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   Date: 10/11/10 Bookmark and Share

New Play Reflects Playwright's Family Background

The theater department’s New Play Reading Series will present the premiere reading of the award-winning Shikataganai (It Can’t Be Helped), a full-length play by young Hapa Yonsei playwright Kendra Arimoto (MFA ’11), on Thursday, October 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Earle Recital Hall, Sage Hall. The event is free.

Kendra Arimoto

Titled not only in reference to a controversial Japanese phrase, the reading also marks a significant milestone in Arimoto’s lifelong effort to put her family’s history of incarceration on stage.

Arimoto began writing Shikataganai (It Can’t Be Helped) at age 8. Back then, the story wasn’t in the form of a play, but rather a set of entries scribbled in an amethyst-colored journal after a disturbing day of grade-school U.S. history.

“The summer before 4th grade, I’d been drawn to my father’s copy of Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s ground-breaking Years of Infamy,” Arimoto recalls, “because of a black-and-white photograph of little girls wearing tags around their necks next to a map of ‘camps’ throughout California. I knew 4th grade was the year for learning about California missions and I somehow thought the two connected. I’ll never forget the moment my teacher angrily explained that ‘it’ wasn’t part of the subject matter. Confused and disappointed, I went home and questioned my parents, who told me to talk with Bachan.”

Suddenly, months before becoming the first in her family to attend college, Arimoto received tragic news: her bachan had unexpectedly passed away. With her grandmother’s passing, Arimoto lost the ability to write on the subject of internment. Today, her 83-year-old grandfather remains the last living connection to an often buried and forgotten past.

Not until her first year in Smith’s MFA program in playwriting was Arimoto able to confront what many still feel “can’t be helped.” With Shikataganai (It Can’t Be Helped), Arimoto injects American history with the intensity and passion of live theater to give an unexpected artistic twist on a historical subject.

A fierce writer, actor and activist, Arimoto combines a lifetime of training with generations of talk-story to put Japanese Americans on the national stage with the support of Smith and the mentorship of professors Len Berkman and Andrea Hairston.

Shikataganai (It Can't Be Helped) received the James Baldwin Fund Prize for Multicultural Playwriting 2010 from the Five College Multicultural Theatre Committee and an excerpted reading at the WORD! Festival.

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