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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

2018 Pull Festival: Q&A with director Susan Miyagishima

Miyagishima directs Sherry MacDonald's The Black Shawl and Jessica Harvey's Real Company at this year's festival of ten-minute plays

The Pull Festival, Vancouver’s annual festival of ten minute plays, returns for its seventh year featuring new works from Vancouver-based playwrights.

In the first of our series with this year’s Pull Festival directors, we find out more from Susan Miyagishima about what brought her to the festival, and the two plays she will direct.

This interview has been edited.

Why did you decide to submit your name to direct at this year’s Pull Festival?

I have been working as a professional stage manager for ten years and in that time I’ve been witness to many varied approaches to the work.  As I’ve sat in rehearsal hall after rehearsal hall, I’ve naturally had my own opinions on what works and what doesn’t or on what choices the creators are making.  Often I end up acting as a sounding board for the director, being another set of eyes in the room, especially with more open and collaborative directors. In recent years, I’ve found that I’ve developed a strong aesthetic of my own and have had the opportunity to contribute more and more in the productions I work on.  I’ve been wanting to continue to develop as a creator, and the Pull Festival is a perfect opportunity for me to do so. I get to work with two different short pieces, with a great group of emerging writers and actors, and get a chance to try my hand at taking the reins all on my own in a fun open supportive atmosphere.

Tell us about the plays you are directing.

I’m directing The Black Shawl by Sherry MacDonald, and Real Company by Jessica Harvey.

The Black Shawl is a one-woman piece where a young woman finds herself at the edge of the train tracks with an empty baby carriage, and is piecing together the events that led her there.

Real Company is an ensemble piece that’s based on a company in Japan that offers relationships for hire.  Through this company, you can hire an actor to play almost any role in your life from a date for a family wedding to seat filler at your presentation, from a friend in your Instagram photos to a parent.  We get a glimpse into this world through the eyes of one of the company’s companions who is questioning her level of commitment to the job.

What is it about the plays you are directing that excites you the most?

I was immediately drawn to both pieces. The Black Shawl is a wonderfully written piece and a strong showcase for a female performer.  I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a lot of tension and suspense as well as heartbreak.  I’m really excited to work with the actor, Missy Cross, to bring this character’s journey to life for the audience.  It’s a great chance for some interesting storytelling.

With the Real Company, I find the topic of these hire-a-human companies fascinating.  I’ve heard about them in Japan, and at first may have just chalked it up as another quirky Japanese concept, but I think it’s actually not as out there as it may seem.  There’s a lot to be said about how we value connections, how we fill the voids and combat loneliness, how we curate our lives to create the persona we present to the world, how true our relationships really are.  I’m excited by work that shines a light in new places and makes us think about the world in different ways.

The plays are just ten minutes in length – as a director does this frighten you or excite you?

I’m more exited than frightened by the ten-minute length.  Being a new director, the shorter length seems manageable for my first foray to the craft.  It also means I can do two pieces and so I can have a variety of experience.  Certainly it will be a challenge to create a full arc, create interesting layered characters, create a fully formed story in such a short amount of time, but the writers have done a great job of giving us solid material to work with.

Do you approach directing a short play the same way you do a full-length play?

Having never directed a full-length play before, I can’t speak to that, but I imagine I would approach it in a similar way.  In my other theatre work, I find that the job at hand is the same regardless of the length of the play.  Shorter plays perhaps require less rehearsal time, but the time spent in the rehearsal room is treated the same.

Why should someone want to come see the plays you are directing?

First and foremost, people should come to Pull to have a good time.  They’ll get see some interesting new work, be introduced to some great emerging artists, and connect with others in the community in a fun, party atmosphere. We have barely begun and I’ve already met a slew of fabulous new artists and collaborators and all-round fun people.

The plays this year are really varied and there seems to be something for everyone.  My plays specifically have really wonderful performers involved and they are telling two very different stories, but both are touching and thought provoking in their own ways.

Pull Fest VII takes place at the Little Mountain Gallery (195 East 26th Ave, Vancouver) March 21-24. Visit for tickets and information.

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