Interview: Saki Kawamura, from Roundabout Directors Group, Shining in New York

"I want to be involved in the process of bringing American musicals to Japan."

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Interview: Saki Kawamura, from Roundabout Directors Group, Shining in New York
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Saki Kawamura : NYC-based theatre/film director originally from Japan. She has an MFA Directing from Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University. Saki is currently a member of Roundabout Directors Group and the Associate Artistic Director of RenGyoSoh, an award-winning butoh theatre company in NYC. Recent directing credit includes: “ICEBERG” (RenGyoSoh), “Everest” (Chain Theatre), “The Giving Tree” (Unfix NYC). Associate/Assistant credit includes: “The Cher Show” (National Tour), “Murder on the Orient Express” and “A Jolly Holiday: Celebrating Disney's Broadway Hits” (Paper Mill Playhouse), “JOY: A NEW MUSICAL” (George Street Playhouse) and “Mystic Pizza” (Ogunquit Playhouse).

So what brought you to the United States?

I was going through the typical process in Japan, attending university and job hunting. During that time, I began to question if I would be able to pursue what I truly wanted once I started working at a company. This led to a growing desire to study directing for theatre, and as I progressed through the job hunting process, this inclination became stronger. When I considered making a career change, I found that there were no graduate programs in Japan that offered an MFA in directing. Eventually, I chose the States. as my destination.

Did you choose your school based on the major you were aiming for?

Yes, I narrowed it down to schools where I could obtain an MFA in directing. Although such schools exist in countryside of America, I decided to focus on New York City, a larger urban area, as I thought it would be more beneficial if I could only stay for three years. Among those, the graduate school I attended offered a curriculum where I could also study acting. I thought there was significance in pursuing that, so ultimately, I chose it based on the curriculum.

Interview: Saki Kawamura, from Roundabout Directors Group, Shining in New York

What were the challenges you faced in switching to an artist visa right after graduating from graduate school, and how you overcame them?

I was aware, but when I entered graduate school, I was greatly shocked by the differences in skills and experience among my peers. Initially, my goal was to get one step closer to other students in graduate school, so I actively volunteered and secured various jobs.

Since it's challenging to secure directing roles, I started by gaining various experiences as an actor during weekends. I gradually connected step by step from what was in front of me. During this time, I happened to meet a director I'm currently working with, which has led to my present situation.

Did you choose to be an actor to meet various people?

When studying to approach actors as a director, I took acting classes to learn how to explain things to actors. When the pandemic hit and actors were transitioning to the film industry, the only way to get on set was to apply as an actor. So, in a way, working as an actor turned out to be beneficial.

Do you plan to continue renewing your visa to work in the U.S.?

Yes, I plan to renew it and am also considering applying for an Artist Green Card.

Did you c of lawyers?

Yes, around the second half of my first year in graduate school, I thought, "If I'm going to do this, I might as well try to get an artist visa." I worked on gathering the necessary documents and securing relevant jobs. I spent about 2-3 years accumulating documents, taking jobs for that purpose, and constantly thinking about what I could do for that goal. However, when it came time to actually apply, I was working and didn't have much time, so having a lawyer was a good decision.

Interview: Saki Kawamura, from Roundabout Directors Group, Shining in New York

Could you share about your recent activities? What kind of work are you doing with Roundabout Theatre?

Roundabout Theatre is the largest non-profit organization in the United States. I am a member of one of its artist residency programs, the Directors Group, where ten individuals are chosen each year. We gather once a month to share our activities, invite guests to discuss careers and the industry.

While job titles and responsibilities may differ between Japan and the States, how do you feel about that?

I'm not familiar with the industry in Japan, so there may not be differences, but I often hear that the approach is different. In the States, every member involved in production is considered part of the production team, and they feel welcomed and belonged even when working as an assistant or associate.

Are you currently solely working as a director at Roundabout Theatre?

It's part of the fellowship, so I'm still working as a freelancer.

Interview: Saki Kawamura, from Roundabout Directors Group, Shining in New York

What other activities are you involved in?

Currently, I have been working as an associate/assistant job for national tour productions, and I'm directing a musical called "Alice by Heart" in New York. Following that, I will be joining a production, of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Additionally, I'm involved in directing new musicals and solo performances.

What are your future goals?

Just living in New York, continuing to be in the industry, and persevering in daily life can be challenging, and I feel that every day. So, first and foremost, I want to work hard in that aspect. As for the next 2-3 years, I want to be involved in the process of bringing American musicals to Japan. I'm very excited about that and it's something I really want to do.

On the flip side, are you not interested in productions from Japan coming to the U.S.?

I'm definitely interested, but opportunities are rare. I still have the dream of becoming bridge between these two countries, so I would love to do it.

Do you have a message for those who, like you, dream of being an artist and working internationally?

In aiming towards your goals, there are many things you don't know or understand, just like when I was in Japan. That's why I believe it's incredibly important to simply come and experience it firsthand. Trying it out, feeling it for yourself, and seeing what resonates with you can be really beneficial. So, for those who are hesitant or afraid to take that first step, I recommend giving it a try.

Photo Credit :[@LaurenSowa]