Personal stories of Japanese internment resonate in The Tashme Project: The Living Archives

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      Created by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa. Directed by Mike Payette. A Tashme Productions presentation. At Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, April 4. Continues until April 13

      The Tashme Project: The Living Archives takes its name from the Tashme Internment Camp, near Hope, where Japanese-Canadians were forcibly relocated during the Second World War. Cocreators and costars Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa interviewed 20 Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Canadians) for this verbatim theatre piece, and it’s a powerful experience to hear these deeply personal stories from people who were interned, many of whom were just children when the B.C. government bowed to public pressure and racist fearmongering.

      Tamiko Manning and Miwa craft a narrative weaving memories from Nisei from across the country, all of whom were interned at Tashme. The two artists establish the background for their fieldwork early on: both are Japanese-Canadian and neither has any real information about what actually happened to family members in Tashme. The play and these interviews are a chance to change that, and they take turns bringing their subjects to life—with varying degrees of success and authenticity—while also taking time to reflect on their own relationship to intergenerational trauma, culture, and family. The pair also chat briefly, in character as themselves, about the ethics of doing this work, conjuring up painful memories and then leaving their subjects alone with their feelings.

      The actors obviously care deeply about their subjects, and the best moments are when they get out of the way and let the stories resonate. Occasionally, the performances are just too broad, and the actors let their characters slip into caricature. Exaggerated facial gestures and body movements, shouting to convey emotion, and other jarring acting choices are unnecessary distractions. Director Mike Payette needed to periodically remind Tamiko Manning and Miwa to trust the stories.

      For example, it’s chilling to be sitting in the Firehall for this western Canadian premiere, minutes from the PNE grounds where many Japanese-Canadians were first held during internment. As if taking people from their homes, separating families, and forcing men into labour camps wasn’t horrifying enough, we also find out from one character that it was business as usual at the PNE. Vancouverites continued to go to the racetrack and attend the amusement park while interned Japanese-Canadians watched the frivolity through barbed-wire pens.

      These details make The Tashme Project an important piece of art, and a vital archival work as well. I have so much gratitude for the Nisei who trusted Miwa and Tamiko Manning, and for the cowriters/actors themselves for wanting to help their families and communities talk about the reality of internment and how it’s continued to shape their lives. The Tashme Project reminds us that it’s imperative we listen to the lived experiences of the Nisei, because their stories matter. It’s also crucial that Canadians, particularly white Canadians, continue to witness the ongoing human cost of racism and fearmongering, and not just resist but commit to engaging in antiracism work.