Fall arts preview 2018: Theatre artist Shizuka Kai finds creative freedom in set design and puppets

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      The great thing about theatre is that it can absorb all kinds of experiences—even following your wildlife-photographer dad around while he tries to get up close and personal with polar bears and wild wolves. That’s one project the multitalented Shizuka Kai is currently working on: a puppet-theatre take on her unconventional upbringing—which, she says, made a definite impact on her unconventional art.

      “Watching him follow his dreams head-on has helped me be like, ‘I need to follow my dreams, and keep pushing forward, no matter what,’ ” Kai tells the Straight, on the line from the West End.

      There’s no date set for the as-yet-untitled puppet production, but Kai has no shortage of work lined up for the coming season. The Jessie Award–winning creator is doing set design for several local productions, including Carousel Theatre for Young People’s Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” and Rice & Beans Theatre’s Chicken Girl. Other projects are in the works for Boca del Lupo and Théâtre la Seizième—and that’s just the set-design aspect of Kai’s life. She’s also a musician, a singer, a mask-maker, a playwright, an illustrator, an actor… If it can be done on-stage or in the studio, she’s probably tried it.

      “Theatre gives you a freedom to do different things and try different things,” the 36-year-old explorer comments. “So I think that’s kind of where I am—and that’s how I’ve been, not to be cocky or anything, fairly successful in that sense. Most people that are successful in theatre generally do more than one thing.”

      Also contributing to her success has been her training, in Japan and at Studio 58. “A work ethic: that’s what they teach you there,” Kai says of the Langara College theatre program. “And Japanese people tend to be really hard workers.…When you see artworks that are very, very detailed and would take, you know, a bajillion hours, I usually find that the artists are Japanese. ’Cause they’re very good with the small, teeny-tiny details that they just sit there and work at forever.”

      There’s another side of her Japanese heritage that she thinks is significant. Her father, who’s working on a documentary about Japanese wolves—once thought to be extinct, but now rumoured to be alive—has recently discovered the Kai family crest. A pair of wings crossed within a circle, it denotes samurai ancestry.

      “It makes me more passionate about things, definitely, because ‘I am a samurai warrior,’ ” Kai says with a laugh. “It’s good motivation.”