45 AM in Kitsilano, and tinker with it further at 11:45 AM back at Mount Pleasant, before taking one last shot at 6:30 PM. As my brother and I jump into the backseat of the getaway car, whisking us to the next service, I can’t help but feel exhilarated. As a writer/performer always looking to improve my craft, performing four times before four different audiences in a single day is the pinnacle of accelerated learning. If such Sundays are blazing sprints, what then constitutes a marathon? 10.D.2 The Quietest Audience The quietest audience I have ever experienced was our first preview in Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, January 31st, 2018. Although Empire of the Son is about the death of my father, there are a good many laughs in the show. As my friend Andre once enthused to me, “there are such hard left turns in your show, just when you think things are going to get really sad, you say something really funny.” As a former standup comedian, the  201 sound of audience laughter is important to me. So, by using the superlative “quietest” I do not mean that as a good thing. Where there was once laughter, there was now silence. Opening night was much better, but with the theatre packed with so many comped industry people, that is to be expected. The third show was also quiet. On our usual walk home from the theatre, my stage manager, Susan Miyagishima and I shared our observations. We were equally confounded. Was it Edmonton? Was it the fact that the audience was almost completely white? Was it the cabaret configuration of the seating? Did the audience feel extra self-conscious given the fact that their table lamps made them more visible and less anonymous? Was the stage too high, and they felt like I was figuratively looking down on them? We were mystified. Susan noted that my performance that night had been three minutes shorter than usual. We were at the beginning of a three-week run that would cap off a 35-day tour. We both dreaded the prospect of our lengthy homestretch being lined with quicksand. 10.D.3 Semiotics of a Theatre  If you were to explain the semiotics of a conventional theater space to an alien, one might begin by directing their attention to the area between the apron of the stage and the front row. Despite the fact these two areas are adjacent, this borderland demarcates two distinct areas of activity and responsibility. By merely standing on stage, the performer declares their significance: they are worthy of your attention. No doubt many actors would abhor such a self-aggrandizing claim. Be that as it may, paying audience members fully expect an actor to live up to their end of this implicit social contract.  Theatre patrons rightly expect to witness feats for which mere mortals are not capable or are unwilling: the opera singer who can shatter a wine glass, the burlesque  202 dancer who disrobes publicly. Those onstage must be qualified to be there, and heaven help those whom audiences find wanting. 10.D.4 Confidence Man I once read about an airline pilot who one day had a sudden insight into the immense responsibility his job entailed: hundreds of lives depended directly on him. His realization was so debilitating, he could no longer fly. In like manner, if I thought about it long enough, I might come to a similar crippling realization about what exactly it is I am doing on stage: Thousands of people pay money for me to hold their attention alone on stage for the length of a movie.  I have come to realize that to summon the required nerve for me to do just that, I have to convince myself that me being on stage—an untrained, middle aged Japanese Canadian—is the most natural thing in the world. Yet, the fact remains that I am doing this within an artistic field where I have no formal training.  Moreover, as a person of colour keenly aware of the racial hierarchy implicit within Canadian theatre, I feel it is doubly incumbent upon me to allay any doubts about a marginalized artist taking centre stage. Hence, the necessity for me to compensate for these seeming shortcomings by projecting gleaming confidence and demonstrating precise control. The one area in which I feel no disadvantage is how I sound. 10.D.5 The Voice At the top of the show my audience is subjected to a pro-caliber voice at full volume. Even though my everyday speaking voice is unremarkable, after a full 25 minute vocal warm up, my voice expands to become its own character, and one that is perhaps not to everyone’s liking. One Toronto theatre critic was taken aback when I opened my mouth.  203 “His voice is, in the manner of many radio hosts, bizarre to hear coming out of the mouth of a real-life person, a verbal version of the ostentatious, curlicue mustache that he sports” (Nestruck, 2017, January 20, para. 11). Although this critic attributes my vocal quality to my days as a broadcaster, in truth I only discovered the ability to voluntarily drop into this register because of my more recent experiences on stage.  Although I have no recollection of when my voice broke as an adolescent, I do remember the exact moment my stage voice “clicked”. It was during Pi/Rumble’s co-production of a stage adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s after the quake in 2009. I was delivering a monologue, when suddenly without any additional effort, my voice became so loud in my ears, I became momentarily distracted. My ever attentive director Richard Wolfe rushed up to me after the performance exclaiming, “Your voice! Your voice!” Six years later, after a performance of Empire of the Son, my former CBC producer on The Roundup, Heather Kennedy shared with me how struck she was by my new voice, “It’s not that it is deeper, but it is so much more firmly grounded now.” Resonant voice or not, it appeared Edmonton audiences weren’t with me. 10.D.6 Peter The breakthrough to unlocking Edmonton audiences came on February 4th, 2018. For this Sunday matinee, when I first walked downstage to survey the audience, I saw an Asian man at the very front smiling up at me. I immediately felt a kinship with him, and I returned his smile. (Although I didn’t immediately recognize him in the dim light at the time, this was my cousin Peter Shigematsu, who I had not seen in over 20 years.) I then began smiling at others. Impelled by the emotional momentum created by this interaction, I delivered my first lines differently.  