“I believe everything we know about ourselves is entirely based on memory—history, science, art, religion are all constructs of human memory. Our existence is that fragile and ephemeral, yet, we all depend on other people’s memory to achieve our immortality: Someone will remember me after I’m gone. There is eternal sadness in the wish to be remembered and this tragedy of living and dying is what attracts me to the exploration of memory.”
Some years after Caridad Svich interviewed me for her article, I would add to this statement the word “comedy”. The tragedy and comedy of living and dying are what attracts me to…living (this word is used the second time in a Zen kind of way and a seeing-the-Grand-Canyon-for- the-first-time kind of way).
I was born in Japan and grew up in a snow country called Nagano. I don’t have any sentimental feelings about the place of my birth. I love living in NYC. Manhattan is a fantastic sideshow, performed by a huge cast of outsiders. But the road to getting here and joining the troupe was rocky for me. At fifteen, I had to rebuild myself in the U.S., learn an entirely new culture (an unfathomable one) and a brand new language. I haven’t managed to become quite all-American in my gravelly journey. Instead, I’ve made a bizarre culture of my own, a singular amalgamation of imaginary Japanese sentiments and acquired American beliefs. I think this is why all my plays, whether the take place in Chekhov’s Russia or on death row in a prison in Texas, are in the end, about memory and identity.
In addition to writing plays with magic realism and time travel and collaborating with amazing theater artists, I have been fortunate to experience some magical events in my travels. I was granted a private audience with The Dalai Lama and visited him in Dharamsala, India. I have worked with survivors of domestic violence to create performance pieces based on their childhood memories. I have accompanied atomic bombing survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to NYC public high schools for students to listen, and then write plays in response to what they heard. I have created a fellowship program for emerging writers of color at New York Theatre Workshop, produced two performance festivals which included many interesting artists of color and women at Dance Theater Workshop, and designed a rigorous and complete undergraduate playwriting program from scratch at a liberal arts college.
And I’m married to a wonderful human being and visual artist, Hap Tivey.
All the world’s a stage; we are such stuff as dreams are made on—and all that, I believe. I do the best I can in the finite time of this amazing life I’ve been given.