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Posts Tagged Rick Shiomi

Taiko Tuesday: A Gift from the Heart

Experience the energy of Ensō Daiko
(Photo by Jeff Sandeen)

On Tuesday, May 22, at 7 pm, Ensō Daiko performs a free concert on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage as part of TaikoArts Midwest’s Taiko Tuesdays series. Come see Minnesota’s premier taiko ensemble in an energetic performance of music, dance, culture and pure athleticism!

While taiko often includes a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments, the term itself simply means drum in Japanese. Outside of Japan, taiko commonly refers to the style of ensemble drumming called kumi-daiko, with its emphasis on the art form as performance. There are so many ways to play a drum and to choreograph a routine–something you see firsthand whenever Ensō Daiko performs.

Jennifer Weir beats the drum!
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

Ensō Daiko is led by Jennifer Weir, who is also Executive Director of TaikoArts Midwest. She instantly fell in love with taiko over two decades ago when first introduced to it by Rick Shiomi, the founder of Mu Daiko, and readily became one of its original members. In 2017, Mu Daiko was renamed Ensō Daiko, with Jennifer newly at its helm.

Ensō is a Japanese word meaning circle, a symbol that is simultaneously simple yet packed with deep meanings: togetherness, strength, elegance, enlightenment, the moment when the mind is free to let the body create, the acceptance of imperfection as perfect (wabi sabi) and the void (mu). Ensō reflects taiko itself–an art form that is at once accessible for its simplicity but conveys those similar rich concepts.

An enso by brush painter and teacher Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio
({Photo by Bob Schmitt)

Ensō Daiko’s performance at Park Square Theatre will be the ninth concert in the Taiko Tuesdays series. According to Jennifer, Taiko Tuesdays were purposely designed to break down barriers that may prevent broad participation. With that in mind, they decided to perform 12 rather than just one concert and to do so in a variety of locations, all at no cost to attendees.

“We also wanted to show the range and depth of the art,” said Jennifer, “so each concert is different for you to be able to see various styles and aesthetics.”

Enso Daiko in performance
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

This effort is often supported by inviting guest artists to join them, which has brought the additional benefit of infusing the group with “super development” through the opportunity to learn from a much greater number of collaborating artists per year. Certainly, part of Ensō Daiko’s dynamism comes from its openness to different influences and creative exploration, even as it draws from tradition.

For those who would like a double dose of taiko, also consider attending TaikoArts Midwest’s open house on April 29 from 2-5 pm at their new studio space in St. Paul. You’ll be able to watch and meet performers, participate in drumming activities and enjoy refreshments.

Music is considered a universal language. By crossing the ocean, taiko follows in the broader tradition of music to bring people together. Don’t miss the chance to personally experience “the heartbeat of Japan” and engage with the power or life force of this ephemeral art form. It will blow your mind!

 

Ensō Daiko in an ensō workshop with artist Bob Schmitt

 

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Tickets for Ensō Daiko’s performance here

Find out about other “must see” Guest Events at Park Square Theatre here:

Including: Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Premiere of Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings – June 10, 4 pm – Andy Boss Stage (featuring Cerulean Fire, conductor Nobuyoshi Yasuda and Sogetsu Ikebana)

 

 

What’s That Got To Do With Jamil Jude?

Jamil Jude
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Last month, I attended a friend’s graduation at the University of Minnesota. Only two years before, I’d read her application essay explaining her motivation to pursue a Master’s in Public Affairs, despite her already heavy load of a full-time job and parenting as well as the economic and time sacrifices for the family. What drove her all boiled down to a personal value instilled in her by her father: “Always leave it better.”

Today I was involved in a brief discussion about the concept of transformational leadership with the sisters and consociates of the Order of St. Joseph of the Carondelet in St. Paul. Such leaders are change makers; they inspire, motivate and empower followers toward making lasting change through a common vision, and they do so by changing expectations, perceptions and motivations. Unlike traditional transactional leaders who are more concerned with processes and foster compliance through rewards and punishment, transformational leaders challenge the status quo to build a personally and collectively meaningful and productive environment for the common good. The transactional style is less apt to make lasting change, though effective in getting specific projects or tasks done and in dealing with crisis and emergencies

Recently I saw Full Circle Theater Company’s 365 Days/plays by Suzan-Lori Parks: A 2017 Remix. This is a company that I’ve been following since it fell under my radar last year when I saw its inaugural production, Theater: A Sacred Passage. It is a forward-looking multiracial, multicultural and multigenerational company that “artfully addresses issues of human nature and social justice for 21st century audiences.” Led by five highly experienced theatre professionals (Rick Shiomi, co-founder and former artistic director of Mu Performing Arts; Martha B. Johnson, co-founder of Mu Performing Arts; James A. Williams, co-founder of Penumbra Theatre; Lara Trujillo, seasoned vocalist, actor and music educator; and Stephanie Lein Walseth, longtime theatre scholar, artist, educator and administrator), this company does the hard work of “walking the talk” in its commitment to intentional diversity that will impact the Twin Cities theatre community of artists and audience well into the future.

