“One momentum was my rage”
A conversation with poet and theatre-maker Hideto Ambiguous This February Square Edge Arts Centre will present The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery, a one-man show created by award-winning artist Hideto Ambiguous. Kane (Square Edge Arts Centre Artistic Director) and Hideto sat down for a chat about art, art-making, outcomes, and the show itself. Come and see the show – February 6 and 7! Kane: Hey man – welcome to Palmy! Hideto: Palmy! That’s how locals call it huh? I like it! Anyhow, thank you very much. It’s my great honor to be here!! Kane: First off – could you tell me a little about your background – as a human and as an artist? You’ve a kind of international career so – why did you choose to be here with us in Aotearoa? What drives you? What contributed to the manner in which you experience and make art? Hideto: Sure. I was born in Japan, but I have lived abroad across the globe for the past seven years. Actually, when I was studying in California, I had this privilege of joining the Polynesian dance club where I learned and performed Haka. And, I experienced how the pure force of culture and history could put together students from all walks of life. But at the same time, it made me reflect on what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes and make me conscious of a sensitive line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. So, yes, personally, I was always fascinated by the struggle, the very important struggle, that people of Aotearoa has been fighting in their post-colonial society. …encouraging people to become what I call ‘everyday dissident’… Kane: Haka – amazing! So – I’m a theatre maker myself and I’m always curious about the impetus and the journey of the making for others. I see that this show is semi-autobiographical. Tell me a little about what inspired the piece? What did you want to achieve? Hideto: One momentum was my rage. It is a feeling I usually am most uncomfortable with, but sometimes it drives me for a creative journey like this. When I was in England, I was, frankly, almost to be underpaid by this restaurant where I was working. But I actually had been exploited at other places before, so I told the manager like ‘c’mon. you can’t do that to me.’ So I defended my minimum wages. But soon I found out that the same manager preyed on and underpaid my younger colleagues who weren’t as much conscious of labor issues as me, so I just exploded in rage, because, it’s the whole bloody system that, first, makes this possible, and second, makes anybody think of it as okay to do, to make profits out of someone else’s misery. So this project really aims to change the unequal system of social relations from both sides—I mean, on one hand, by encouraging people to become what I call ‘everyday dissident’, which is a creative and critical way of being who do not just give in, and, on the other hand, by directly exposing unfairness of the current system to let people see it as something we must change. Kane: I like this everyday dissident challenge. To follow then – what can the audience expect in experiencing the show? What does it feel like? Hideto: Nothing like they’ve experienced for sure! I’ve been actually struggling how to package it, I mean to describe what it is. It has elements from storytelling, spoken word poetry, dark clown, songs, dances, and it even includes a strip, but it’s different from a cabaret, a theatre or music gig. It’s like a festival on its own, I would say. But these are of course organized accordingly to explore the nature of globalization, of arts, and of experience of the Other. They will experience how one individual can be as diverse as the whole universe! … precisely because we are ‘nobodies’, our stories don’t usually get heard … Kane: A unique experience, that’s great. Speaking of experiences – you took the show to Melbourne Fringe last year. I’ve had a long relationship with Melbourne Fringe – which is a super-excellent festival. Among other things, I was a Fringe judge for many years, so I know what it takes to pick up an award – you have to do something pretty good. I’m curious about what took you to Fringe? What was the experience like? Did you expect to win an award? Hideto: It was a huge surprise to me, given I literally could not open (what was going to be) my opening night because I had no audience coming! But this actually tells a lot of things. The play is a story of first-generation migrants, like myself, who were ‘somebody’ at home but somehow became ‘nobody’ as soon as crossing the border. But precisely because we are ‘nobodies’, our stories don’t usually get heard. The majority of migrant narratives you hear are, I suppose, from the second or third -generation, with the language barrier being a big obstacle. But when I brought this play, Pip and Swiss, who manage this beautiful, intimate theatre venue called The Burrow in Melbourne, helped me spread the word and connect me with local artists, and little by little I had people coming to my show. And the Award really validated what I say in my play, that is, no matter how alienated we feel, we still have this ability to connect with people. And, there’s a story only ‘nobodies’ can tell, and that’s what I find most valuable in my migrant artist career despite, or rather, because of, my constant status as an outsider. …nothing can be more inclusive than the bitter experience of exclusion… Kane: Ah – I know Pip well, and of course the The Burrow. So great! It’s amazing how the themes of some works can translate into the reality of the logistics! This show is about the migrant experience. About racism essentially. About the current condition of the world I guess. I see so much hope, and a lot of horror, materialising around us in this current epoch of humans. What’s your take on the world? What’s wrong? What’s right? What will it take to fix it? Hideto: I think we are so hopeless that it’s hopeful. If I may, rather shamelessly, self-quote from the show, I would say: ‘nothing can be more inclusive than the bitter experience of exclusion.’ Yes, we feel ourselves isolated, our community divided, our country isolated, and our world disorientated. But I think those negative feelings have finally made us realize, at a subjective level, how desperately we are in need of genuine solidarity, which had probably never existed before. And this time, our bond is not superficial, because it’s really rooted in our pain, so real, so personal, and so internal, that we cannot betray it. Not that all the recent tragedies were necessary, but, if we cannot undo them, we then need to build a future from which we will look back and say, ‘you see, those dark days made us who we are today, those days made us vow that we will make sure we won’t let nothing like them repeat ever again.’ We’ve had it enough. Kane: In your opinion – what’s important, if anything, about art in the creation of a better world? Hideto: Sadly, what we daily consume as ‘entertainment’ or some sort of ‘popular culture’ are mostly pleasure-oriented, and make us feel like ‘well, yes, the world is a mess, but it’s too huge a mess, so why don’t we just laugh away? And I will go on as I always have.’ And, here, I feel very alarmed. The strategy of ‘bread and circus’ survives to this very day, if not, finally attains perfection with a more subtle and vicious disguise unthinkable in the past. That’s why, in my play, I actually compare, sort of, different kinds of ‘art’ or ‘performance’ to claim that the purpose of art should be to remove the root cause, not the effect, of our everyday sufferings, so we won’t feel the need of ‘laughing away’ in the first place. And I believe a process of creating arts can itself help people to tackle these problems. … Palmy seems to care about each other, the future, the youths, the community, and the culture… Kane: Okay – we have the pleasure of your company here in Palmerston North for a about a week. What is it about this place that made you want to come here with your show? Hideto: I think it’s really about how much Palmy seems to care about each other, the future, the youths, the community, and the culture. But this will be my first visit, and I am pretty sure that you all will surprise me with your secret charms that I won’t find out until I get there! So excited to bring my show there! Kane: What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen recently? Hideto: hmm, I think this might be the most difficult question to answer so far haha. My days are quite boring as I usually just stay in my room working on my projects. But I would say, I appreciate how long the sun is up above us in the summer season. Literally, the sun never sets. Oh, this is actually a key phrase from my show, so keep that in mind! The sun never sets!! Kane: Thanks man – looking forward to the show! Hideto: Thank you very much for this opportunity! I was my pleasure!!