With our upcoming show “Road to Kumano” premiering in just a few weeks, I thought I would take a look back at our on-going partnership with East West Players, the nation’s pre-eminent Asian American theatre company.
I first got involved with EWP 18 years ago in 1998, right after I graduated from USC and was working full-time for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC). EWP was making their historic move from their small black box 99-seat theatre space to their current 240-seat theatre in Little Tokyo. The opening production was “Pacific Overtures,” and featured an amazing all-star cast of actors, singers, and dancers. It was a two-month performance run and watching the performers shine every night was inspiring. Not only were they amazingly talented, they also had so much fun with each other--it was really one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done.
That same year, EWP produced a holiday show directed by Deb Nishimura, and there was a short taiko drumming/dance number that I was asked to develop with the cast. In 1999, I filled in for David Cheung for a few performances of “Carry the Tiger to the Mountain,” featuring Beulah Quo and Reggie Lee.
In 2005, we were asked to return to EWP to provide a musical soundscape for “Equus,” featuring the inimitable George Takei. This was a bigger creative challenge for us—trying to create the right music and sounds to augment and support the actors onstage and to advance the story.
In 2012, we were honored to receive the Visionary Award from EWP at their annual gala dinner due to our representation of Asian American artistry in mainstream shows such as The Voice, The X-Factor, the 2011 Grammy Awards, the 2009 Academy Awards, and other various music videos and appearances. This still stands as one of the few times our group has actually gotten dressed up (see below).
Finally, that brings us to 2016 and our co-presentation with East West Players on “Road to Kumano.” We are honored to be a part of EWP’s 51st Anniversary season and to join such a long and storied list of productions. As the first show at EWP to feature taiko drumming as its central focus, we are excited to show the musical and emotional range of our instrument. It will truly be unlike any show we have done before. Not only that, but we get to share the stage with one of the foremost taiko artists in the world, Chieko Kojima of KODO. If you haven’t seen her perform live, then you haven’t seen how amazing taiko can be. Her blend of power and grace is unparalleled.
So, there you have it. Almost twenty years of collaboration between TAIKOPROJECT and East West Players, culminating in “Road to Kumano” next month. My experiences performing for EWP’s productions over the years have helped shape our direction as a taiko ensemble—not just in creating music, but in finding visually creative ways to stage shows and to use story and narrative to heighten emotive impact. Thank you to Tim Dang, Snehal Desai, and East West Players for this opportunity, and we hope to see you all at the show!
Road to Kumano runs Sept. 15-25, 2016 at the David Henry Hwang Theatre at East West Players. Tickets and info: http://www.eastwestplayers.org/on-the-stage/road-to-kumano/