"Manzanar" Opens At UCLA Thursday
As the celebration of Asian / Pacific Islander month continues with shows, performance and lectures, on June 2, "Manzanar: An American Story," premieres in Los Angeles at UCLA's Royce Hall, part of UCLA Live!
The story is a collaboration of many different performance styles in a multi-media extravaganza.
A wide-range of talent has come together under Kent Nagano, the artistic director of the performance and the Los Angeles Opera's music director, who has found composers from around the world and a talented, award-winning playwright named Philip Kan Gotanda.
The composers of the music include Naomi Sekiya, from Japan, Jean-Pascal Beintus, from France, and David Benoit, a local jazz legend.
The show also includes a youth choir composed of local kids from around the L.A. area and kids involved with SMC's opera camp, headed by NikÃ© St. Claire. SMC's Chamber Choir will perform alongside them.
"The project for me was a very daunting one and an exciting one because of the collaborative nature at the time," said Gotanda.
To kick-off the show, on May 20, SMC's Asian American Pacific Islander Association with others brought two of the talented artists involved with the "Manzanar" project, Gotanda and Sekiya, along with the author of the bestselling novel, "Farewell to Manzanar," Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, to discuss the impact of the camps on society.
"After the camps I suppressed the memory often thinking it was nothing but a dream," said Houston about her time at Manzanar, which when remembered often brings tears.
"At the time I had 36 nieces and nephews, and seven had been born in Manzanar, and like Gary [her nephew] knew nothing of their birthplace," Houston said when discussing her motivation for first writing "Farewell to Manzanar," which she originally started as a family memoir.
Sekiya said that while living in Japan, she knew nothing of Manzanar, finding out later when she moved to the States. She felt, however, a connection with the story as a first generation Japanese-American herself.
"The more I understand about Manzanar the more personalized it gets because either way I am a first-generation Japanese-American. I came to the United States, I traveled to learn English, a new culture, new food and different people, so I really understand what Japanese people went through," said Sekiya. "When I was composing the music, I was imagining how hard that was 100 years ago because those people came to the States without knowing English or being able to prepare to adjust to American life. It must have been very hard because racism was accepted back then."
In the new production "Manzanar," Gotanda stressed how, "This is an American story about all of us and that it happened to this one group of people, whom I am personally connected with. But in the end it is for everybody and that there's a lesson in there that can be applied to right now."