Chiori Miyagawa explores reunion after disaster

chiori miyagawa rachael Holmes
Rachael Holmes performs in “I Came to Look for You on Tuesday.” Credit: Yi Zhao

Some plays escape out the wings and into the street. In Chiori Miyagawa’s “I Came to Look for You on Tuesday,” the stories of reunion after disasters are part of a larger project that assures Miyagawa’s writing is not the only voice the show represents.

Two years ago, haunted by sense of chaos and destruction from disasters like the 2011 tsunami in Japan and images of destruction from the tornado in Joplin, Mo., Miyagawa was called to explore the themes of reunion after these large-scale traumas. This exploration became a series of salons, where Miyagawa and her collaborators — director Alice Reagan and dramaturg Emily Morse — shared stories at the events from “friends and strangers.”

These are the personal roots of the Tuesday Project, which has also been paired with posters from artist James Bayard whose evocative phrases — “you have to get along without me” — hung this summer, overlapping with the usual neon promotional mishmash. Reunion is something Miyagawa explores extensively in the show, but she said that the stories she encountered in the salons were not all heart-wrenching. We asked Miyagawa about her process, her past work and how the stories of those involved with the Tuesday Project made it to the stage.

What has it been like to listen to so many very difficult, heart-wrenching stories from the people you drew inspiration from throughout the project? 

Many of the stories I heard were hysterically funny. Some were extremely moving. People were always generous with their stories. I didn’t write about them [in the play.] I just listened. My play is entirely fictional, though I drew from actual events that created the desire in the first place in me to host the reunion salons. The sources for my play might include the Joplin tornado, Hurricane Irene, kindertransport during WWII. Japanese tsunami, Vietnam war, Hurricane Katrina and a mythological goddess figure. Some of the play is humorous, and the events that inspired me don’t retain the historical facts. The characters need to reunite with loved ones threads the many stories in the play together.

Is there anything in your life story that connects with the ones you have told in the Hiroshima Project, your previous endeavor?

Hiroshima Project in 2009 was a collection of stories told by many artists and educators and activists. My play in the project, “I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour” is my rebuttal to Alain Resnais’ famous film, “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” I objected to the equation that the film makes of enormous suffering and misery and more than 100,000 deaths with a single loss of a young love.

Also in the film, the only character with memory is the French woman, and though she laments all through the film about her loss and somewhat about what happened in Hiroshima, the film still romanticizes the tragic event. I wanted to write a play that gave the extraordinary memories to those who deserve to claim them. However, I have absolutely no personal life story that connects me to anything that remotely resembles the stories in “I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour.” It was written out of my empathy and imagination.

Do you feel that NYC audiences will feel a particular connection to “I Came to Look For You on Tuesday”? 

Most of my work has been done in NYC, so it’s truly my home base. Some other plays of mine are particularly for the NYC audiences, but I think this new play could actually be accessible to audiences anywhere. I don’t set it in any particular geographic locations and don’t specify the time period except that at least 50 years pass during that show, which is about one hour and forty-five minutes. And the theme of the play – the need to find lost loved ones – is universal. But our city experienced 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, so I do think the audience here will feel a particular connection to the play.

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