A Conversation with Julie Tamiko Manning
by David Fujino
Montreal actor and playwright, Julie Tamiko Manning, is a graduate of Dawson College’s Dome Theatre (1998-1991) and was a member of the English acting company at the NAC (National Arts Centre) in the 2009/2010 and 2011/2012 seasons. Manning is also a member of the diverse theatre company, Metachroma, which recently concluded a September 19-30, 2012 run of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts Studio. In 2009, Mixie and the Halfbreeds, her first play, was performed by herself and the co-writer and actor, Adrienne Wong, at The Cultch in Vancouver, produced by Neworld Theatre. Ongoing projects are the TASHME Project: The Living Archives (with Matt Miwa) collection of memories “from people interned during World War II” that exists “between storytelling,
acting, and documentary theatre” — and a play in process, Omamori (working title), based on her Japanese Canadian family’s wartime experience. Manning is third generation British/Japanese Canadian. The following Q&A was conducted via email between Toronto and Montreal.
I’ve read that your family never told you about the Internment. How did you find out?
It’s not like they kept it a secret. It was more that it was just not talked about, which seems to be a common experience in JC families. This is one of the reasons that Matt and I decided to create The TASHME Project, so we could get some kind of dialogue happening between the nisei, sansei and yonsei — initially within our own families, but now it has grown to include friends, friends of family and complete strangers. When I was a pre-teen, I remember a story circulating around the family, about some sort of cabin that they lived in, and how it was so cold that icicles grew on the inside of the walls. At some point I realized that this story was connected to a much larger family history and I realized I must do whatever research I could by myself. I really started to learn about JC history when Rei Nakashima, an active member of the Montreal JCCC, hired me to catalogue interviews that had been done with Issei.
Are you an optimist?
It can be a challenge for me to be so consistently, but because my family has always held an optimistic outlook, at the core of my being, I have a hopeful spirit.
Can you briefly talk about the Metachroma troupe? When? and Why? did it start? … How is it going?
Metachroma Theatre addresses the under-representation of visible minority actors in Canadian theatre, challenging current perceptions by telling stories with a diverse cast in order to normalize the presence of these artists on stage. (See the links and websites at the end of this Q&A.)
In 2010, Montreal-based actors Tamara Brown, Lucinda Davis, Mike Payette, and Warona Setshwaelo came together to discuss the nature of hiring practices in Canadian theatre in relation to artists of colour. As performers who’ve acted for companies all over the province and the country, they came to the shocking realization that there is little to no opportunity for more than one or two actors of colour to share the stage at the same time. This knowledge raised the instigating question, “wherein lies the opportunity for many actors of colour to be allowed to perform in mainstream without the guise of adaptation?” They came to the conclusion that nothing could be done without us initiating the change. Metachroma was officially formed in the latter part of 2012 when additional members, Quincy Armorer, Glenda Braganza, Jamie Robinson and I joined the team.
[Our recent production of ] Richard III was very well received and got quite a bit of attention in the community and in the media. Now that we are wrapping that up, we are looking at the next piece we would like to do as well as how we can impact the community as far as casting practices go. We’d like to explore how else we can further the discussion of race in the theatre.
Is your immediate family artistic?
My brother Jason is a musician and a very talented cook. He is not trained in either, so I don’t understand how he can make sense of notes and flavours but somehow he just does. He complains that no one ever invites him for dinner, but I think that people feel their cooking is not up to his standards.
To rectify that, I am going to invite him over for a bowl of Sapporo Ichiban! I will even drop an egg in it!
Your first play, Mixie and the Halfbreeds, was co-written with Adrienne Wong. How did you meet Adrienne?
When I first went to Vancouver, I discovered a whole new world of Asian/Hapa/mixed race theatre artists, including Lisa Ravensbergen, who is of Cree descent. We would joke about having a punk band made up of halfbreeds and Hapas and call it Mixie & the Halfbreeds. All of a sudden, I realized how alone I had felt out here in Montreal, in my Hapa-ness. Soon after, I met Adrienne. We were both at a moment where we wanted to explore that cultural isolation and so after years of writing and talking, the theatre version of Mixie and the Halfbreeds was born.
Have you always written plays?
No. My background is stage acting. I’ve got over 20 years of that under my belt. About seven years ago one of my favourite playwrights, Marie Clements, encouraged me to “write about my blood.” I realized that I would have to write my own stories if I wanted to see my experience reflected on stage. I have a lot to learn but I feel more comfortable now about making mistakes. When I was younger, I was afraid to be wrong or mediocre. Now I know that I learn more from trying and failing than ‘never doing’ out of fear.
What music do you like to listen to?
Right now I’m listening to The Beatles but my taste in music can be fickle so I like to put my music on shuffle.
Which actor from the past would you like to meet?
Pat Morita. He was the first person of Japanese heritage that I saw on screen. He looked like my family and the people that I identified and was most comfortable with. It was very validating to see that on TV, where everyone else was white.
Are you studious?
I am more of a procrastinator than anything. Deadlines are crucial to me or I would never get anything done. I like to say that I am lazy but I actually work quite hard. I am, however, a bad manager of time. Being self-employed is a huge challenge for someone like me.
What acting projects are you working on these days?
Other than The TASHME Project that Matt and I are both creating and acting in, my next acting gig is Innocence Lost in February at The Centaur Theatre in Ottawa. I play Steven Truscott’s mom.
Are you a morning, or a night person?
A night person. I’m not sure how one prefers daytime over nighttime or vice versa, but ever since I was a kid, I never wanted to go to sleep. It’s great to have that inner timing when I work in the theatre at night, but not so great when I have to get to work in the morning.
Do you watch much tv, or movies, or listen to the radio?
I have not turned my television on in two years. However, I can get extremely addicted to watching serial television dramas on my computer at the end of the day.
How important is family to you?
Incredibly. They are my backbone. My happy places are usually wherever my family is involved, including my big extended family. I credit my Grandma Takeda with creating that envelope of love and support. Home is family. Family is home.
Here’s some links about Julie Tamiko Manning:
“Julie Tamiko Manning is spectacular as the Duke of Clarence and quite heart-breaking as the Duchess of York. Her transition from male to female character is the most successful in this cast.”
“Richard III addresses the under-representation of visible minority actors in Canadian theatre, challenging current perceptions by telling stories with a diverse cast in order to normalize the presence of the artists on stage.”
Richard III (Sept. 19 to 30, 2012)
Mixed in Canada | Theatre/Acting
“How come we never see minorities on the stage unless it’s a culturally specific show?”
Resume – Julie Tamiko Manning