The Tashme Project: The Living Archives – The truth is in the details

The Firehall Arts Centre is presenting The Tashme Project: The Living Archives at the Firehall Arts Centre.

Julie Tamako Manning and Matt Miwa extend a hand to the past in The Tashme Project.

The Tashme Project: The Living Archives is an elegantly simple, moving, and important piece of theatre.

Julie Tamako Manning and Matt Miwa, who created and perform the show, each have one Japanese parent and, when they met while working at the National Arts Centre a few years ago, they discovered that they have something else in common: members of both of their families were imprisoned at Tashme, the Japanese internment camp that was set up near Hope during WWII. But, like many third- and fourth-generation Japanese Canadians, the artists knew very little about that history.

For The Tashme Project, they interviewed the second generation, the Nisei, who were kids during the internment and are now elderly. The Nisei rarely talk about the internment. When asked to speak for this project, however, they spilled.

The beauty—and the shocks—are in the details. Because they were young during the war—and probably less aware than their parents of the racism and staggering injustice of their internment—the Nisei often had fun at Tashme. There’s a giddy reminiscence of tossing a ball back and forth over a barn roof, for instance. There are evocative sensual details, including the sound of geta (wooden shoes) clattering down the wooden sidewalk to the bathhouse. And there’s acknowledgement of deprivation and suffering. One woman remembers having to burn all of her toys before being forced to leave Vancouver. And there’s a horrifying story in which a grieving wife and mother suffers a mental breakdown on the train out of town.

The Tashme Project isn’t simplistic. In one of the stories, a man and woman revisit a community near Tashme, where the locals refer to “Japs”—but do so without malice—while reaping the benefits of the internees’ presence, including the trees they planted.

Manning and Miwa embody all of the characters. Manning does so with subtlety and clear differentiation. Miwa’s characterizations feel exaggerated by comparison and his physical vocabulary is more limited: a lot of his characters stand with raised elbows, for instance. Still, the tenderness both actors feel towards their subjects is palpable and there’s a brief passage of dancing—I think it follows a wedding at the camp—that’s glorious.

Jeff Lavoie’s set mostly consists of vertical rectangles of Plexiglas—they’re shaped like calligraphy scrolls—that become projection surfaces for archival photographs. Like the rest of the show, this design is simple and evocative.

The Tashme Project didn’t alter my understanding of the broad historical outline of the Japanese internment, but it did fill it with a lot more nuance.

THE TASHME PROJECT: THE LIVING ARCHIVES Created and performed by Julie Tamako Manning and Matt Miwa. Directed by Mike Payette.  Presented by The Firehall Arts Centre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, April 3. Continues until April 13.Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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