(Photo: Scott Treadway/Courtesy of Treadshots)
By Steve WongTimes-News correspondent
They may not be professionals, but the children and young adults in Flat Rock Playhouse’s Studio 52 youth theater program have achieved that rare acting ability to elicit simultaneous and contrasting emotions through onstage storytelling.
Their current production of “A Thousand Cranes” in the Playhouse’s downtown Hendersonville theater is both terribly sad and inspiringly hopeful.
There are few sadder events in life than the death of a child. In this true and simple story, the child is 2-year-old Sadako, a Japanese girl who survived the initial blast of the atomic bomb that the United States of America dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killing some 140,000 people.
Although they were at ground zero, she and her family thought they had been spared any radiation sickness, only to be told 10 years later that Sadako was quickly dying of leukemia. And — spoiler alert — she does.
Star of the play this past Saturday night was Asian child actress Jia Hind. Her parents were played by teenagers Andrew Johnson and Aniela Lane. Hind was a natural in this role, ever optimistic with more concern for others than herself, her strong voice and character engulfment endeared her to the audience that was disappointingly sparse. Both Johnson and Lane took their parental roles seriously, displaying convincing sorrow that was masked to lessen the reality of impending death for their daughter.
These were but three of many youthful actors who were called upon by Director Dave Hart to carry the weight of the play through the character development and interaction. The set was starkly bare with a slightly raised stage and a simple Japanese arch and two large panels in the far background.
Throughout the play only the simplest props — a few boxes and makeshift hospital bed — were brought forth to aid the actors. The set’s color scheme was mostly gray to symbolize the gray ash that fell upon the city after the bomb and to accentuate the color red that was used to symbolize life and hope. Overall, it was very Zen.
Instead of elaborate sets, lighting and special effects, the actors had to rely on each other and creative delivery to advance the story. With the exception of the spector-like Kabuki dancer and Sadako’s cherry-blossom kimono, most of the costumes were simple, plain and drab. It was obvious this play was used as a teaching tool to help the budding thespians in their acting, as well as their understanding of Japanese cultural and modern history.
A great deal of factual information was needed to give the audience enough understanding of World War II to appreciate the historical significance. Many times this information was delivered by the actors by simply standing at apt attention and shouting out dates and statistics. Hart is commended for challenging both his actors and his audience to appreciate a play that required both imagination and acceptance of the Far East mindset.
Although the story’s foundation is profoundly sad, its true message is one of hope. As Sadako lay hopelessly dying in a hospital bed, she was reminded of the ancient Japanese legend that if a dying person were to fold 1,000 paper — origami — cranes, the gods would cure the person of her disease. As the story goes, cranes are symbols of long life in Japan, as it was once thought that cranes themselves lived to be 1,000 years old.
Despite Sadako’s enduring spirit and origami efforts, she dies, but her spirit lived on — both figuratively and in reality. The final scene of Sadako’s spiritual ascent is a tribute to good acting, good directing and traditional Japanese thinking.
In reality, Sadako lives on. Through the efforts of her classmates, a worldwide and enduring tribute to her short but inspiring life manifested as a statue of her in Hiroshima Peace Park. And every year since, children from around the world make and send paper cranes to the park as their statement to the world that no child should ever have to die because of war. At the base of the statue, it reads: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”
Hart and his cast of young actors took many but thoughtful liberties with this modern classic play to present a message that is as loud as an atomic blast, yet has gentle as the wings of paper crane.
“A Thousand Cranes” will show again this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18-20. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness the power of youth as it struggles to survive in a world at war.
Flat Rock Playhouse is home to the impressive Studio 52 youth theater ensemble. It’s impressive thanks to its ambitious productions and earnest performances. All of this and more are on display in A Thousand Cranes. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Flat Rock Downtown space.
Written by Kathry Schultz Miller, A Thousand Cranes follows the life of a young girl named Sadako and her family as they struggle to survive the aftermath the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It’s heady, emotional stuff for a youth theater to take on. But director Dave Hart knows that his young actors are up to the challenge, and guides them through an emotionally riveting and visual luscious production.
The show opens with a stunning Kabuki theater-style dancer, who inhabits the stage with a silent, flowing grace. The show, at times, delves into Japanese culture and ritual, and the presence of this Kabuki Lion Dancer amplifies the differences between our culture and theirs.Sara Jane Killian performs this role with a poetic flourish.
