After the tsunami and earthquake struck Japan in 2011, Nilo Cruz and Michiko Kitayama Skinner couldn’t stop thinking about the magnitude of the disaster and its impact.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I heard that a big city in the Iwate prefecture was ‘vanished.’ I couldn’t understand what that meant. I was terrified,” Kitayama Skinner — a playwright, costume designer, and an associate professor of theater at the University of Miami — recently told The Miami Herald. Cruz, a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, said he felt the same way after the Sept. 11 attacks.
How do people find the strength to move on, if at all, after a natural disaster? And what happens to a community when a city “vanishes”?
These are questions that Kitayama Skinner and Cruz set out to answer together during a 2012 trip they took to Ozuchi, Japan, a small town where Kitayama Skinner’s mother was from. With the help of a grant, they spent 10 days interviewing survivors. “I thought we’d find a core story. But every single person had a character so strong,” Kiayama Skinner told the Herald. “The interviews became the basis of this ensemble play instead of one journey.”
Kitayama Skinner and Cruz took their interviews and created the docudrama “Tsunami,” which is playing at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center through Oct. 3.
The docudrama is powerful, Kitayama Skinner said, because it touches upon a theme we can all relate to at some point in our lives: loss.
“To me, this play is about how you connect with the person you lost. People talk about the missing or dead as if they were still alive. They see them as ghosts or as people in their dreams,” she said. “I think we always worry and are secretly nervous that we may lose our loved ones tomorrow. And if something like that suddenly happens, how do you go on?”
The play is a good example of what ivoh calls Restorative Narrative — a genre of stories that show how people and communities are making a meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience. Often, we see these stories play out in journalism, but as “Tsunami” shows, they can also play out in a variety of different media sectors and in the arts.
For more information about the play and the story behind it, read the Herald’s full story.
Related ivoh.org story: Students visit Fukushima to report stories of resilience in tragedy’s aftermath