Ten years after: Theatre Replacement
Getting by with a little help from their friends.
In 1981, British musical legends Kate Bush and David Bowie rented a secluded mansion in a remote part of England to work on an album together. Over the course of a month, the two lived and worked together in isolation. If any recordings were made, they have never seen the light of day. Neither musician has ever spoken publicly about what happened during the month they spent together or the work they created.
Over thirty years after the fact, Maiko Bae Yamamoto and James Long of Theatre Replacement locked themselves away together in a remote cabin in northern British Columbia with a keyboard, an electric guitar and a lot of gin, recreating that mythic collaboration.
The resulting show, Kate Bowie, has its world premiere during Asian Heritage Month, from May 28 – 31 at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. A co-production with Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby and in association with One Yellow Rabbit, the show is directed by Blake Brooker of the Calgary-based company.
A small company with lots of friends, Theatre Replacement puts great store in collaborations with other companies and artists and has developed a strong network of like-minded artists.
The 2014 seasons marks Theatre Replacement’s 10th year of creating ground-breaking theatre, with many acclaimed works under their belts.
Box Theatre, originally commissioned by the Powell Street Festival, is a collection of six one-person shows, each performed for an audience of one, with actor and audience sharing a small box worn on the actor’s shoulders.
Sexual Practices of the Japanese is a provocative peek into the world of common stereotypes surrounding Japanese culture. The trilogy of interweaving one-acts jumps from a crowded commuter train to one of Tokyo’s love hotels, along the way touching on office politics, work parties and baseball star Ichiro Suzuki.
These and other projects have cemented the company’s reputation for creating edgy works that push the boundaries of live theatre. Ten years on, Yamamoto and Long show no signs of slowing down.
With the company in rehearsals for Kate Bowie, Maiko Bae Yamamoto took the time to talk to The Bulletin about Theatre Replacment and the pleasures and challenges of running a theatre company.
Maiko Bae Yamamoto: in her own words
interview by John Endo Greenaway
Ten years – that’s a pretty nice milestone for a theatre company . . . did you have a game plan going into this, or are you just making it up as you go along?
I think when you first start a company you just want to make work, and your view of things is pretty close to the ground. You might have an idea of what’s coming in the next six months to a year, but for the most part it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants scenario. And then as you grow up as an organization, you start to get a higher view of things and planning becomes super important for the health of the company. So I would say that we’ve had that high view for quite some time now. We make a lot of plans. Planning takes up a good chunk of time, and making work always feels like a small slice of what we do. A really important slice, but a small one.
Your mandate is RECOGNIZE. MAGNIFY. REPRODUCE. What does that mean?
From the beginning we’ve had this methodological philosophy that we would spot something of interest — so like a story, or a concept, or a person or some found materials, and then we would find some way to blow it up, turn it over and flip it inside out in order to present a heightened or tweaked perspective of that material. Now, in some ways, I think it’s about complicating or troubling the material in order to glean the essence of what it is saying and then to maximize how we can speak to this through the performance.
There is a Japanese theme that pops up periodically in your work, both through the shows you produce and the collaborators you work with. Is this a conscious nod to your own heritage? Is it important to you?
This is a complicated question! So yes, it is very important for me to speak to my own experience and of course a big part of this is about my cultural and socio-political identity. But as much as I can say it has to do with my heritage, it’s also about growing up in the suburbs; about the films I watched and the books I read as a kid; about the food we ate. About my experiences. I think mainly I’m interested in examining identity on many levels, and how we become alienated in this world we live in. Any chance I get to speak to these things, I’ll take it.
You’ve worked with your dad, Minoru Yamamoto, on a number of shows – what does he think of your life-path? And what’s it like working together?
My parents have always been super supportive of my chosen profession, which I feel grateful for. I’ve never felt any pressure from them to be or do something else. They both have huge artistic streaks in them. My mother is a textile artist and my dad always played music, or built things. I’m pretty sure I became an artist because growing up they taught me and my sisters to deal with everything creatively.
I love working with my dad. It’s nice to flip the dynamic inside the relationship. I admire and look up to my dad. I have a huge amount of respect for him and how he’s chosen to live his life. He’s my dad. But when we’ve worked on a show together, suddenly I’m helping him inside that context, and that’s such a lovely experience to be on another level with him. A more balanced level. I feel like I know him better now, which makes me feel lucky because I think as children we are always trying to know or understand our parents in a way that I’m not sure is possible.
Let’s talk about your upcoming show, Kate Bowie . . . a month is a long time to spend cooped up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, no matter how much gin you have. While you and James Long run Theatre Replacement together, it’s a professional relationship and you both have partners. How was it spending such an extended period working together in such close quarters?
We’ve spent a lot of time in rooms together. We’ve worked together for almost 20 years. We are both lucky to have incredibly generous partners and families. The gin helps.
In your press release you describe Kate Bowie as “examining the nature of collaboration, the difficulties of artistic creation and ultimately, what it means to become someone else.” That pretty much sums up what it means to work in theatre—did you discover anything about yourself while working on this piece?|
I always find out a lot about myself when I’m in relationship with an audience. When I’m performing, I feel a little bit like I don’t recognize myself, which is disconcerting but makes you think about yourself in a deeply self-reflexive way. I don’t think a lot of people get this kind of experience — to see yourself in a different way. Of course, it’s a bit narcissistic, but it also opens you up to new perspectives. It changes you.
I should mention that the Kate Bush/David Bowie collaboration is actually a made-up part of the show. As far as we know, they never collaborated, but that’s the premise of the narrative.
Are you and James fans of Kate Bush and David Bowie?
What drew me to Kate and David was that both of them went through a period where they developed these amplified personas or characters. Kate was Cathy on the moor. She was known for her crazy costumes and dances. David was Ziggy Stardust. I was drawn to their theatricality, but also to the fact that they became these other people in order to present or frame their music.
I’ve always been a big fan of both artists. James loves Bowie and I think he’s become more of a Bush fan through this project.
What can audiences except when they come to this show?
Unlike more recent Theatre Replacement shows, they’re going to see a whole bunch of fiction. We’re really swinging back towards fiction and story in this one. I think it will be an entertaining and challenging work that will leave people feeling hopeful.
Now that you’ve reached this milestone, have you set a course for the future? What can we expect to see from Theatre Replacement?
Hmmm. If I look hard into my crystal ball I can see a turn towards work that embraces more theatricality, more made-up stuffs, more stories that my son would be into. Not the Hunger Games or anything like that, but a little bit of fantasy might do.