Tiny spacemen and karate show up at this year's Powell Street Festival
As Veda Hille happily admits, describing Karate Theatre of Earth isn’t the easiest thing to do. That’s mainly because, at the time of our interview in late July, her new show with Theatre Replacement’s Maiko Bae Yamamoto was little more than an idea—or a dream, you might even say.
“I’m going to be straight-ahead with you,” the singer, pianist, and ever-inventive composer says by phone from her East Vancouver home. “Basically, some time ago I was lying on my bed in that half-asleep, trying-to-have-a-nap thing, and I just thought, ‘My next project should be called Karate Theatre of Earth.’ So I sat up and wrote it down, and went to sleep. And Maiko and I had been talking about trying to make a theatrical version of the Veda Hille music show, so when she called and said the Powell Street Festival wanted us to do something, I said, ‘Well, why don’t we use this as our little workshop to see what kind of experiments we could have?’ And then I foolishly said, ‘Let’s call it Karate Theatre of Earth.’ ”
As it stands now, the show collects and reworks songs from Hille and Yamamoto’s various projects for Theatre Replacement, which include the alien-inspired YU-FO and the bathhouse-set Sexual Practices of the Japanese. It’s probably best not to read too much into the new work’s title, although both Yamamoto and guest singer-percussionist Skye Brooks have martial-arts training. More important is that the two principals strike sparks whenever they get together—which, both artists say, may lead to new material being created by the time the curtain rises.
“Maiko has boundless enthusiasm, which is one of the qualities I like most in a person, but she pairs it with capable effectiveness, which is also a good quality,” Hille says. “And, to be frank, she has incredible faith in my music, which is very gratifying. My best collaborations have always been when there’s a love of the work at the heart of it all, and she’s always given that to me.”
“I love working with Veda, and I love the kind of shorthand we have now,” Yamamoto concurs in a separate telephone interview. “And so what made sense [for Karate Theatre of Earth] was doing a little bit of a… I don’t want to say a retrospective, but kind of an investigation into the material that we’ve created together in the past. I always think it’s interesting to take something, turn it 90 degrees, and take a look at it in a new context. Theatre artists don’t often get a chance to do that.”
When the Straight reaches Yamamoto, she and Hille are a day into the rehearsal process, so she’s able to provide a few more details about what audiences will see when Karate Theatre of Earth debuts at the Powell Street Festival this weekend. A few, but not too many: after all, this is still a work in progress. Expect songs in Japanese and English, costume changes, and cameo appearances by some less than life-size guests, including anime superstar Astro Boy and a pair of tiny spacemen.
“If there’s any theatre that’s going to happen, it’ll probably happen with these small plastic characters,” Yamamoto says. “There’s going to be some Friendly Giant–esque gentle movement and puppetry. In fact, we realized yesterday that the show involves themes of motherhood and childhood—and also aliens!”
The Powell Street Festival presents Karate Theatre of Earth as part of the Triple Threat songwriters’ showcase at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Saturday (August 4) at 8 p.m., and the Firehall Arts Centre on Sunday (August 5) at 3:15 p.m. For the full festival schedule, visit the Powell Street Festival website .