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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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


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 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.

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