204 In Japan, within the closet of any self-respecting Japanese man, hangs at least one black suit. And if you were to search the pockets of that suit, invariably you will find two ties, one in each pocket. A white tie for all the weddings in his life. And a black tie for all the funerals. Usually, I deliver these lines with all the stentorian gravity of Rod Serling, narrator of The Twilight Zone. Instead, I treated these lines as if I were an ebullient birthday party magician, showing the audience a wonderful magic trick by producing my ties out of nowhere. It began to work. 10.D.7 Betty It took a three-week run in Edmonton for me to realize that all the performance momentum I had believed necessary to overcome the perceptual obstacles of being an untrained person of color on stage, I may have been overshooting my mark. Just as a young woman may be surprised to discover her capacity to intimidate older men, I too have come to appreciate the shifting power dynamics of being on tour. In any audience, there is a very good chance that there is at least one person who has never seen a play before, but here in Northern Alberta, I am likely the first Asian man some people have ever seen on stage. On Friday, February 9th, 2018, there was a severe looking red-haired woman sitting in the front. “Betty” had the distinctive laugh of a lifelong smoker, and the insouciance to let it ring out while others remained quiet. I imaginatively sketched in her biographical details. Perhaps she grew up on a farm or lived in a doublewide mobile home. She had the unmistakable hardened countenance of a survivor. Indeed, as I looked around, many of the white-haired patrons in the audience may have had tough rural  205 childhoods. Their bespectacled gaze was not judgmental but filled with wonder. I found such benign curiosity irresistibly disarming. As an artist who self-identifies as a person of colour, I perceive myself as marginalized, but here in Canada’s northernmost metropolis, watching the sun rise and set continuously over the glacier-fed North Saskatchewan River, I am inclined to take a longer view of things. I may not be white, but as a descendent of samurai, my parents became highly educated in the most prestigious universities in the world. This means I too am the beneficiary of countless generations privilege. I remain an educated, able-bodied, married, heterosexual, middle-class, English-speaking, cisgender male. Betty had likely experienced more oppression in her life than I can imagine. These thoughts are not meant to accommodate white fragility, I merely mean to outline the path that led to me to realize how as a performer, making an aristocratic stage entrance in Edmonton wasn’t going to work. I needed to do something different. 10.D.8 What I do differently now. In the ensuing performances, I became more presentational in my performance. Using looks and gestures I would more explicitly acknowledge the presence of the audience, and their role in co-creating the performance. Rather than let punchlines sneak up on people, I underlined them with looks and nods. More than using semaphores to show the audience when to laugh, I was telling them it was okay to laugh. Who knows? Perhaps they have never seen an Asian man laugh before. I also slowed down so I could listen to them more carefully. For example, I noticed in Edmonton, audiences would make a noise, after such seemingly innocuous lines.   206  “By the time he acquired these, he was pushing a mail cart though the hallways of CBC Montreal.”  or   “I thought to myself, January is a perfect time.”   I would be happy to provide you with more context but let me assure you there is nothing in the previous text that sets up these lines as anything remotely funny. Yet for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend, the audience wants to laugh out loud with these lines. Perhaps by this point in the show, there is a pent-up energy that needs to be released. Like renegade weeds, these responses were never part of the intended master plan of the show, but now that they have sprouted, I make room for them, forcing the runtimes to become longer. 10.D.9 Laughter is no Laughing Matter “How do I know everyone else is not a figment of my imagination?” Although most of us leave such solipsistic musings behind in adolescence, it is hard to escape such doubts completely. When you tell a story, you can never be certain that your audience is with you. That look of interest may well be confusion. On a one-to-one basis, if you tell an acquaintance about your amusing misadventures, it is hard to distinguish between laughter that is volitional verses spontaneous.   207 This is why laughter is such a reliable barometer of engagement. It is one of the few ways you can be reasonably certain that your audience is with you. Celebrity comics lament the fact that their loyal fans are so primed to laugh, it is no longer a challenge to perform. Like a basketball hoop that keeps growing in diameter, it becomes harder for them to improve their skills.  As a touring theatre artist, I suffer no such problems. I am usually confronted by a group of complete strangers, many of whom do not want to be there: Grumpy husbands who have been dragged to the theatre by their wives. Often these groups are dissimilar in age, gender, and cultural background, but if I say something that causes all of them to burst out laughing simultaneously, this is about as close as one can get to stability of meaning. Lacan argued that “there is an incessant sliding of the signified beneath the signifier” (1977, p. 154)—stuck with only words to explain other words, the finality of meaning forever eludes us, yet moments of mirth form anchoring points (points de caption) in a discourse which make meanings possible. Laughter has such profound ontological and epistemological implications, it is a match struck in the darkness. Paradoxically, I have found that an audience that laughs more during a performance is also more inclined to cry. Victor Borge's claim that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people” (Sharma, 2002, p. 7) rings true in my experience, as this involuntary response builds immediate emotional bonds and trust necessary to emotionally surrender.     208 10.E From the Road, St. John’s  USHER:  Welcome to the road. I hope you brought a parka.   In my tour to the Atlantic provinces, we sensed a hunger there for the show we were bringing. As my stage manager Susan Miyagashima noted as we walked back to our hotel one night after a show in St. John’s Newfoundland, “These audiences have never seen a version of Asian like this before. They may have had interactions with seemingly quiet stereotypical Asians at a restaurant, but no one like you.” She then made a gesture and sound effect simulating a head exploding. I had a friend who tried being vegan for a while to appease her boyfriend. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t very good at it. She simply cut out all meat and didn’t increase her intake of plant-based protein. The resulting changes in her body chemistry were so gradual, she didn’t really notice, until a friend insisted on frying up a bloody steak for her. From the first bite, every cell in her body applauded. She had become anemic but didn’t know it.  In a similar manner, the audiences in the Atlantic provinces seemed to be in need for this type of theatre, without even knowing it. Performing at the legendary LSPU in uptown St. John’s, the same theatre where the likes of CODCO, Mary Walsh, Rick Mercer, and Christine Taylor all performed, the audiences were tentative at the top of the show. Perhaps they were not quite sure what to make of this strange, mustachioed Japanese man.  