Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hiroshi Kashiwagi Interview
Narrator: Hiroshi Kashiwagi
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
Date: July 3, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-khiroshi-02-0026

<Begin Segment 26>

AI: But in the meantime, you were mentioning that you had continued your interest in theater and drama.

HK: Yes. Well, I had done theater in L.A. In 1947, I think, we formed a Nisei experimental group, and I had a friend who was taking drama at City College during the day, and then at night, he would bring it back to our group, and then he would share this, what he learned at the, at the class. So we had our acting classes that way, and then we thought we would do something, and then I thought, "Well, maybe we better do something original." So I, I wrote a play. I was working at the library, I think, so I had access to books on playwriting, and I read a few, and then I wrote the play, and that was our first production, yeah. And the fellow who directed that play was a student that, or graduate of Pasadena Playhouse, and then he was working with a theater in Hollywood, and we went, we happened to go see the production, and we talked to the actors, and he was one of them. And he said, we said that we were looking for someone to direct our play. And so he, he volunteered, and so I got to know him, he directed my play. And we've known each other since, and that was in late '40s. '48, '47-'48. So he, he says that he met me before he met his wife. And I've known them both through the years, over fifty years.

AI: Well, tell me about that, that experience of writing a play, and then seeing your work produced.

HK: Oh, yes. Yeah, the first play is, you remember it the most. Well, I write it, I wrote it from a standpoint of an actor. Some playwrights, they forget about the actor and they write impossible things, you know, so that you're forced to change your costume in a second -- [laughs] -- because the playwright never thought of that. But as an actor, you think of those things, and I thought I wrote it from the actor's point of view because I also acted in the play, and that's a hard thing to do; to act, concentrate on one part when you, you've written the whole, other parts. But yeah, it's, it's fun, yes. It's the reaction you get from the audience, that is good, and then the way the actors interpret the part. It's very satisfying, yeah. But writing for publication is satisfying, too, and one of that is I read it back to myself, and that's like, somewhat like you getting reaction from the audience, too. But, and then to see it in print, after you see it in print, then you want to read it again. You've read it many times already, but then you want to read it again. Yeah, it's, it's a good, good feeling.

AI: Well, tell me a little bit about the nature of this first play.

HK: Well, it's based on something that happened to us. As I said, we worked on the farm right after we came out of camp. And we first worked, my mother moved into that cabin with several families, and then gradually, they moved to, settled into more permanent places, and then one summer we worked that farm, the people who owned that farm hired us for their harvest. So that, we worked that farm, and then we went to Lodi, I think, to harvest the grapes, and then after that, we didn't have anyplace to go, so we had to find a place. And we found a place way in Lincoln, which we had never been to. It seemed like way in the forest, way out there. And we worked this place, and they had a cabin and an inside toilet and all that, bath they'd set up for us.

And so we worked there for, 'til about the time that the fruits were ready to be harvested, and then we had a little conflict. I think my mother was speaking, talking with another woman, who came out to work, to pack the fruits. And they were speaking in Japanese. And the woman claimed that she understood some Japanese, but I doubt it. But just the fact that they were speaking in Japanese in front of her, and she had, she had lost someone in the war or something. And so she, she was not very pleased, just by the fact that these people were speaking in Japanese in front of her. And I, I don't know. She complained about my mother and me, and my brother was supposed to be the, the "good person," you know, who worked hard and was very... [laughs]. But I, I was, I was just spending my time there, so that I could get away and do something. So we, we had this conflict, and we decided that with her attitude, we didn't want to stay there, and we were, we made a decision to move out. And then the boss came, because the fruits were about to be picked, and he couldn't lose his workers. So he came and offered us a little raise in pay, to entice us, entice to stay. But we refused that and we moved out.

Well, that was the basis of the play, and it's called The Plums Can Wait. [Laughs] And it's really very close to what happened. Some of them, the dialect is verbatim, as I recalled it. And so when it was, I was able to, I was asked to publish it in a collection, and I knew that this woman was still alive, and knowing her, I didn't want to take a chance, so I, after I had promised that, that they could publish it, I said, "Oh, I better withdraw that." So it hasn't been published. But that, the conflict is of the two brothers, my brother and myself, and as I said, we always had that, he's very straight. And he wanted to stay. He thought it was wrong to leave, to leave these people with their plums hanging. [Laughs] And I was, I said, "Well, we don't have to take that nonsense." And then the, my brother is quite like my father, who is deceased in the play. And, and so he represents the, the father's side, and then the... so I win by moving the family out. And then there is this boss character who comes, and he was, I called him Mr. Brown at first, and then I changed it to Mr. White. [Laughs] And my friend, who directed the play, also played Mr. White, and he says he remembers how the audience hated him. [Laughs] Wouldn't talk to him.

AI: Well, this must have been quite interesting as far as for the actors, and also the audience.

HK: Yeah. And it was bilingual. Mother talked in Japanese. And then the kids would, in their response, would, would let the audience know what she's saying. And so it was a bilingual play, yes. And the kids would speak to the mother in English, yes.

AI: So, and your theater group, was, was it mainly Nisei?

HK: Yes. Except for these people who had to play white parts.

AI: The other parts?

HK: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, what kinds of reaction did you get from the actors about this play, because it must have been quite unusual for them to have a play where they were playing parts, roles, and acting out a drama that had some relevance to their own life?

HK: Yes. I think... yeah. I think, yeah, they, they really got into it. But the audience more so, because they were seeing something real to them, the Nikkei audience. And especially later, when we did it again before a larger audience, at first, in those days, people were too, were too busy to, to come to theater, so we only got a few people, and we did it in a small room like this, in a hotel, Miyako Hotel, the old Miyako Hotel there. And we got a few people sitting around. It was in the round, sort of, and... yeah. But historic because it was in (1948-1949) or so, I think.

AI: That, that sounds like one of the beginnings of Asian American theater.

HK: I think so. Yeah, way before the one in San Francisco. This is 1973 or so. And then, later, East West was a little earlier, and then later Northwest had, had theater. So yeah... uh-huh.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.