Founding Member and Artistic Director of Yellow Earth Kumiko Mendl talks about Ashita No Kaze (Winds of Change) Vol 2 Festival

 Kumiko MendlAshita No Kaze (Winds of Change) Vol 2 Japanese Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Festival is a month long initiative celebrating Japan’s brightest playwriting talent. A collaboration between Yellow Earth, StoneCrabs and OneTwoWorks, the festival’s ethos to start up conversations with both the playwright and translator gives the festival a uniqueness. We talk to Yellow Earth Co-Founder and Artistic Director Kumiko Mendl about this year’s festival!

Ashita No Kaze (Winds of Change) Vol 2 is a month long festival platforming plays from some of Japan’s celebrated contemporary playwrights. What can audiences expect to see from this year’s festival?

Part of the aim of this year’s festival is to take a closer look at the English translations before presenting the plays as a script in hand performance at the end of the week. In the past we have found that translations can pose all sorts of issues so this year we have been able to bring the writer and the translator over and sit them in a room with the directer and a UK assistant and begin to unpick some of this prior to the actors joining. I think audiences coming to our festival can expect to see a real range of  writing and styles plus subject matter as well as good translated pieces! None of the plays are afraid of tackling some of the current social and political issues facing today’s Japan, often in ways that I think might surprise British audiences.

The festival is a collaboration between StoneCrabs Theatre Company and OneTwoWorks. How have you all worked together to organise the initiative?

This is the second Winds of Change/Ashita No Kaze Festival and follows on from a very successful partnership we made with StoneCrabs and Japanese producer Etsuko Shirasaka two years ago. This year  OneTwo Works a theatre company based in Japan has joined us and together we have been supported by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Great Britain Sasakawa FoundationRegent’s University together with The Japan FoundationSOAS and Japan House. As mentioned we have been able to bring 4 playwrights over as well as 4 translators and we were able to commission 2 new translations.

How are playwrights selected?

We have a small panel made up from the companies that read a selection of plays – the majority of which are sent to us by the Japan Playwright’s Association, one of the few organisations translating contemporary Japanese plays into English. We try to bring established writers as well as younger up and coming ones and those new to the UK of which I am pleased to say we have two; Akihito Nakatsuru and Yudai Kamisato. This year we were also able to create to two new translations of existing Japanese plays and for that we relied on our producing partners in Japan to select.

As well as showcasing work, the festival will also include a ‘Meet the Writer’ event and ‘Lost in Translation’ seminar. What can audiences expect at both?

As the writer and translator are being brought to the UK specially for this festival we wanted to give a special opportunity for audiences to find out more about the writers past as well as current work and where they see themselves within the contemporary Japanese theatre scene. It’s also an opportunity for the public to probe and understand more about the translation process.

On the 22nd we are holding a special event ‘Lost in Translation’ seminar that puts a spotlight on translation with a practical workshop led by Dr Nozomi Abe, translator of ‘On Air’ who specialises in translating plays from Japanese as well as a discussion with a group of translators who work in a variety of languages, looking at some of the challenges facing theatre translators today.

As a founding member of Yellow Earth, the company have gone on to support the careers of British East Asian performers and contribute plays to the UK theatre scene. From 1995 to present, do you feel that there is an awareness of East Asian theatre makers, practitioners and playwrights within the UK?

Over the years it’s been a real pleasure to see the growing community of BEA artists, many of whom have either worked with us or attended one of our Academies. It feels like now is the best it’s ever been to be a BEA actor and I certainly like to think that things are improving, whether it will remain like this is another thing but there is been a steadily increasing awareness amongst the theatre industry of BEA actors since the high profile case of the casting controversy at the RSC back in 2012 of The Orphan of Zhao and the more recent Print Room Protest in Nov 2017. Although not pleasant to have to confront, those incidents have served to make our voices heard and our presence known but we can’t be complacent. Yellow Earth will continue advocating and providing opportunities and work for BEA actors, writers and directors, theatre makers and practitioners and do our best to ensure audiences get to see and hear our stories all over the country.

Yellow Earth’s work ties both national and international artists together to allow for artistic collaboration – What project/s have been your favourite to work on and why?

One of my stand out favourites was The Last Days Of Limehouse, a play we commissioned writer Jeremy Tiang to write for us in 2013  after an enormous amount of research into the first so called Chinatown in London that was located in Limehouse and Pennyfields. It was a site specific production at the Old Limehouse Town Hall, we had a community chorus made up of our academy students, we were able to offer interactive workshops to schools, a family show at the weekend as well as the evening shows. There was a website created, an exhibition and an audio tour created by the actors for audience members to listen to as they walked around the area in a part of London that no longer held any traces of what was once there. It brought many people together including descendants of the first settlers in Limehouse, long since moved out by the Blitz and slum clearances and it was thrilling to be there every night reliving the story with the audience, creating a sense of community, art and belonging.

What advice would you give to aspiring theatre and festival makers?

Enjoy it! It’s a lot of organising and hard work behind the scenes but if you have the right partners in place that work can be shared and even enjoyable! Support each other, look after each other and keep your eye on the ball. Give yourself enough time to get the word out and curate creatively. It’s so important that we bring diverse stories to our stages and acknowledge every community and every individual in this way.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Ashita No Kaze (Winds of Change) Vol 2 Japanese Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Festival until Friday 28th September 2018. To find out more about the festival, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop