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Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007
Broadway charity acts instill volunteer spirit in showman
Three years ago, Mayumi Kamata went to a Broadway charity event held in New York to see a friend perform.
A choreographer and former actress, Kamata was overwhelmed by the scale of the event. The actors and spectators appeared to be together enjoying a spirit of volunteerism, and she wondered why Japan does not stage similar grand events where theater agencies and companies unite for worthy causes.
"There were so many people coming to the event, it was like a festival," recalled Kamata, who had earlier performed in Shiki Theatre Company musicals, including "Cats" and "West Side Story."
In the Gypsy of the Year Competition, hosted by nonprofit group Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in New York, Broadway and off-Broadway show organizers vied to see who could raise the most funds for the nonprofit body over a six-week period, and who could put on the best show. Founded in 1988, the group hosts various events to raise money for AIDS, HIV and HIV-related causes.
This inspired Kamata to create the Care-Wave Aid committee at the end of 2005.
The committee, which donates money raised through stage performances, is preparing for its second show on Dec. 19 at Theatre 1010 in Tokyo's Adachi Ward.
Featuring more than 70 actors from different groups and agencies, including several from overseas, and being supervised by stage artists Setsu Asakura and sound designer Yasuhiko Yahata, the group's performance will address various issues through what they call a "nonfictional" musical.
Their themes include the situation of street children in Asia and the danger of land mines in Angola — serious topics not addressed in conventional musical performances.
"We want to be a different form of news source and send messages from the stage," Kamata said. Musicals, with their colorful sound and stage effects, are effective media for such purposes because they can create scenes the audiences can actually feel, she added.
The actors and group's staff are taking part as volunteers and going through one month of practice for the coming show.
All the proceeds from this performance will go to 19 selected charity organizations in support of their causes. The activities of the organizations will be introduced on stage in a play format by actors, and their information booths will be set up at the event venue.
"We want to be a bridge between the audience and those organizations," Kamata said.
The seed of the volunteer theater group was originally planted about four years ago when Kamata visited a community home in Tokyo and later learned of its closure amid financial woes due to limited government support.
Her desire to do something for society grew stronger after she saw the Broadway volunteers, leading to the creation of the committee. However, the path toward its first performance, held last March, was not easy.
Most of the about 30 committee members are actors with little business or public relations experience, and they had trouble coping with their off-stage duties, including promoting the event and securing sponsors.
Limited funding also hampered their PR efforts, and the March performance drew an audience only about two-fifths of the theater's capacity.
"Before the performance, I apologized to the actors who had gone through one month's practice for this event for not being able to get a large turnout," Kamata recalled.
However, the actors told her not to worry about it and promised to do their best no matter how many people were there. And as the curtain went up, Kamata said she felt a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the stage.
Kamata said she received good feedback from the audience, who told her that the style was new and the message was clear. After the first performance, Kamata said her resolve stiffened to continue the Care-Wave Aid activity and spread what she described as a wave of care for others.
In July, the Foreign Ministry asked the committee to perform next May, with a theme of Africa aid on the occasion of the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which will take place then.
"It may be just a little wave now," Kamata said, noting it would be good if Care-Wave Aid could influence other people to start waves of their own that may intersect someday to become one big wave. "I just hope that will happen someday," Kamata said.