Though not intended by conscious design, I now realize in retrospect that I do make an exotic entrance. After all, I step out onto the stage wearing geta, Japanese  209 wooden clogs. Then I immediately take them off, suggesting Eastern ceremony. I stand before the audience neutral as a Noh actor. When I bow to them, it is not a stage bow, but a traditional Japanese display of deep respect. The first two words out of my mouth, “In Japan…”  I begin at a maximal distance, any further and I would be unintelligible. I am other. But with every story, I move one step closer, until they are in my world, and I am inside their world, bumping into things, unlocking their memories. They are having their own lucid dreams, but it is my voice they are hearing. Conway (1998) suggests “the magical opportunity of entering another life is what really gets us thinking about or own” (p. 18). In Edmonton, an African-born Indian man shared with me, “I am listening to your story, but I’m thinking about mine.” By the time the show concluded, there were standing ovations every night. It was not because my performances were so outstanding, but because they had journeyed that much farther. In Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal, it isn’t as big a deal to see an Asian man on stage, but the psychic distance they traversed in 75 minutes was much greater than that. Their journey was that much greater. To go from strange foreigner to trusted confidante, is more than a dramatic a step. It is a giant leap forward, and to take it is to be transformed.     210  211 Room 11: Talkback USHER:  It is not an usher’s duty to setup the stage for talkbacks. This responsibility falls to the House Technician, who in turn delegates this task to their own minions. Chairs are arranged downstage stage, along with a wireless microphone. 11.A Hiroshima 11.A.1 Talk Back  Talkbacks are usually placid affairs, with audience members asking questions that have been asked many times before: “How does your family feel about the show?” or “Have your children seen it?” But occasionally they can be harrowing, and impact how I feel about the material, especially if I cannot easily dismiss the credibility of the person. 11.A.2 The Man from Hiroshima During the 2016 remount of Empire of the Son in Vancouver, an Asian man sitting in the front row raised his hand during one of the post show talkbacks. He introduced himself by saying, “I am from Hiroshima.” I took a deep breath, and thought to myself, “Okay, here it comes.” This moment of hesitation, which lasted for only a moment, is one I would like to unpack. Back in 2003, when I worked for CBC Radio One’s The Afternoon Show, I wrote and voiced a radio piece to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. This five and half minute piece of radio begins with me asking my father if today,   Figure 15. Talkback at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada.  212 August 6th had any significance for him. He replied in accented English.   AKIRA: Are you checking about my degree of Alzheimer’s?   TETSURO: (to the audience) He doesn’t really have Alzheimer’s, just a dark sense of humour.  AKIRA: August the… Oh! August the sixth. That’s a, that’s a... Hiroshima was attacked. I was 12 years old. It was just like today’s in terms of the brightness of sky. It was a very bright August day. Two weeks later, I was traveling with my family. Open cargo train. When the train passed Hiroshima, it was in the midst of night, so I couldn't see anything. The city was flattened, that's all, just darkness, and there was no electricity. And no sign of civilization. I had some physical ailment after the passing of Hiroshima station. I don't know whether it was the effect of atomic radiation or not, but probably not. Probably it was due to some food poisoning. Twelve years and several careers later, I re-edited this piece of radio for inclusion into my theatre show, Empire of the Son. During the performance, the audience hears an audio recording of my father’s voice as he recounts his own memories of visiting Hiroshima two weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped. For brevity, I deleted the crossed-out line. AKIRA: August the… Oh! August the six. That’s a, that’s uh, Hiroshima was attacked. I was 12 years old. It was just like today’s in terms of the brightness of  213 sky. It was a very bright August day. Two weeks later, I was traveling with my family. Open cargo train. When the train passed Hiroshima, it was in the midst of night, so I couldn't see anything. The city was flattened, that's all, just darkness, and there was no electricity. And no sign of civilization. I had some physical ailment after the passing of Hiroshima station. I don't know whether it was the effect of atomic radiation or not, but probably not. Probably it was due to some food poisoning. At the time it seemed like an innocuous change, the mere excising of the line: “Two weeks later, I was traveling with my family. Open cargo train.” But this story, and that detail, has since proven to be a sticking point between me and my older sister Setsu, who is a professor within the Department of Media & Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside.  Together we taught a summer course in Japan called Japanese Media, Film and Cultural Studies: Nationalism, War and the Politics of Representation. It was a study abroad course where we take a group of UCR undergrads to Japan for a month. The highlight of the trip was visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.    My pilgrimages to Hiroshima were inflected by my contiguous roles as an artist and researcher. As a playwright researching Empire of the Son, I wanted to use this opportunity to retrace my father’s journey as a 12-year-old boy whose boxcar stopped at Hiroshima station. I wanted to know how many paces he was from the ground zero to provide Vancouver audiences with a comparable sense of scale.  By my calculations, if Science World’s geodesic dome at the end of False Creek was the blinding hypocenter, then my father’s boxcar stopped on the pier at Granville  214 Island12. As part of my research, I took many photos with my iPhone. By this point in our journey together, some of our students had noticed how my usual avuncular demeanour as friendly tour guide had been displaced by a grim focus. They were naturally curious about my ‘mission,’ and I was eager to share my investigations. As a writer, explaining to the uninitiated is always the first draft of a potential story.  “Ahem.”  A single censorious look from my elder sister/boss was enough for me to change the subject.  As mentioned before, the title of this course was: Japanese Media, Film and Cultural Studies: Nationalism, War and The Politics of Representation. Essentially, the students watched feature films, anime, and documentaries about Japan while traveling in Japan, providing them with a critical perspective on Japanese national values. What made this course unique was the fact that my sister and I lectured on the same material but from different perspectives: hers as an academic/historian versus mine as a theatre artist/filmmaker. Refracting a cinematic masterpiece such as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon through the lens of both Marxist feminist theory and film craft was illuminating for the students, as Japan continues to come to terms with the legacy of its imperial past. But when it came to more personal matters, our disparate perspectives could reach a flashpoint.  Specifically, my sister Setsu objected to me narratively positioning our father in such proximity to the bombing of Hiroshima. Perhaps she believed I did not fully appreciate the social implications of signifying him in such a manner.                                                  12 Approximately two kilometers.   