Calgary interdisciplinary artist Mark Kunji Ikeda discovered his roots as a Japanese-Canadian one day in a high school social studies class.
“There was a tiny blurb in our Grade 10 social studies textbook about the internment camps for Japanese during World War Two.
“My friends asked me if I knew about this and was it really true,” says Ikeda, who adds, “I honestly considered myself as white as the rest of my classmates. I had no idea this had ever happened so I was as much in the dark as they were.”
That night, Ikeda showed his father the blurb in his textbook and asked him what he knew about this event.
“My father is fairly stoic. He said he knew all about it and, as unfortunate as this tragic decision was, there was a silver lining for our family. If it hadn’t been for the internment camps, he wouldn’t be here and neither would I.”
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Ikeda’s grandparents had decided not to have any more children. They were sent to different camps and when they were finally reunited, they were so happy they decided to have another child.
In 2013, Ikeda decided to try to tell his grandparents’ story for the Edmonton Fringe Festival.
“It was a 20-minute version of what I have eventually created. It was just me, a lectern and my script which I read. I received such a positive response I knew I needed to expand the piece and to make it as visual as possible.”
The following summer, Ikeda premiered a 60-minute version of Sansei: The Storyteller at the Calgary Fringe Festival to rave reviews and sold-out houses. He’s been working on the show ever since, adding sections and revising some of the original. The High Performance Rodeo show, which is a co-production between Lunchbox Theatre and One Yellow Rabbit, will be a 55-minute version.
Ikeda has toured Sansei as far east as Ottawa and west to Nanaimo, visiting eight communities in British Columbia and even performing in towns where internment camps had been located.
“What I’ve learned is that when you touch someone emotionally with your show, they want to physically touch you back. I’ve never done a performance where people haven’t come up to talk to me afterwards and want to shake my hand or hug me.”
He says the point he really wants to make with Sansei is “that there are certain governments (which) are doing …read more