Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Afternoon with Distant Voices

The young man's words conveyed a range of feelings, from confusion to anger, and, sometimes, momentary happiness. His name was Hiroaki Nishimura, an American citizen interned in the Japanese American Internments camps during World War II. He is also the father of Julie Nishimura, who co-founded Distant Voices Touring Theatre her husband, Danny Peak, who turned Hiroaki's journals into a moving live performance. "Distant Voices" is presented as a reading by Peak with details from newsreels and historical documents read by David Stradley and Michelle Jacob adding context to what was happening. The 15-minute excerpt from the 70-minute piece simply told Hiroaki's firsthand story -- parts of it -- without commentary. It's a powerful piece that begs many questions; and in all presentations of "Distant Voices," whether at a school or library or museum, includes a question and answer session.

At the DVTT Salon on November 21, the discussion was largely centered on anger. Hiroaki's journal entries showed disappointment and resentment, but no anger and little despair. Guest Hiro Nishikawa of the Japanese American Citizens League shared more stories of young interned men revolting, sometimes leading them to harsher, high security camps, and of men -- Americans, remember -- refusing service when their draft numbers came up even though it meant giving up more freedom for prison. Yet many men did serve, even while their families remained in camps. It's easy to see how the discussions can cover days, as it does when DVTT brings the show, along with pre-preparation sessions, to schools.

The second part of the show brought us into the 2000s, with an excerpt from the post 9/11 piece "September Echoes." The full show explores the aftermath of the attacks from several points-of-view; the 15-minute excerpt focused almost exclusively on a young Syrian in Seattle named Nadin. Nadin's family's home was raided by Immigration and Naturalization Services after 9/11 and she and her parents were held for nine months. Her story was taken from a speech she had given, delivered powerfully by Michelle Jacob. There are some obvious parallels between Nadin's and Hiroaki's stories, as well as contrasts.

Distant Voices offers educational programs for middle and high school, including workshops and a 45-minute show. often free of charge. To help fund these educational programs, DVTT will be holding a wine tasting benefit on Sunday, December 19 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at Deerfield Fine Wines in Newark. The event will include a selection of 25 wines, entertainment, free child care and a discount on wine purchases for a $10 suggested donation. For more information on the benefit or to find out more about the outreach programs, contact Danny Peak at

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