A Conversation with Brenda Kamino

October 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm

By David Fujino

It’s her bounding energy that first strikes you, for Brenda Kamino’s no shrinking violet. You’re in the presence of a total “can do” person, “a trooper.” I managed to catch up with this active 30 year veteran of the stage just after she’d completed a full circuit of teaching and lecturing engagements at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo. I also managed to avoid being star-struck and instead focused on trying to find out, What makes Brenda Kamino tick?

Do you feel like a trailblazer?
Yes … I do feel like a trailblazer—with the acknowledgement that things have changed significantly for Asian Canadians in theatre. In 2010, Fu-Gen (Asian Canadian Theatre Company) invited some of us — Jane Luk, Sally Han, me, Denis Akiyama, Dawn Obokata — to an Asian Canadian theatre conference to take part in a panel discussion. They called us “trailblazers.” We were speaking to young Asian Canadian theatre artists and I was surprised. It seems they realized they wouldn’t be in the room, or in the city, if it weren’t for us. But we were brave enough to go out there and get a job in mainstream theatre.

Would you indulge me and talk about the magic that women possess?
Magic? well … it comes out of women’s nurturing, protective traits that achieve motherhood …I’ve always supported the Goddess versus the God notions in history. All the pre-Christian gods were female deities.

You’re also a director — can you talk about it?
In the last few years, I’ve submerged my directing activities in favour of teaching activities. It turns out I’ve got a good eye, and I can see what an actor needs to correct or change. At Theatre Ontario’s Summer Intensive, I’m able to show them different things they can do, and, I can explain why I’m making my suggestions. I use theatre games, but only if it supports the work in the actors’ scenes. First thing in the morning, we do physical work, group exercises, monologues. Then lunch. After lunch, the actors are partnered with another actor in scenes that allow them to make adjustments in their acting. The idea’s to take the lessons and do better work.

Are you methodical?
I’m methodical but I’m disorganized. I tend to overdo things because I’m disorganized. When I try to multi-task, I’ll probably fall over a fire hydrant. I keep lists. I work from the inside out towards the task.

What part has being a Japanese Canadian played in your acting career?
Very limiting. If you read my resume, you’ll know my ethnicity without seeing my picture. It’s been enriching because it’s forced me to do research before getting on stage, or before a first reading. Ironically, to be a Japanese Canadian on stage is acting—you have to define yourself and stand out clearly. But my culture is Canadian, so, really, no one’s an expert in all things JC. Asian actors are always asked to “pass for” each other for mainstream audiences.

Besides entertainment, do actors have a function in society?
We’re here to provoke … enlighten … to open discussions, to reflect society. Without actors, there’s no purveyors of the stories.

What do you like to do when you’re not acting?
I like to paint … I like to sing … spend time with my family, my husband and 21 year old son who´s in computer science at the University of Waterloo.

Do you like to have the last word?
Always. I don’t try to win the argument, but I like to make sure that everything’s said that needs to be said. Always settle a dispute before going to bed.

What`s the weirdest thing about you?
I’m weird, but not weird for an actor. For example, I generally like to tear a strip off somebody once a week. (Brenda´s example was Customer Service on the phone. She might say things like, `No, I am calling you because I want an answer from you.`) It’s always part of my energy, to try out emotions in a controllable, cage. This I don’t find odd. I have other traits, but I don’t know if it’s unusual.

Did you ever want to work in the United States?
I was actually offered a couple of opportunities. In the early 80s, I was flown to New York for the day to audition for a Broadway musical, a musical version of the film, “Sayonara”, that starred Red Buttons, Marlon Brando, and Miyoshi Umeki. I don’t think it ever happened. Another time, Panasian Arts Group in New York had offered me a part in the play, Mom, Dad, I’m Living With a White Girl, and my son was still very little. I would have been there in a heartbeat, if I had a Green Card.

Where are we today in terms of equality and inclusivity for actors of colour?
Actors of colour can work because plays come out of their specific communities. But there’s still no equality. Theatre still considers itself a ‘Whites Only Club’ — essentially, what it means is it’s the last bastion that thinks it’s still OK to hire/cast according to skin colour and ethnic background.

What are you working on right now?
I’m producing, with Renaissance Theatre and Andrew Moodie, a workshop concert of Miracle Man, a new musical by Allen Cole and Michael O’Brien. Also, I’m cast in Fu-Gen´s staged reading of Rick Shiomi’s Yellow Fever — it’s the 30th year anniversary of the play — at the new Regent Park Culture Centre on September 14; and I´m appearing in a comedy also produced by Fu-Gen, Ching Chong Chinaman, an American play, at the new Regent Park Culture Centre.

Any plans to retire?
Of course not! Actors don`t retire, they just die on stage.

To learn more about Brenda Kamino’s career, kindly consult her website, brendakamino.com. .