Oregon Children's Theatre Presents THE JOURNAL OF BEN UCHIDA: CITIZEN 13559
Oregon Children's Theatre (OCT), Oregon's largest non- profit professional theater for young audiences, will present The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, opening this February at the Winningstad Theatre. This play details-with anger, despair, sadness, and hope-a dark chapter in this country's history; it tells a story that is relevant, moving, and one that cannot be forgotten.
Adapted for the stage by influential Japanese-American playwright Naomi Iizuka and originally commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the show chronicles the experiences of 12-year-old Ben Uchida and his family after the issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt in 1942, which authorized the imprisonment and relocation of over 110,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II. This story, in many ways, has a timely significance to current events: perhaps even more so than when the show premiered in 2006. As our nation again confronts division and conflict along racial lines-including the racialized demonization of both citizens and immigrants, and even government proposals to repurpose the sites of Japanese internment camps to house asylum seeking children and families-the relevance of these stories is undeniable.
"Many of our plays speak to kindness and taking care of one another," said Interim Artistic Director Marcella Crowson, "and that's true of this story as well. But here, these messages emerge from much more serious - and, unfortunately, timely -- circumstances than some of the other stories on our stages. With several of the policies being implemented in present day America, we saw an opportunity to engage with families and audiences around some very relevant and difficult topics: those of immigration, concentration camps and what it means to be 'American.' Ben's story opens a line of communication between adults and children, giving language to these challenging realities and providing an opportunity to discuss them in a space they have safely made together. This is what theatre does best. Naomi Iizuka's beautiful, heartbreaking play reminds us that when the world feels dark, we can find a deep connection with those close to us and charges us all to look out for our neighbors."
OCT firmly believes and respects that children have the desire, intelligence, and capacity to engage deeply with the complex world around them: this can mean grappling with difficult questions about racial identity and equity; systems of oppression and their historical roots; even the constitutional protections and limitations of citizenship. This story unfolds through Ben's experiences, seen through the eyes of a child and chronicled in his journal. This key point allows for open dialogue between parents and children, making tough conversations possible.
To ensure that The Journal of Ben Uchida reflects the story on stage as authentically as possible, OCT has hired Dmae Roberts to direct the production. Roberts is a two-time Peabody Award- winning public radio producer/writer and the Executive Producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit dedicated to telling the stories of diverse cultures and giving voice to the unheard through the arts, education and media projects, and Theatre Diaspora, Oregon's first Asian American/Pacific Islander Theatre company. As a theatre artist, Roberts has won two Drammys and performed in more than 20 stage plays on Portland stages.
Roberts will be assisted in this production by Movement Consultant, Chisao Hata. A third generation Japanese-American, Hata is an artist educator, dance director, arts integration specialist, community activist and performing artist whose art has shared the Japanese American perspective both locally, nationally and internationally. The production will also feature input from Associate Director, Samson Syharath. Syharath is a multidisciplinary artist, producer, educator, and administrator focusing on visibility of Asian-American artists and under-served communities. He was part of the Theatre Communications Group Rising Leaders of Color Cohort in 2017 featured by American Theatre Magazine and was the recipient of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild's Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship that same year. OCT will also be partnering with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, which will provide historical materials and assist in planning and developing post-show panel discussions during the run. The Oregon Nikkei Legacy center seeks to preserve and honor the history and culture of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, to educate the public about the Japanese American experience during World War II, and to advocate for the protection of civil rights for all Americans.
The performance features Ken Yoshikawa as Ben Uchida, David Loftus as Masao Uchida, Sumi Wu as Lily Uchida, and Jenna Yokoyama as Naomi Uchida. Jonathan Miles and Paige Rogers join the cast playing a variety of other characters.
In addition to Roberts, Hata, and Syharath, the creative team includes John Kashiwabara (Scenic Designer), Jennifer Lin (Lighting Designer), Wanda Walden (Costume Designer), Kristen Mun (Fight Choreographer), Linda Timura (Dramaturg), Amanda Vander Hyde (Stage Manager), Rachel Millena (Assistant Stage Manager), and Ian Anderson-Priddy (Production Electrician).
Tickets are on sale now, starting at $15 with group rates available. To purchase or learn more, call the box office at 503-228-9571 or visit www.octc.org.