Interview with Yojiro Ichikawa and Tina Jackson from Theatre Lapis

Editor Wendy Thomson talks to Yojiro Ichikawa -Director and Tina Jackson - Actor in Theatre Lapis' production 'From Up Here' at Camden People's Theatre (30 July-3 Aug) and The Poor School (19-23 Aug), Camden Fringe 2014

Yojiro Ichikawa , a graduate of MA Directing in Musical Theatre in Arts Educational Schools London, worked with the Shiki Theatre Company in his native Japan. In 2010 he won a fellowship with the prestigious Overseas Study Programme for Artists. In the UK Yojiro participated in projects and workshops at The National Theatre, Young Vic, Complicite, Drama Centre London and Arts Educational Schools. His work in the US included fellowships at the New York Theatre Workshop and The Play Co. and participation in the Lincoln Center Directors Lab in 2012 and 2013.

His directing credits include UK: From Up Here (Tristan Bates Theatre), The House Of Mirrors And Hearts (Perfect Pitch workshop), US: Ordinary Days(Access Theatre), Alone World (LCT workshop), JP: Songs For A New World (Mitaka Public Theatre), Once On This Island (Komaba Space Theatre). His assisting credits include UK: Legally Blonde (Arts Ed), EVITA (UK Tour), JP: Spring Awakening (Shiki), Tinker Bell In Shoji-land (Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre).

Yojiro will be directing Stiles & Drew's Peter Pan in December 2014, presented by Mayhem Musical Theatre Company in The Bloomsbury Theatre.

Tina Jackson trained in Musical Theatre at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Sydney. After graduating she went on to perform professionally in Little Orphan TrAshley touring to such venues as the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne's Comedy Theatre. She has recently been seen on the West End in Dinosaur Zoo. Tina also performed as Meg in Stage Fright at the New Theatre in Sydney and was a Grand Finalist in the 2010 Sydney Annual Cabaret Showcase.

What made you want to bring ‘From Up Here’ to the Camden Fringe this year? Why two venues?

Yojiro: When we premiered our version at the Tristan Bates Theatre last September, I thought this was one of the most suitable pieces to do in a Fringe Festival. At the time, I was planning to do it in Edinburgh, however, unfortunately we had to give up the plan due to licensing issues. So, we decided to do the Fringe Festival tour. We picked up Brighton Fringe as the first destination, and thinking about participating in both Guilford and Camden. However, we got two wonderful offers from these venues at the Camden Fringe, so we decided not to do Guildford but two runs in London instead.

What makes ‘From Up Here’ unique?

Yojiro: “From Up Here” is a very simple, but touching musical. It only has five characters and all the scenes take place on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Despite the structural simplicity, it explores a deep theme; what it is to hope, to wish, to despair--to live? I thought that there would be a strong connection to people’s modern lives and this musical.

Our version is a unique fusion of musical, straight and physical theatres. As a director trained in these three elemental types of theatre, I brought in skills and techniques from each. My designer Hiroko, who is also Japanese, and I, designed the production inspired by the minimalism of our traditional theatre in Japan. The stage is almost empty and a single rope is used to signify many aspects of the bridges and bonds between people and the agony and frustration of being trapped. In my recent productions I intentionally cross the boundaries between cultures and genres, and I freely cross these borders in our production of “From Up Here”.

Tina: “From Up Here” is a beautiful story about strangers meeting on a bridge. It’s a pretty simple concept but the relationships between the characters are very complex and interesting, The most unique thing about our show is the way that Yo (our director) has chosen to represent both the bridge and the relationships between the characters with one loooooong rope. We make some beautiful scenes with this rope and this use of physical theatre brings the musical to a deeper level (which is quite rare for a musical! There are no jazz hands or spirit fingers in this show...)

What do you hope the audience will take away from the show?

Yojiro: Even though I have heard many people say that musical and physical theatre, and oriental and western aesthetics can never be harmonized. Because of my international theatre experiences and background my perspective is quite different and I can report quite confidently that of course there can be harmony and it is a wonderful collaboration that results in something new and interesting. Audiences, whether keen on the academics of theatre, or just out to see a good play, they will find something here that is exciting, different and ultimately moving.

Tina: I’d love for them to see that physical theatre and musical theatre can work hand in hand and don’t have to be exclusive art forms. When I think of physical theatre I automatically assume that the show will be abstract and hard to follow, but this production (I think!) shows that physical theatre just simply adds a deeper level to the performance.

