Opera explores themes of racism, bullying

Obasan, played by Erica Iris, and Naomi, played by Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga, share an emotional moment during a performance of Vancouver Opera’s Naomi’s Road, which visits Nanaimo Saturday (Nov.17).  - Tim Matheson Photo
Obasan, played by Erica Iris, and Naomi, played by Hiather Darnel-Kadonaga, share an emotional moment during a performance of Vancouver Opera’s Naomi’s Road, which visits Nanaimo Saturday (Nov.17).
— image credit: Tim Matheson Photo

Stephen returns home from school, his clothes torn and his face bloody from a pounding by school bullies.

He doesn’t know why he’s been targeted. As a young Japanese-Canadian, Stephen is unaware of the turmoil boiling around him, which will soon lead to him and his family losing everything they own and being sent to an internment camp in Slocan, B.C.

Stephen is one of the characters in Joy Kogawa’s novel Naomi’s Road. That tale has been adapted by the Vancouver Opera and being presented in Nanaimo as part of TheatreOne’s Just Kidding Series on Saturday (Nov. 17) at the Malaspina Theatre at 1 p.m.

The story details the experiences of Naomi, a young Japanese-Canadian girl, and her family during internment in the Second World War. Sam Chung, a tenor with the opera, plays Naomi’s older brother Stephen. Chung said the production explores issues such as bullying, racism and the history of Japanese-Canadians.

“The story is so compelling,” he said. “It’s such a privilege to put this together and get it out to the children. This really is one of the most special pieces I’ve done.”

Chung said the messages and the production is so engaging that sometimes “there are five year olds that are just glued to you.”

Chung said the piece is  performed in schools and teachers have approached the performers after to thank them. The story teaches the children about important issues from a child’s viewpoint.

To ensure the performers understood the how true to life Kogawa’s novel is the Vancouver Opera arranged for them to meet and talk to Japanese-Canadians who lived in the camps. Chung spoke to Aki Horii.

“It was amazing. His experience was so similar to my character’s,” said Chung.

During the Second World War more than 21,000 Japanese-Canadians were ordered to leave a “restricted area” designated by the Canadian government under the authority of the War Measures Act.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, they were forced to move 160 kilometres inland to camps in B.C’s Interior and along the Alberta border.

In the early 1980s the National Association of Japanese Canadians mounted a campaign to receive acknowledgement for the acts of the Canadian government of the day, review the War Measures Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms and receive compensation.

According to the Centre for Constitutional Studies, in 1988 Minister Brian Mulroney made a formal apology and presented a compensation package to Japanese-Canadians that were affected during that time.

Tickets are $14 and available at www.theatreone.org.


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