What do any of these seemingly random reflections have to do with Jamil Jude, Park Square Theatre’s Artistic Programming Associate since December 2015? Well, everything.

Find out more in an upcoming post about Jamil!

Going Full Circle and Beyond

The circle is a universal symbol of unity, wholeness, inclusivity and cyclical movement. During both the first rehearsal and opening night of Flower Drum Song at Park Square Theatre, members of Mu Performing Arts reflected on how Mu itself has come full circle on its 25th anniversary. Its once newest core performers, such as Randy Reyes, Sherwin Resurreccion, Katie Bradley and Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, are now the elders as another generation of artists stream through. In fact, when Mu first staged Flower Drum Song about eight years ago, Sherwin had played the young man Ta and Randy his father, Wang. And just four years ago, Randy Reyes inherited the Artistic Director role from co-founder Rick Shiomi, who has since co-found a new company called Full Circle Theater.

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Recently I asked Rick Shiomi to go back down memory lane to Mu’s beginnings, then return us to where it is now and, in conjunction, where he is now. My first surprise on this journey was that then University of Minnesota graduate student Dong-il Lee, not Rick, had initiated the founding of Theater Mu (the organization’s original name).

“I actually came here from Canada for personal reasons,” Rick admitted, “and I didn’t think it was even possible to do. I only knew one or two Asian Americans acting in the Twin Cities. I thought it would be too monumental a task.” Yet Rick agreed to go along for the ride.

However, Dong-il graduated within a year and moved to the East coast for a teaching position and, later, back to South Korea. Rick suddenly found himself heading Mu as interim, and ultimately permanent, Artistic Director.  But why didn’t he just stop then and go on with his life?

“By now, I saw that my future would be in the Twin Cities,” Rick said. “I had already committed my life to Asian American theater, and there was nothing here. I could certainly have worked with another theater, like Mixed Blood, that would do maybe one Asian American play in five years. I preferred to put in the hard work to develop Mu instead.”

The work was, indeed, hard. Rick compared the first five to ten years to “digging trenches to lay a foundation.” People came and went as Mu gradually built its first major wave of core performers to take it to the next level. In its 2003/4 season, Mu reached a new high with an all-Asian American casting of the Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures at Park Square Theatre, followed in 2005/6 with its landmark production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those were exciting times for Mu.

In Rick’s opinion, “Mu has completed one cycle and is now starting on another, almost like a spiral. There is a certain circular sensation, especially for the actors who have grown up and now play the elders, but it’s a different place and time and their roles have changed.”

Rick, too, has let go of a cycle to begin a new one. He and four other longtime stalwarts of the Twin Cities theater community–Martha B. Johnson, James A. Williams, Lara Trujillo and Stephanie Lein Walseth–founded Full Circle Theater in 2013. By doing so, they are going full circle in the sense of experiencing and implementing some of the same growth challenges and strategies faced by any startup, such as Mu in its younger days. However, this time around, they have all been “around the block” with collective knowledge to their advantage as well as a focus beyond Asian American theater. Listed as one of Full Circle’s core values is theater that “is multiracial and multicultural in its representation of life.”

Full Circle’s upcoming production, 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks: A 2017 Remix, will run at the Penumbra Theatre from May 26 to June 11. It will feature 46 of a collection of 365 plays written by Parks in 2002 (one play per day). In its 2007 premiere, 365 Days/365 Plays was lauded as “a national phenomenon….crossing ethnic, racial and economic boundaries.” Flower Drum Song patrons can take advantage of Full Circle’s special offer of $10 tickets by inputting the code FDS at brownpapertickets.com.

With regard to Flower Drum Song, Rick has strong memories of the powerful scene, in Mu’s earlier staging at the Ordway, between Ta and Linda Low–then played by Sherwin Resurreccion and Laurine Price, respectively–when she leaves to make it big in Hollywood. He also recalls the emotional father-son reconciliation dance between Randy and Sherwin as Wang and Ta. Another high point came when Sara Ochs, as Mei-Li, so movingly sang “Love, Look Away.”

“What were you feeling and thinking,” I asked, “as you watched Flower Drum Song to commemorate Mu’s 25th anniversary?”

“What a great evolution/revolution all of us have created!” Rick replied. “I felt great pride in the work of our veterans Sherwin and Katie, leading the cast, and Randy leading the company. And excited by the new talent coming!”

 

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night for Flower Drum Song (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

Flower Drum Song – Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until February 19

 

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