215 When asked about Empire of the Son by reporters, I metonymically describe my father’s journey to Canada as beginning in the “ashes of Hiroshima.” My sister believes such a statement implies my father Akira Shigematsu is hibakusha, the Japanese word for the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings.  The three kanji used to write hibakusha, 被爆者, can be read separately as incur, bomb, someone, or “explosion-affected people.” My sister Setsu is fluent in Japanese and is respected as an expert on certain eras of Japanese history and therefore has a much keener appreciation for the pejorative power of the term. The American historian, Studs Terkel (1984) spoke with survivors of the atomic bombings and observed: There is considerable discrimination in Japan against the hibakusha. It is frequently extended toward their children as well: socially as well as economically. “Not only hibakusha, but their children, are refused employment,” says Mr. Kito. “There are many among them who do not want it known that they are hibakusha.” (p. 542) Even though the rate of birth defects of children conceived from survivors are no higher than the rest of the Japanese population, such discrimination persists due to the public’s ignorant belief that radiation sickness is hereditary or somehow contagious. Twice victimized, first by the Americans, and then by fellow Japanese, one could say that the true fallout from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the discrimination they faced from their countrymen. For hibakusha, injustice has no half-life. To my knowledge, my father never experienced this kind of discrimination.  To be clear, when my sister admonished me not to frame events in such a way that would imply my father was hibakusha, the least of her concerns was the prospect of  216 besmirching our family’s reputation, as most Japanese Canadians, let alone North Americans would not be familiar with the term. Rather, as an anti-oppression activist in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized communities within Japan, she believes hibakusha are a kind of chosen people who have a special role to play. As survivors of the unthinkable, they alone can speak with unassailable credibility to the existential dangers we face in this nuclear age. Therefore, it would be inaccurate and ethically problematic for our family to stand in such a light. So, is my father hibakusha? I invite you to decide. According to The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, to qualify as hibakusha, this are the criteria: 11.A.3 Criteria “Those who entered the city within approximately 2 km of the hypocenter, within two weeks [emphasis mine] of the bombings ” (Ogawa & Sasaki, 2011, p. 891). 11.A.4 Two Kilometers  After the bombings, my father’s train stopped at Hiroshima station, which is precisely two kilometers from Genbaku Dōmu, (原爆ドーム) better known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, where the atomic bomb exploded directly overhead. Depending on whether his boxcar was near the front of the train, or the end would have put him either just within the two-kilometer radius, or just outside of it. It is a coin toss. 11.A.5 Two Weeks As for the timing, according to our original interviews, my father recalls he passed through Hiroshima station two weeks after the bombings. But these were the childhood recollections of my father, who was 72-year-old at the time of the interview. My father’s  217 memory was by all accounts uncannily accurate, but remembering an incident nearly 60 years later, it is plausible he could have been off by a day or two. Which leaves the second criterion: “exposed to radiation from fallout.” My father is recorded as saying, “I had some physical ailment after the passing of Hiroshima station. I don’t know whether it was the effect of atomic radiation or not, but probably not. Probably it was due to some food poisoning” (Shigematsu, 2016, p. 27). Again, The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as individuals who meet the following criteria: within two kilometers of the hypocentres within two weeks of the bombings; exposed to radiation from fallout. Back in August of 2003 when I first heard my father attribute his sickness to food poisoning, I chalked it up to stoicism. But now I wonder how much the downplaying of his illness had to do with his unwillingness to hemorrhage social status. Being a descendant of samurai provided no armor from being shamed as a social pariah.  Was my father hibakusha or not? It is not my intention to engage in legalistic hair-splitting, rather I wish to illuminate how my father’s memory can be understood as a narrative inheritance (Goodall, 2005), and how my disagreement with my sister is a family dispute over that inheritance. When my father died in 2015, he left our family no money, no financial resources. His only heirlooms were the memories he shared with me in the form of interviews, the stories of a remarkable life. All lives are remarkable in their own way, but his was special only in the sense that circumstances conspired to provide him with someone who had the skills, the resources, the motive, and opportunity to interview him extensively. That person was me. As both researcher and messenger of  218 this data, I am mindful of the power I wield in curating how our father is known and remembered.  In her autobiographical documentary, The Stories We Tell (2012), Sarah Polley explores the question of her paternity. Her extended family cheerfully cooperates offering differing accounts of incidents, which is not only a reflection of their closeness, but what cannot be ignored is Polley’s unusual status. From her starring role as a child on Road to Avonlea, to her Oscar nomination, the soft spoken Polley is a bona fide Canadian celebrity. Despite its apparently even-handed tone, as writer and director, this is her story to tell. It is revealing that the only person who pushes back against this power imbalance on camera is Harry Gulkin, himself an Oscar nominee. Perhaps it takes one to deal with one?  On a much smaller scale, there is a similar dynamic at work within my family. With my brother Ken being the senior pastor of one of the largest churches in Vancouver, we Shigematsus have been long accustomed to having our lives repurposed for the edification of the congregation. But such anecdotes tend to be trifling, comic respites from the high fiber exegesis of Biblical passages. We don’t mind. Sunday sermons are evanescent in nature. My brother’s prodigious weekly output means that any embarrassing anecdote will be quickly buried beneath the growing mountain of subsequent sermons where we don’t merit mention.  Empire of the Son is a different matter though. My version of our family has been seen by tens of thousands of people. When I’m interviewed as an artist on a national CBC radio program, you can add a couple of zeros to that number.   219 I am by far the poorest of my siblings, and while their fortunes impress me, I take solace in the fact that their capital is merely economic. I tell myself, all that money locked up in their savings, investments, and retirement funds are like molecules in the body. This form of energy neither be destroyed nor kept indefinitely. It is simply a matter of time before those glittering nickels and dimes rejoin the rest of the system like the carbon and hydrogen from my father’s body. Empire of the Son on the other hand might linger. The published form of the play continues to sell well and is now in its second run. It may well end up on the bookshelf of a descendant not yet born. While all our names will soon be forgotten, my version of events will hold sway.  The economic differences between my siblings and I are never more apparent than when we visit. My siblings all own beautiful homes. I do not. To their credit, they do not lord it over me, but perhaps some indignities are unavoidable.  11.A.6 My Marxist Nephew A story I enjoy sharing publicly is about my nephew Taer. It begins with him sharing with me offhand, “Mom says, you are the smartest and the most talented sibling in the whole family.” Trying not to sound too surprised, I said, “Really?” Taer went on, “Mom said you’re proof that talent or brains are not enough, but you also have to work hard, be disciplined, be polite, not be a jerk, not be rude to people, otherwise you’ll end up just like your uncle Tetsuro.”  “Okay.” I nodded conclusively at my nephew to indicate I had heard enough, but he continued.  220 Doing his best impression of my older sister Setsu, he asked, “Did you know Uncle Tetsuro is in his 40s and he still takes the bus? He might tell you it’s because he wants to reduce his carbon footprint but that’s not true. We all own homes and we all pay mortgages responsibly, but your uncle will be throwing away rent money for the rest of his life and -”  He was about to say more but I cut him off.  “Taer, did you know that some scholars have theorized that the reason why homeownership has been propagated as being synonymous with the American Dream is because it is within the interest of capitalists to have workers buy into this idea? Let’s say you belong to a union, the pay is bad, conditions are dangerous, so there’s a vote to go on strike. Among your co-worker buddies, who do you think will be the first to punk out? The one paying a mortgage. ‘Dude, I know this job might kill me, but I can’t lose my house!’ The greater the percentage of homeowners there are in a workforce, the less likely they are to cause trouble for their capitalist overlords. Just look at Europe! Renting is much more common and guess what else is… socialism.”  I nodded at my nephew knowingly before continuing.  “So, I like to think that renting is my small way of showing solidarity with the workers of the world.” “Yeah,” my nephew drawled unimpressed. “Mom said you’d find a way to make it sound cool, like it was a lifestyle choice, but she says poor is still poor no matter how you slice it.” When I share this story, people find it amusing. But what I personally find most entertaining about this tale is the fact that it never happened. When I explain to my sister  221 Setsu that this conversation with her son Taer never occurred, I just made it up, she remains unconvinced.  “Really?” She said with a mixture of annoyance and incredulity. “Because that sounds like something I would say.”  My twin sister Hana remains convinced it was she who said, “It looks like you have two question marks on your face.” She did not. That bon mot was crafted by yours truly. And herein lies the secret to changing your family history. Make up stories. Make them entertaining but keep them plausible. And most important of all, give your siblings the best lines. Then sit back and watch as your short story gets told and retold until it becomes inextricably woven into the family myth. South Asian novelist Salman Rushdie (1991, December 12) wrote, “Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless” (p. A8). But this “power over story” Rushdie refers to, does it not follow that power corrupts?  When it came to my father, I wielded multiple forms of power. During the end of his life, I served as my father’s medical advocate. As I spoke with doctors and specialists to plan his palliative care, his life was in my hands, but now that he has died, I continue to serve as his emissary, his avatar, signifier to his signified. “Dad wasn’t hibakusha.” “Yes, he was.” “No, he wasn’t.” “Yes, he was.” In my imagination, I feel the spirit of my dead father siding with my sister. So why will I not back down from this? Why am I so recalcitrant in this matter? Why do I persist in claiming “my father stood in the ashes of Hiroshima?” Perhaps the reason I will not  222 back down from such a claim is because epistemologically I understand Hiroshima to be the pivotal moment of the 20th century.  Without my personal connection to this ontological ground zero, which began the countdown towards the end of humankind, August 6th 1945 would remain as abstract and opaque as any other historical date. Its incandescent meaning would leave me cold. Knowing my father was in a boxcar at Hiroshima station, the same age as my daughter Mika was when I wrote Empire of the Son, enables me to imagine the unimaginable: My child at the beginning of her life glimpsing the end of the world.  Sometimes at family reunions my sisters will chide me for staring at the window when there are chores to be done.  “But I am working,” I want to say as I get up.  I might have been thinking about the future. I might have been thinking about the past. I might have been thinking about that time my eldest Rié took me to see a small Shakespearean play in London when I was a teenager, when lovely Rosalind consoled poor Jacques, “Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.” Out of the entire play that evening, that was the only line I can still quote after all these years. Maybe it was because I recognized within the symmetry of that verse my life sentence.   * * * 11.A.7 The Devout Atheist The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows offers the following neologism:   223 Onism – n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here. (Koenig, 2018, para. 1) But there are ways to transcend the limits of “onism.” For me, the most obvious ways are by reading, and through acting, which for me hold much in common. Imaginatively inhabiting the role of another person is an effective means to multiply one’s own experience, and thus enlarging one’s capacity for empathy. When I am on tour with Empire of the Son, as I stand on the threshold listening to the Front-of-House speech, I feel a quality of anticipation unlike anything I have ever known. Within an ensemble play, there is a sense of camaraderie as a company of actors readies themselves and each other to do battle, eager to slay the audience. A fearful endeavour, but each takes solace in the knowledge that come what may, your fellow performers have your back. Pity the solo performer who has no such assurances. Should you “corpse”—every actor’s worst nightmare—you die, and you die alone.  And yet, every night when I wait in the wings to do another performance of Empire of the Son, it is not the prospect of solitude that gives me pause. As a former broadcaster, I have come to understand the audience as my scene partner. I was eager to get out there and connect. What gave me pause was the prospect of looking at the audience before me, but feeling the presence of another onstage behind me, the ghost of my father.  