26 Nov 2023
3rd September 2023
Haruka Kuroda is CEO of the A Thousand Cranes Theatre company. She was kind enough to tell us about her "Anglo-Japanese theatre company that creates shows for young people using the Japanese language, culture and storytelling styles, such as Kamishibai."
She is also quite a prolific actor, voice-over artist, fight directing and intimacy professional. Her IMDB is briming with with eye-catching projects, including voicing Noodles in The Gorillaz, but recently, she played Nurse Emiko in the production of 'My Neighbour Totoro' that many of our readers went to see.
A Thousand Paper Cranes Theatre company currently run shows of Kamishibai, a Japanese stage performance style that uses a combination of illustrations and scripted performance. "It sort of became a lot of that with Covid" she explained. The company needed shows that were adaptable and could even be performed outside. "We turned 'The Great Race' into Kamishibai, along with some other shows that we already had. To kind of make that into our repertoire."
For those who have seen Kamishibai performed in Japan, A Thousand Paper Cranes has stepped away from the strictly traditional style. "The way we do Kamishibai is not strictly reading the story from the picture boards. We do have a kamishibai box, and they'd be finished with that point and a couple of pictures to kind of pinpoint the stories; we very much physicalise the kamishibai box by using different props. For those people who have only seen traditional kamishibai shows, they will get a very different experience." Kuroda hopes that Japanese audience members will be "pleasantly surprised" by their take on the genre.
Kuroda became a co-director in 2021. Initially, the company was set up in 2006 by the artistic director Kumiko Mendle, and associate director Vicky Ireland. "They had known each other for years and had an association with Japan... Kumiko had been asked by Artsdepot to run a Japanese festival of some sort at our space in North Finchley, in London, and asked Kumiko if she could create a show. So Kumiko and Vicky created 'Tales of old Japan' at that point. That has been one of our repertoire shows since. It's not a kamishibai show, but it is a one-woman storytelling show."
"North Finchley; it used to be a Japanese expat family hub." Koroda reminisced, "So, obviously, from an expat mother's point of view, it's a nice way of reminding and teaching that way of Japanese culture. Having said that, it's a very small percentage of Japanese parents who come to the shows; it's a British audience."
When asked about the importance of showcasing a variety of cultures in modern theatre, Kuroda said, "I suppose, in terms of for children, if the parents can give them the opportunity to show diversity of cultures, and understanding that there are people who speak different languages and have a different way of communicating with one another. For children, it's very important to give them that opportunity if one can afford to do so. It is important to learn for their education."
She mused about ways to encourage diversity in theatre and encourage international talent to the scene.
"One way is to create a show that people really empathise with and associate with. You get so much comfort in that, often, when you put on a show specific to a certain culture, only then do you see people of that culture, or very diverse audience members, in the audience coming to see the shows. Otherwise, you often end up with very little diversity within the audience and of course, that comes to mean the extraordinary amount you have to pay for a ticket. It's quite a lot of money for many people. The government could do something so that theatres and producers could bring down those prices and also really champion and support those people who are creating shows that represent certain cultures. That might be the kind of waypoint from UK theatre to certain cultures too. I was in 'My Neighbour Totoro' last year. We saw a lot of Asian audience members. That really was an empowering experience for me as an actor."
Kuroda Journied to the UK to persue her acting dream when she was only 16 "I was born in Kyoto. From being in kindergarten, I loved performing. I was one of those children that wasn't shy. When performing at annual events, one of the teachers said to my Grandmother. I think she really likes doing this; singing, drama or dance class.
We weren't a wealthy family and thought that those things cost a lot of money, but then they found this chorus group near us that back then was only 500 yen a month tuition. So she put me in their once-a-week class. The teacher for that chorus group, who had her own school, spotted me and my potential and picked me, and decided to teach me singing and piano.
And then, at the age of 11, I auditioned for the Japanese version of Les Miserables. It was an all-Japanese cast going from Kyoto to Nagoya to Osaka where they needed children to play Cosette. My Grandmother found a call out for it in a newspaper. Out of 800 or something children, I got offered the role. So that was it, I caught the bug.
"Then, at 16, I came over here, and I first went to a boarding school back then. I obviously didn't speak a word of English, so I went and did all that. I got into drama school, did a three-year theatre course at Guildford, graduated in the year 2000." From there Haruka Kuroda went on to Voice Noodles in the band the Gorillaz as her first gig out of school, even touring with them as backing vocals. Then, getting involved in a wide variety of television and film productions, both in front of and behind the camera. She was the host of the award-winning children's television show 'Officially Amazing' for seven seasons and has had roles in 'Killing Eve', 'Warhammer 40,000: Dark Tide' and 2017 horror film 'Life'.
Haruka Kuroda will MC the Japan Matsuri at Trafalgar Sq on 3rd October. You can find out more about her at her website and see her upcoming projects. https://www.harukakuroda.com/