by Harris Frost
The 2019 Gros Morne Playwrights’ Residency in Newfoundland headed by PWM and Le Centre des Auteurs Dramatiques (CEAD) wrapped up last month. Montreal-based playwright and actor Julie Tamiko Manning was one of this year’s 7 participants.
PWM: How exactly were the 10 days structured?
Julie Tamiko: Most of the 10 days we pretty much had to ourselves to do whatever we wanted. Then in the evenings, we had an hour-long meeting all together with all the other playwrights. We each got the chance to either do a little reading of our what we’re working on or talk about our process during one of these meetings.
PWM: Did it feel a little strange to be with so many other playwrights while you’re working individually?
Julie Tamiko: Well, even though we weren’t in the same space all day, I think the fact that we were all there to do the same thing was kind of a uniting thing. You would ask “How’s your writing going today?” and someone would answer “Terrible!” or “It’s a good day, today!” and you would know what that meant because you’d probably gone through the exact same thing the day before.
PWM: Could you speak a little about your piece, Mizushōbai?
Julie Tamiko: It’s a commission by Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, the first play in what is to become an annual series called More Than a Footnote about Canadian figures who have been sort of lost to history, who don’t have as much written about them as other historical figures.
It’s called Mizushōbai, which literally translates from Japanese as “the water trade”, it’s a euphemistic term that means “night-time entertainment”, as in, the sex industry. It’s about the life of this woman Kiyoko Tanaka Goto who came from Japan to Canada as a picture bride in 1916, did years of manual labour, saved up her money and opened a restaurant with 3 other women where they would make and sell alcohol. Then later she bought a hotel and turned it into a brothel. In 1942, she was interned with other Japanese Canadians. After internment, I believe she pretended to be Chinese in order to go back to the West coast, because the Japanese weren’t allowed back to the coast until 1949. She opened up a few gambling clubs in Chinatown. She died in 1982.
When I started writing this play about her I was having trouble figuring out how I was going to write a biography without it being a straight biography, I didn’t want to just transcribe the oral interview I have been working from, so I started out with a lot of disjointed poetry because there’s not a whole lot of information about her. And it was kind of a struggle to figure out how to stick with the facts of her life as well as figure out the rest through me. I was surprised because I went to the residency with ten or fifteen pages and I ended up with almost a whole first draft. And I almost didn’t realize that I had written it while I was there.
PWM: During the residency, did find that your writing process was different from usual?
Julie Tamiko: It was so amazing to be able to have every day to write. I had really made sure that I cleared my schedule so that I could think about writing. I actually really surprised myself because in a day I would do anywhere between one and six hours of writing but by the end of the residency, I was surprised to see just how much I had written. I think it would have taken me about six months to do what I did in ten days at this residency.
It’s going to take a long time for me to actually finish the draft though, because I won’t have the time that I had while at the residency. I’m going to have to try to recreate that somehow.
Julie will perform her show The Tashme Project – co-created with Matt Miwa – at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa as part of the 2019 Prismatic Arts Festival in September.
Photo (Top to bottom): Royds Fuentes-Imbert, Emma Tibaldo, Robert Chafe, Paul Lefebvre, Julie Tamiko Manning, and Yolanda Bonnell