History has a unique way of engraining itself in the present, projecting into the future, and repeating itself. Sometimes, we find trinkets from history in the most unsuspecting of places, leading to a discovery of new insights and stories. This is the spark that led Tetsuro Shigematsu to write his upcoming play, 1 Hour Photo. A popular name in Vancouver’s arts community, Tetsuro—who has worn the hat of performer, broadcaster, playwright, host, and actor—stumbled upon an unsuspecting physical piece of history upon moving into a new place.
What was this gem, you ask? A Japan Camera mug left behind in a residence by its previous tenant, Artistic Producer Donna Yamamoto. Tetsuro reminds us that “Whenever you move into someone’s house, no matter how clean they leave it for you, they can’t help but leave behind so many clues”. Curiosity piqued, Tetsuro inquired into Donna’s connection with the mug. What he found out was that the object once belonged Donna’s father, a 1-hour photo-developing store owner with a fascinating past and the inspiration behind the character of Mas Yamamoto. “When I began interviewing Mas himself, I realized there was a much bigger story to be told…a really epic life story that takes place over the 20th century.”
Using his CBC-style approach to story-telling, Tetsuro set out recording interviews every Monday with Mas himself (which the writer cleverly referred to as “Mondays with Mas”) and documented the man’s story through audio recordings. Out of 36 hours of audio captured (18 minutes of which will be featured in the live performance), stories began arising that would soon shape the course of Tetsuro’s work. One story in particular that captured the playwright’s attention was Mas’ time at a Japanese internment camp during World War II, a part of Canadian history that is “rarely discussed” within the media landscape. It wasn’t the story of suffering that sparked the writer’s interest, it was the story of Mas’ first encounter with love. “A combination of hardship, and injustice, combined with adolescent hormones—I thought this was a really heady mixture.”
Talking about the transition between playwright to actor, Tetsuro explains the differences between this show and Empire of the Son—one being his fellow collaborator, Steve Charles. Both take on multiple roles in the creation of this show; Tetsuro with his duality of actor and playwright, and Steve with his position as actor and sound designer/composer. This collaboration between writer and musician creates a fluid, layered performance.
While the creative process with this piece has been a journey, there was one moment in particular that Tetsuro could have never planned for—the connection between UFOs and angels. While conducting a thought experiment, Steve began singing a shape-note song, winding Christian images of heaven and the afterlife alongside ideas of the universe and extra-terrestrial life. The result? A beautiful collision that added an unforeseen layer to the work. “Stuff like that just makes it so thrilling and it reminds me why [performance] is my favourite medium.”
Moments like this, alongside the epic nature of Mas’ story, allow the work to become what Tetsuro describes as “theatrical magic.” With an epic love story, shedding light on injustice, and dynamic performance, 1 Hour Photo is a piece that sets its sights on entertainment and conveying the tale of a life that surpasses time and space.
For more than 20 years, Tetsuro Shigematsu has been telling stories across an array of media. A former writer for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he became the first person-of-colour to host a daily national radio program in Canada when he took over The Roundup on CBC Radio. His most recent theatre work, Empire of the Son, was named the best show of 2015 by the Vancouver Sun and The Georgia Straight and is touring across Canada. Support his work at patreon.com/tetsuro.
Thank you to our friends at CHARALS on Robson for supporting the arts by gifting each artist in our CREATOR series a gift package, from their store, filled with luxury goods & accessories. Visit them online at charals.com or in person at 171 Robson Street in Vancouver.