The BYU-Hawaii Music and Theatre Department presented the children’s play “The Honorable Urashima Taro” on Nov. 9, the first time the Japanese culture has been presented in a BYUH theatre production, according to the director and cast members.
Director Kristl Densley, assistant professor of theater, explained in her director’s note that she had a two-fold mission with the production: to produce a play for children and families, and to include members of the BYUH student body that hadn’t had their culture represented on the university’s stage before.
“Urashima Taro is a well-known story in Japan,” said Densley. “Children grow up learning the story of Urashima Taro. In choosing this story, it has provided us with a wonderful opportunity for our students to perform for the families and children in our community. The Japanese students in our production shared their culture and language with us as we adapted this beloved story for our BYUH stage.”
The majority of the cast has Japanese ancestry, said Densley. Rachel Haruka Van Vleet, a freshman from California studying communications who stars as the Princess, said, “We tried to make it as authentic as possible, and some of our lines were translated into Japanese to add more authenticity too, which was a lot of fun.”
Van Vleet said she’s half-Japanese and grew up in a mixed culture home. “I knew a lot to begin with, but I also learned a lot with this play being with Japanese students.”
Densley said, “It has been wonderful watching them share their experiences. They have helped some students discover their heritage that they have little knowledge of and kept me in line as I attempted to make choices that ‘wouldn’t happen in Japan.’ What a delightful way to learn.”
Densley said she drew inspiration from Japanese theatrical movement practitioner Tadshi Suzuki. The cast spent hours using Japanese movement styles to create the world of the play.
“He crafted a series of walks and marches that require full physical commitment,” Densley said. “While training in this style, you are able to find freedom within the rigidity of the movement form. We used elements of this training as inspiration during rehearsal, utilizing many of them in the final product. You will notice many things pulled from the martial art Karate.”
Audience member Ping Liu, a senior from China studying TESOL, said she appreciated the culture represented in the production and was able to draw connections to the gospel. “In China and Japan, the music is very similar and so I liked how the music in the play was very Asian,” Liu said. “I liked it a lot. I felt like they were really able to bring the audience into the culture to make them feel like they’re in Japan.
“It also makes me think about the gospel and our purpose here on earth. The end is a very meaningful part for us. It’s the highlight.”
“The Honorable Urashima Taro” is a one-act play by Cole A. Jennings based on the Japanese folk tale of the same name, according to ThoutCo. The story follows the titular character is recruited by an ancient sea turtle to save an underwater kingdom from a giant scorpion.
The play will be performed Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in the McKay Auditorium. The cast has already performed the production twice: once at Laie Elementary School on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in the early morning and for the opening night on Thursday, Nov. 9.