Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kuniko Yamamoto, Storyteller, Tells Her Story

Why do I do what I do? Often I'm asked and I answer, “well, ladies and gentlemen, I want to change the world with my art, with my show.” Blah, blah, blah …

Hmmmm, it sounds cliché, doesn't it?

The real answer is blowing in the wind . . . more elusive . . . bigger than I can explain. But as a storyteller, perhaps I can answer this question by telling my story.

Right after I started my performance career with my solo show for K-12 grade students, I got a call from a Jacksonville, Florida afterschool program. They booked me for one show at 5 PM in their police department gym. The neighborhood was very rough, and the teenagers needed to be kept under police officer’s watchful eye. On the phone, the contract person alluded to the roughness of the group but I didn't know what to expect.

When I arrived at the police gym, the teenagers were playing basketball and their voices and noise level was horrible, with the counselor’s voice being ignored. The counselor brought the police officer over and the officer yelled, “Hey, stop playing ball and bring chairs out for this lady’s show.“ They reluctantly stopped running around and brought chairs from a storage area, banging into each other and making all kinds of noise. Some even got cuts on their heads! I was freaked out. I just wanted to finish my little Japanese storytelling fast and get the hell out of this place in one piece.

The show was a disaster, the worst show I ever had. Chalk, pencils, socks and pennies were flying. They sat freeform, rocking and sliding down in their chairs. Every once in a while I would see some eyes staring at me with hateful boredom. Oh dear.

When I finished my 30-minute show, the police officer pointed out three boys to help carry my suitcase out to the car. Two of the boys started sticking chewing gum on each other’s arm and disappeared. The only boy left quietly carried my suitcase to my car. He was thin and tall, wearing an old beat up shirt with missing buttons. His pants zipper was broken and he looked into my eyes and said, “I like Samurai movies. I was really hoping some day to see a show like you did today in person. You made me happy.”

I was speechless and found myself hugging him. I made this boy happy – how wonderful is that! There actually was a good reason for me to continue performing. More than 20 years passed since then. I have collected more stories like this here and there. Without them I could not continue. Without them I would not have enough reasons to perform.

This is Week 33 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Kuniko's story today. To see more of Kuniko's work, please visit her website.

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