The opening sequence is a series of vignettes that brings the audience from the humble lives of those living in Hiroshima to that fateful day, when the bomb — known as “Little Boy” — dropped from the Enola Gay bomber and forever altered countless innocent lives. The opening also includes Travis Pressley as an Enola Gay officer. He shares the reactions of the airmen who had no idea of the devastating impact of their duty that day. It is haunting and refreshing to experience that often-overlooked perspective.
By the end of the opening sequence, many audience members were softly weeping. It packs an emotional wallop. The show pivots to the mundane day to day lives that the survivors cobble for themselves afterward. For Sadako, reality is worrying about winning a school relay race and playing with her friends. The normalization after such a traumatic event is stark, and reminds us of the innocence of children. But Sadako’s youthful journey is interrupted by Leukemia (which she develops a full decade years after the bomb decimated her family’s lives and home). Her fight to overcome the disease is often sad, but also inspiring.
Many of the roles are cast with actors who alternate weekends of performance, but several play the same roles across the full run. Andrew Johnson and Aniela Lane play Sadako’s parents, and though they are clearly too young to comprehend the span of emotions required, they give it their all and provide a solid anchor of emotion for the show.
Nearly two dozen young actors are a part of this production, with a dozen more involved behind the scenes. Their ambitious production is remarkable in its execution, and holds its own as a serious piece of theater, youth or otherwise. These kids and their families and friends should be proud of the powerful message they are presenting.
WHAT: A Thousand Cranes by Studio 52
WHERE: Flat Rock Downtown, 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville. frpstudio52.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 20. Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $10-$18.
(Photo: Scott Treadway/Courtesy of Treadshots)
"Come play with us" takes on a new meaning at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown next month with the Studio 52 production of "A Thousand Cranes," as the community is asked to get involved in a project to honor Sadako Sasaki, a 12-year-old girl who faced an uphill battle as she fought radiation sickness from the bombing of Hiroshima.
The play "A Thousand Cranes," which tells Sadako's story, runs Nov. 11-20 at Flat Rock's downtown Hendersonville theater.
The community project is an invitation from the company of "A Thousand Cranes" directed at students of all ages to join the company in its efforts to fold “a thousand cranes.” The origami will aid the stage production and will later be sent to Japan to help in the celebration honoring Sadako during the 58th anniversary of the unveiling of Sadako Sasaki’s statue, erected in Hiroshima Peace Park.
The show and project are "an opportunity for the Playhouse to tell the story of hope and depict the struggle for peace in the lives of children across the world," according to a news release.
In the show, Sadako, an excellent athlete who trains rigorously with her friend Kenji to win an important foot race, falls ill. As the playhouse summarized: "It is clear she must instead begin the race for her life. Instead of losing hope, Sadako is reminded of an ancient Japanese story, 'if a sick person folds a thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.' It is with this intent that the boundlessly optimistic Sadako sets out to build 'a thousand cranes.'"
Director Dave Hart explained that the cast of 17 students, ages 8-19, are rehearsing the show and enhancing the script with their own research.
“It is through this production that I hope audiences will gain an empathy and understanding of this young girl’s life as she fights to stay alive,” Hart said. “Her passion, her determination, and her desire that no other child must be hurt by war.”
With that in mind, the young actors set out "to fulfill Sadako’s wish of peace by folding the cranes that will be used in the set design of this production, as well as in performance."
Members of the community who wish to join in the project should contact Hart at Studio 52 at 828-693-3517 for information on how to participate, and how to drop off or ask for pickup of the completed origami. Studio 52 is asking all those participating to write down a wish on each origami paper before following one of the instructional online links for folding the paper crane.
“Come play with us, and make a difference in the world one crane at a time,” Hart said.
For instructions on how to fold origami cranes, email email@example.com or follow one of these links:
Performances of "A Thousand Cranes" are intended for ages fourth grade and up, due to the difficult issues discussed in the play. The show will run at the Playhouse Downtown, 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville, from Nov. 11-20. Tickets are $10-$18 via 828-693-0731 or flatrockplayhouse.org.
The cast for "A Thousand Cranes" includes Jia Hind and Marie Danos, alternating the role of Sadako; Joseph Sherer and Brice Farris, alternating the role of Kenji; Andrew Johnson as Father; Aniela Lane as Mother; and Lianas Pronyk and Mae Freeman, alternating the role of Grandmother Oba Can. The ensemble includes Ansley Blackford, Marissa Connelly, Zoe Corbin, Taylor Jane Frangesh, Alexander Guazzo, Sophia Larsen, Sara Killian, Auden Pelz and Emily Warrick.