A guest post for a continuing Addison Recorder series highlighting Chicago storefront theatre by Leigh Yenrick. Leigh is an actress who has worked in Toledo and the Twin Cities, and who currently resides in Chicago.
Tonight, we are highlighting the new kid on the block, Mozawa, opening their inaugural show Fallen at the Collaboraction Theater. I had the pleasure to go behind the scenes to get a sneak peak into the production, and to sit down with the Artistic Director Matthew Mozawa.
First, a little background on this production, an interdisciplinary theater adaptation based on the short story “In A Grove” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and the film “Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa. Adapted and directed by Mozawa’s Artistic Director Matthew Ozawa, this world premiere hybrid theater event features original score and live performance by Koto performer Yumi Kurosawa and Electronic Sound Artist Mike Vernusky.
MM: Mozawa bridges barriers between differing artistic forms and cultures in the hopes of opening our eyes to how we perceive our world. We explore this by creating theatrical art through a hybridity and collaborative fusion.
FALLEN is the perfect mixing of all aspects of our mission. My own style of directing is a mix of cultures (being half Japanese-half Caucasian and having lived in Singapore for 5 years). I am drawn to pieces where I can melt cultures together and also explore traditions in conjunction with contemporary society is new ways. I also have a degree in music but work professionally in theater and opera, so I wanted to adapt a work that would allow for music and theater to fuse in a very operatic way. My world has always been international and multi-disciplinary, and this company is a reflection of that world.
Akutagawa’s “In A Grove,” one of the original source materials, is a piece I have been drawn to for years because it is about the audience’s perception. It takes a single event and tells it seven times. In each re-telling, it takes the story and main events, and turns them so you see it from different angles. I was interested in taking this piece, and adapting it for a Western audience while still retaining some of the original Eastern philosophies and feel. Then I took Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” which is an adaptation of Akutagawa’s story, and fused elements of cinematic storytelling to our adaptation.
In adapting our source materials, I focused first on the music, which is a hybrid between a traditional Japanese Koto performer / composer and a modern Electronic Sound Artist / Composer. They created their composition collaboratively via Skype, and this kind of fusion has never been attempted in conjunction with a theater medium. As a result, this work is a mix of classical music (as the music is all through-composed), opera, theater, and dance, and yet it is none of these specific genres. I hope is never to point out the differences between the cultures and mediums, but fuse them so that they feel like they were always meant to exist in the same ‘world’ together.
As a result, FALLEN fuses and bridges cultures and mediums while challenging our notions of perception. A perfect start to the company’s life!
LY: In your mission statement you speak to wanting to “challenge your audiences in the terms of their perception on themselves and the world in which they live in”. What about this piece incorporates that?
MM:In the past few years, I feel that I have an increasing number of friends who view anything written on the internet or Facebook as truth. I’ve come to learn that what is placed online is carefully crafted by the creator. Facebook is a great example. We all assume we know our ‘friends’ intimately by what they post, when in reality, what they post is tailored by what they want you to see. In reality, the ‘masked’ version of themselves is not the full extent of their identity. As a result, the electronic medium is not full truth, only a version of someone’s truth.
Through this piece, I wanted to challenge the notion of how we ‘see’ and ‘perceive’ things. At what point do we trust information blindly, and how do we come to notice that there are many version and truths to a single piece of knowledge or event?
LY: I noticed that you used female actresses to play some of the more dominate roles or roles that are stereotypically played by men in your production. Was that intentional or were they just right for the part/?
MM:Why not challenge people’s perception of stereotypical characters. There are female police officers (in a very male environment), and these women were indeed so right for the part. They bring humanity, edge and softness to a very aggressive show!
LY:Why bring it to Chicago?
MM:As far as Chicago, I feel Chicago is very tribal. We are a segregated city both artistically and culturally. Because I’ve never liked separation, in particular with my own identity as an Asian American gay man, I felt Chicago needed to begin to allow for the barriers to be broken. Mozawa is the start of creating this bridge, and we hope to go even further in bringing so many different groups of people together.
LY: This series is called Unscripted Moments, so I always like to ask what is your favorite moment in the show and what about that moment to do you most connect to?
MM:I love Lady M’s dance in Portrait 6. Inspired by Kabuki and dream ballets, I wanted to bring in something that lifted above the realm of text and music, and was a really testament to the human will to survive. I so connect to it, both as a Japanese gay man (who loves to dance), but also because sometimes processing difficult events can only happen alone, and without words.
This production of Fallen opens this weekend. Wanted to give a special thank you to Matthew Mozawa and Jodi Gage for taking time out to answer the questions and also to Kaitlyn Majoy. Please go out and support local Chicago theater and find your favorite unscripted moment.
Ticket and location information: at Collaboraction Theater, 1579 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622. Tickets for Fallen are available online at www.artful.ly/mozawa, or at the box office prior to each performance. The press opening is Friday, October 31st.