224 To be clear, I am not religious. Now that my father has died, I do not believe I will see him again. Nor do I consider myself an atheist. Rather, in my life as an artist and researcher I practice a kind of secularism, observing a separation between church and state, matters of the spirit and critical theory. As a scholar, I doubt the existence of God, but as an artist, all I know is that I do not know. Therefore, anything is possible. As Hamlet reminded Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth… Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In the documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, the songwriter Nick Cave explained his creative process, specifically the necessity of compartmentalizing to enable different parts of himself to maintain contradictory beliefs. “It’s a world I’m creating…. [where] God actually exists.” While he isn’t religious in his “real life,” it would be an oversimplification of his art practice to say that he uses religion as an allegory. When asked if he truly believes in God, he replied: the idea of there being a divine being is really helpful with songwriting, and with adding a kind of absurdity and strange depth to everything…. sometimes the desire for an afterlife, or sometimes a desire that life perpetuates in some way beyond the grave is, absurd as it may be, something we need to believe in. And that need, I think, is a very powerful thing. (Williams, 2017, May 25, para. 40) As a fan of Cave’s artistry, I am inclined to adopt such a multitudinous and numinous cosmology. But as an artist, I would not go so far as to make the grandiose claim that the theatre is my church, the stage my altar. As someone still recovering from the trauma of  225 attending a draconian religious private school that literally burned books, such a reverential conception doesn’t sit well with me.  Rather, for Empire of the Son, I think of the audience as my co-conspirators, the stage our Ouija board, and each performance as a séance. And to genuinely participate in such a ritual demands faith in an ultimate reality that transcends the outward appearances of this material world. And so, Empire of the Son has functioned as a catalyst, forcing me to confront the borderlands of my belief. As someone who isn’t formally trained as an actor, when I play my father, and my grandfather in the story called The Train Station, I cannot “get there” by the usual means, and so I am left to prayerfully call into the past and draw their souls back into me.  A part of me must believe that the spirit can endure beyond death, but to say the soul exists eternally—which is to say that it will always be, and always was—is where I stop short. When I look within, do I believe my existence predates the Big Bang? No, I do not. Not even the mystic within me can believe that. But to even ask such a question demonstrates the value of art and theater.  By inhabiting different characters, by making room for contradiction, by being large enough to ‘contain multitudes,’ allows for multiple ways of knowing, not possible in the harsh light of atheism where there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no communion, and no séances.  On stage, I become the person who believes in the existence of the soul. This is the only way I can imaginatively connect to my father across the void that separates the living from the dead. By making such a leap, others can make their own connections through me, to my father, and find themselves in Hiroshima, or the charred landscape of  226 their own wartime memories. Through the mechanism of theatre, the pivoting of my epistemological beliefs enables me to serve as a connecting flight between destinations and dimensions. Empire of the Son is a spiritual infrastructure, a portal that shimmers into being and then disappears. Thus far, tens of thousands of passengers have taken this flight as well. Such imaginative acts have the effect of inspiring me to reexamine my own life as an imaginative act. Performing Empire of the Son continues to change me, but it would be overdramatic to claim that the shadow of my father’s experience just two kilometers from the hypocenter has been scorched into me like the textile pattern of a family kimono.  Rather, I have discovered that the cycle of performance creates a seasonal tan line that appears and fades. In the cycle of theatrical creation, if being on tour is the high summer solstice, then the months in between are akin to vernal and autumnal equinoxes. I become pale, and I would appear wan and anemic if suddenly thrust onto the stage without weeks of gradual induction. The alchemy of text and imagination forges new insights during the molten moments of performance, but such epiphanies are only fully comprehended during the contemplation afforded by more temperate seasons.  If I were Jewish and my mother had been in a concentration camp, as a storyteller I would surely stand at those gates. Not to editorialize, preach, or pontificate, but merely to recite her words, with every syllable serving as a cobblestone on a path towards meaning. As a researcher, I acknowledge that such historic epicentres have no intrinsic meaning beyond that which we socially construct, but as a storyteller, I am sensitive to their inchoate power, neutral as electricity, agnostic as the sound of power  227 lines humming in the rain. Like Irwin and Springgay (2008) who write, “meaning is constituted between beings” (p. xxi), I believe meaning is generated from our relationships with other people, and no one exists in a vacuum. We are shaped by the specificities of time and place. Therefore, it is the world’s outer landscapes and cityscapes that shape the contours of our interior life. Hiroshima is a city out there, but it is now also a place inside of me. If a reporter asks me if my father was in Hiroshima, I will say yes, but if a grad student asks me at a conference, “Was your father hibakusha?” I don’t know what I will say. The truth is never simple. These were some of the thoughts that flashed through my mind, albeit in a more compressed, less coherent manner when that man in the audience introduced himself during the talkback. This is why I held my breath. Thus far, I had resisted my elder sister’s censorious rebuke about Hiroshima. As determined as I was to hold my ground, I was in fact ready to accept the judgment of a resident. If he objected, I would consider excising it from the show.  What he said was unexpected. He pointed out that stories of Hiroshima tend to follow a particular narrative grammar: what they were doing on that fateful morning, the inexplicable flash, followed by pandemonium and indescribable horror. He observed that my father’s account broke with this convention by addressing none of those things, as if he were attempting to conceal the enormity of it all beneath a cloak of silence. As a citizen of Hiroshima, he found this account much more moving. Of course, I can take little credit for my father’s story, other than having the nerve to ask, the audacity to include it, and the obstinacy to keep it.     228  229 Room 12: The Dressing Room USHER:  We ushers are not permitted in the dressing rooms. As an usher, I was never told, “You are forbidden from going in there,” but because there was no reason for us to enter, we refrained.   The dressing room is the actor’s personal space, their home away from home (the hotel), away from home (their real home). If too many people had access to this sanctum sanctorum, then perhaps the actor might become distracted onstage wondering, “Will someone steal my iPhone?” And so, the dressing room either remains locked, or there are drawers or lockers that accept personal padlocks.  “Knock, knock.” No one seems to be using the dressing room, so let’s take a quick peek, shall we?  As an actor, when I invite someone to see my personal dressing room, I have yet to have such an offer declined. Who can resist the invitation to access such a storied space? Like the Eiffel Tower, or a deserted island, the dressing room isn’t so much a place as it is a narrative trope, a de rigueur scene in countless tales that attempt to depict the behind-the-scenes glamor of show biz.   Figure 16. Top: St. John. Middle: St. John’s. Bottom: Vancouver.  230  Minus the feather boas, the gratuitous nudity of showgirls, pancake makeup and sequins, as an actor I can attest that the dressing room is the one place where the fictional version of theatre corresponds rather closely with my reality. Conway (1998) writes, “few of us give close attention to the forms and tropes of the culture through which we report ourselves to ourselves” (p. 178). Indeed, the dressing room is such a semiotically laden space, “we should be wary of the psychological traps inherent in inherited modes of expression” (p. 178). When a visitor stops by to say hello, I see the bouquets of flowers, the bottles of wine, the handwritten cards through their eyes, and think, “Tetsuro may have some fans, but clearly he’s no star.” Still, I do like being seen against the backdrop of a dressing room. Part of me hopes that the radiance of this space might somehow bathe the rest of my dim existence in a soft glow. But what kind of host am I? To give you the full tour, let us step outside and retrace my steps. 12.ATransformation When I enter the theatre through the industrial backstage entrance, sometimes the security guard will hesitate before buzzing me through because I look like a panhandler. My long hair hangs down beneath my toque. Unwaxed, my mustache resembles a sodden push broom, and my glasses are foggy from the sudden change in temperature. Once in my dressing room, I take a hard, judgmental look at the hobo in the mirror, but my revulsion is mingled with masochism. The more abject I appear when I arrive, the more magical is the effect of transforming myself from “less than” to “greater than.”   231 The directions are as follows:  Figure 17. This is the checklist you will find in my dressing room when I am on tour. According to my stage manager Susan Miyagshima, my pre-show routine is unusual in its specificity and the sheer amount of time required.    232 The physical transformation prescribed in the instructions above mirrors an internal transformation. Just as Superman cannot do battle with Lex Luthor while wearing his Clark Kent glasses, I cannot get on stage looking the way I normally do at home. My DuBoisian double-consciousness would judge me too harshly. I would imagine a chorus of whispers coming from the balcony. “What is he doing on stage? He doesn’t deserve to be there. Look at him! What’s going on?! We should demand a refund.”  It takes me four hours to fully quell these internal voices prior to a performance, and 75 minutes of that time are spent in my dressing room. I spend 25 of those minutes on my vocal warm up alone.  Thanks to the labours of the backstage dresser, my suit and shirts have already been neatly pressed by the time I arrive. Even though you don’t get to choose your costume, it is important for an actor to like it. This set of clothing functions as your psychological armor. It will serve to either increase your confidence or undermine it. As in life, so in theatre: the semiotics of dress (Rubinstein, 2009) are never neutral. The impact of outward appearance triggers inner feelings, which in turn enable role performance. I may lose track of the dates, cities may blur, the dressing rooms are never the same, but as I look in the mirror, my black three piece suit paired with a lavender dress shirt is always reassuringly the same, the unmoving axis within the whirl of touring.  Like a magician I preset three ties, and a pair of glasses in the various pockets of my suit jacket. Hidden beneath the waist of my pants, is a custom-made mic belt, which holds a wireless transmitter against the base of my spine. It  233 is attached to my Countryman ear-set via flesh coloured wire and held in place with invisible medical grade tape. With the aid of hairstyling product, combs, contact lenses, and professional grade audio gear, I transform myself into the dictionary definition of a cyborg: One whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body. By the time I am finished grooming, fully suited, vocally warmed up, and wired for sound, I no longer see a bedraggled hobo in the mirror, but a lifelike android who wouldn’t look out of place in the pleasure districts of the future. By the time I execute my opening bow, in my mind, I am gleaming like a jewel-encrusted katana. From what I gather, the effect of such internal visualizations is limited to my perceptions alone. Robert Chafe, the artistic director of St. John’s Artistic Fraud shared with me that he found it very assuring the first time I took a sip of water on their stage. He thought to himself, “Oh, he really is human after all.” The actor needs a dressing room the way a caterpillar needs a chrysalis.  Contributions to Research-Based Theatre Part of what makes Empire of the Son unique is its methodological integrity. Few works of research-based theatre have had so many performances, over so long a period of time. The clear majority of play-based dissertations feature scripts that never get the opportunity to evolve beyond a first or second draft. Even for mature scholars, the pressure to publish prolifically results in plays that tend to be short lived, with limited performances. However, if arts-based research is to truly honour the artistic spirit, then ideally every work deserves to be invested with the ambition of becoming a magnum opus—an artist’s greatest achievement. Such an  234 outlook suggests a path that is narrow and deep, and a commitment to practice one’s craft on fewer works over longer periods of time. Through abundant good fortune and a team of talented collaborators, Empire of the Son continues to reach a wide audience. Not only have I been able to pen the script, perform the script, revise the script, but I have been able to tour extensively. My written reflections on how to engage with audiences according to their regional differences is indicative of how I have been able to re-enter this work with a scholar’s intention. As cities blow past me like autumn leaves, I realize there are certain insights only repetition and the fullness of time can permit. In effect, Empire of the Son constitutes a longitudinal form of qualitative arts-based research. How it’s already been peer reviewed In a sense, this work has been peer-reviewed not by just my supervisory committee, but by my sisters, my children and my spouse, the members of my theatre company, the local theatre community, Asian Canadians, theatre critics, the national theatre community, international theatregoers, and now dear reader, you are also part of this expanding circle. Collectively your feedback, though not always direct, indeed sometimes by its very absence, continues to spiral and move this work in new directions. Looking Ahead The original intention for this research was to meet the requirements of