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Local women's theater club set for performance in English

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

"Akabana", a local women's theater group, will be performing a play about Lord Amawari of Katsuren Castle, an important historical figure of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The script was written by Miyoko Higa, a professor at Okinawa Prefecture University of Art. Higa also directs the play with sub-director Ryoko Kochinda. The play will be conducted entirely in English, and will be held on Saturday, January 30, at 6:30 pm on the ninth floor of Palette Kumoji.

Since October of last year, the women have been rehearsing every Saturday and Sunday night, giving up their free time to put together this culturally important play. The nineteen cast members, who form Akabana, have funded the entire project on their own. Everything, from the building of the sets to the actual planning and presentation of the play is done by themselves. "It takes a lot of time and energy," confessed Ayako Kaneku, one of the original members of Akabana. "The hardest part is fitting it into your schedule, together with work and your personal life," she continued, "There are many things you must prepare for - there is the character. You must plan everything, and you need much energy to do it."

Despite the long hours of rehearsals and hard schedules however, the members receive much satisfaction and enjoyment from their performance. "I feel accomplished, and it feels like I have received something that is invisible," explained Kaneku about her own personal feelings. "We have a lot of fun too. Since it is a small group, we are like a family."

The group's roots began at Okinawan Christian Junior College, where Kaneku and other classmates were involved with the school's drama club. "We were doing Shakespeare plays, but then we thought: 'Why Shakespeare? We are Okinawan, so why not do plays on Okinawan history in English?,'" recalled Kaneku. The idea became reality when Higa came up with the script, followed by the first showing of "Amawari" twelve years ago in Naha. The women can claim the honor of presenting the first play about "Amawari" in English.

Although the members of Akabana are not professional actresses, they take their acting seriously and are also very talented at what they do. Four years ago, they were invited to Los Angeles and Hawaii by the "Okinawan Association" of those respective cities. The group performed a play titled "Akabana", the same name used for their club, which means "flower". Earnings from the ticket sales in Los Angeles were donated to help construct a new office building for the Okinawan Association. The women performed the same play again last year here on Okinawa.

The "Amawari" script is a fictional story based on Rykyuan history. The well known chieftain is often depicted as a traitor in Okinawan history for his betrayal against Lord Gosamaru of Nakagusku Castle and the King of Shuri during the fifteenth century. The play however, along with other new theories from historians, sheds a different light on Amawari.

Kaneku explained that because the play is done in English, it is an excellent chance for foreigners to enjoy the performance. "The purpose of this play is to let foreigners know about Okinawan culture and history. Also, through the context of this play, we want to express 'Icharibachode.'" (An Okinawan word which means "the first time we meet, we are like brothers and sisters".)

Replicated costumes of authentic Ryukyu Kingdom era kimonos, along with the addition of an Okinawan shaman character, make the play very entertaining, but also gives you a good insight at how affairs were conducted during Okinawa's days as an independent kingdom.

If you would like to see "Amawari", tickets can be purchased at the door for $10. High school and college student tickets are $8, and elementary school and junior high school student tickets are $5. Doors to the "Shimin Gekijo" (Citizen's Community Theater) open at 6 pm, but it is advised to get there early to buy tickets. The theater is located on the ninth floor of Palette Kumoji (Ryubo Department store), which is at the southern end of Kokusai Street in Naha.

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