What does the London theatre scene mean to you? Do you think it needs to change, and if so in what ways?

Yojiro: I love the vitality of the theatre culture in London. It always tries to preserve its traditional style but at the same time open to outside styles and new ideas coming in from outside of it. When I came to this city for the first time, I was so amazed by the diversity of productions. There are contemporary abstract productions from continental Europe, the entertainment style from America, and even traditional oriental theatre. I feel the culture in this city attempts to evolve by both protecting its tradition and by exposure to other cultural trends. It is a paradox that is quite amazing. What I am trying to do, really, makes perfect sense for London.

Tina: I adore the London theatre scene. Being from Australia, where there is not as much focus on theatre and nowhere near as many fringe festivals and fringe productions, I just love that in London “anything goes” and people are willing to watch and try new things in theatre all the time. I have seen so much in London that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see in Perth (the city I’m from) – things like the site specific show “The Drowned Man” and the recent dark version of “Urinetown” at the St James. With the sport culture and amazing weather in Australia, people don’t really have much time for theatre.

Do you enjoy working together? What do you think you provide each other with, creatively?

Yojiro: It is really interesting to work with actors or creatives from many different countries. Each person a unique sense of professionalism, a style, and a perspective, and we affect each other in surprising ways by our collaboration. I believe the process added depth to the show, particularly as an important theme of the musical is the bond that connects us.

Tina: Well, speaking for myself, I think we do enjoy working together! I’m a dream to work with! (just kidding) no it has been a fabulous experience, Yo started the whole process with a collaborative discussion about each individual character and it was really nice to feel like you are building a work from the ground up!

What challenges have you faced bringing ‘From Up Here’ to the stage? How have you overcome these?

Yojiro: In terms of producing it, as a foreigner, it was quite tough even just to put a show on. Finding actors, hiring creatives, raising the funds, etc… I had to find a way to do it step-by-step. In spite of these challenges, I have been quite lucky to find a good company to work with, and this helps a lot. As a director, creating a universe on stage symbolized by just a strand of rope was quite challenging. It is very complicated and difficult for actors to get with it. However, it is amazingly convincing that this one object, used to great effect by the actors, conveys a resonant message to the audience. Now I feel that the rope is the sixth performer on the stage.

Tina: Remembering the blocking was a nightmare!!! Do you have any idea how easy it is to tangle a rope that is four times the length of the stage? And then you’ve ruined the show! Once the blocking was set it was just repetition, repletion, repletion to try and remember one glorious tableau of the Brooklyn Bridge to the next.

Who do you find inspirational?

Yojiro: I have met many wonderful creators who have deeply inspired me and it’s quite difficult to narrow the field.

However, a John Tiffany, the director of ONCE, The Musical, has made a deep impression. I observed the rehearsals as part of the fellowship at New York Theatre Workshop. I have watched many of his productions since I got to know him, and I have learned much from him. His personal happiness is impressive, and the world he creates on stage is sensitive, fragile and beautiful. The more I see his work the more curious I am about the depth of his mind. Melly Still, the director whom I met in the National Theatre Studio is a wonderful person as well as a talented director. She is very calm and very intelligent and at the same time playful and open to new ideas. It looked as if she merely left everything to the actors own explorations. However, I could see she has a very strong intention lying underneath and she was perfectly in control of what is going on.. Much of how I run the rehearsal and communicate with actors I learned from Melly.

Tina: Ahh I am a musical theatre gal, I just adore performers like Sutton Foster and Idina Menzel, and getting to see them both perform live was a dream for me. Incredible professionals.

What are your plans for the future?

Yojiro: I always wanted to work internationally between Japan, UK, and US. I have been making much effort towards this goal. Now I am finally sorting out my way in achieving this goal. I would love to make London my home base for moving freely between these three countries.

Tina: Well I would love to say I’ll be here in London working my way up but unfortunately my visa runs out next year. So it’s back to Australia for me and I’ll be trying to crack it there.

Show dates and info:

Venue: Camden People's Theatre 58-60 Hampstead Road, London, NW1 2PY

Date & Time: 30 July - 3 August 9pm Enquiries: 02074 194 841

Venue: The Poor School 242 Pentonville Road, King's Cross, London, N1 9JY

Date & Time: 19 - 23 August 7.30pm Enquiries: 02078 376 030

Ticket: £12/11(Concession), Can be booked via www.camdenfringe.com or www.theatrelapis.org

Website: http://theatrelapis.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheatreLapis Twitter: @TheatreLapis @FrUpHe

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