a PhD, and to be read by only a handful of people, but like the play itself, my intentions  235 have grown. I would like to see this work go beyond an academic readership because I think it has the potential to serve a larger community. Film Currently, I am in talks with Canadian film producer, Helen Slinger, about creating a feature-length documentary that will expand on the Hiroshima chapter of my father’s story, and the unexpected ways that event continues to resonate in my daughter Mika’s life. Book For the past six months, I have been in conversation with Scott Sellers, a Vice President at Penguin Random House, and Martha Kanya Forstner, one of Canada’s top literary editors. In January of 2018, Scott happened to see me perform Empire of the Son at the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary, Alberta, and Martha has read the published version of the play. Scott and Martha are aware of this research, and the plan is to use the dissertation and the play as a basis for a memoir centred on my relationship with my father. This yet untitled book is intended for the general public. International Touring At the time of this writing, our tickets have been booked to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland at the end of summer. The Canadian High Commission has invited us to pitch Empire of the Son to international presenters and promoters at CanadaHub, an industry event held in conjunction with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We have also been booked to perform in Singapore this fall.  236 National Touring  Upon our return, we will be embarking on our third national tour. By its conclusion, I’ll have performed Empire of the Son more than 150 times. Thus far, 16,380 people have seen this show, and we conservatively expect at least another 5,000.  By increasing the number of entry points to this research, I am hoping someone, someday might circle back to the musty pages of this dissertation, and experience the small pleasures that Hollywood prequels grant, the first inklings of what may one day be a book, a documentary, a movie, or maybe even an opera. And perhaps in the future, such iterations may seem obvious or inevitable in retrospect, but from my vantage point they do not. The future is as impenetrable to me here in the past, as the future is to you. For now, if nothing else comes of this research, and that is certainly very possible, the present moment suffices because the audience for Empire of the Son is already larger than I could have ever imagined. An Educative Moment When I think back to the very beginning of this journey, I recall having a peculiar experience I can only now fully appreciate given all that I have learned. Back in 2011, I had just finished my MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, and I was looking for a way to continue my studies. As I wandered across campus from department to department, every gatekeeper I met was polite and open-minded about the prospect of having someone like myself—my creative  237 medium was YouTube at the time—joining their intellectual community. As an interdisciplinary artist/scholar I felt like a stateless person. It was only within UBC’s Faculty of Education where I felt that the door was yanked open before I even had the chance to finish knocking. I had the distinct impression that I was being told, “Ah, there you are! Do come in. Your room is already prepared. We’ve been expecting you.” The person who welcomed me was Carl Leggo. For a long time, I was puzzled by how one man’s shining countenance could represent a thousand hands extended to me in solidarity. Eight years later it is no longer a mystery.  If western academic research can be seen as a tree with the quantitative and qualitative paradigms as its two main boughs, springing from the latter is a branch known as arts-based research, “an unfolding and expanding orientation to qualitative social science that draws inspiration, concepts, processes, and representation from the arts, broadly defined,” (Knowles & Cole, 2008, p. xi). It is here, on the twig of research-based theatre that I have found my place in the world. Eight years ago, little did I know that not only had I found my people—arts-based researchers—but that I would be under the guidance of my field’s leading exponents and practitioners. Because of their writings, many artists all over the world arrive on the doorstep of education. As they peer in, they wonder the same thing I did: is it possible to undertake the work of scholarship, and continue to be an artist? One of the aims for this research is to demonstrate that not only is it possible, but one can use the constraints and affordances of theory to  238 master one’s art form. I also hope that the practice-based nature of my research might provide an example for academics who are attempting to operate in both realms. Metamorphosis Like life itself, this nonlinear journey continues. One of the many gifts this research has bestowed upon me is the reminder of how very privileged I am. Not every scholar/artist gets to tour, and not every touring artist has the opportunity to reflect upon their travels. As I pack for my next leg of the tour, I carry with me the words of Michael Finneran: As with the explorers of old, who were obliged by their patrons to produce great cartographical volumes, neither should our voyages be done unknowingly. Our research discourse has an obligation to produce a range of maps, travel books, special pull-out supplements and chronologies of exploration that inform and excite those amongst us who might next undertake a similar journey. (2014, p. 1) It is my hope that there might be one person who encounters this work and feels similarly stirred to contemplate undertaking a voyage of their own. As for me, the experience of performing this research will continue to transform me. Whatever possibilities I’ve experienced thus far from province to province, will certainly be magnified across different continents, as I find new ways to fail, and discover new questions to ask.    239 References Ackroyd, J., & O'Toole, J. (2010). Performing research: Tensions, triumphs and trade-offs of ethnodrama. Sterling, VA: Trentham Books. Attanasio, P. (1986). Meryl Streep &, The Washington Post. 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New York, NY: Routledge. Stanislavski, K. (1936). An actor prepares. London, UK: A&C Black. Tapahonso, L. (2008). A radiant curve: Poems and stories. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Terkel, S. (1984). The good war: An oral history of world war ii. New York, NY: New Press.  247 Thomas, C. (2015, October 9). Tetsuro Shigematsu’s empire of the son is exquisite, The Georgia Straight. Retrieved from https://www.straight.com/arts/553806/tetsuro-shigematsus-empire-son-exquisite Thomas, C. (2015, September 16). Fall arts preview 2015 theatre critics' picks: Local writers take the spotlight on city stages, The Georgia Straight.  Thomas, C. (2016, October 31). Empire of the son also rises.   Retrieved Dec 21, 2016, from http://www.colinthomas.ca/tag/empireoftheson Thorkelson, E. (2015, October 10). Grief stripped raw in all its beauty, The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Theatre+review+Grief+stripped+beauty/11424857/story.html Vonnegut, K. (1969). 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