Jude Narita, actress, producer and playwright, brings her own one-woman show to Campbell Hall this Friday night. Critically acclaimed, “Stories Waiting to be Told” is a performance that celebrates the lives of Asian and Asian-American women.
Narita developed an appreciation for the arts from her mother, who was one of thousands of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. Family history and cultural heritage shape the themes that run through her works. The need to express the joys, fears, challenges and triumphs of women through art grew out of a frustration with the status quo.
“The media is pretty much run by older white men for the most part and they are used to the world being a certain way,” Narita said.
The worldview held by media and entertainment executives, although perhaps not malicious, is motivated by the bottom line.
“They want to sell to [people of color] but not in Beverly Hills,” Narita said. “It’s all about economics; it’s about holding the status quo and making a profit off new stuff that comes up through different avenues that people of color live off.”
It was this narrow perspective on race that Narita felt hindered her ability to land roles in the entertainment industry. Her physical appearance didn’t fit within the accepted demure, passive stereotype of the Asian women on stage, film or television. At the same time, Narita saw the complex character roles she wished to play going to other actors due to her race.
“I’m not right for the white parts and I’m not right for the Asian parts,” Narita said. “I was not a castable person in the Hollywood industry.”
The struggle for any actor or actress trying to make it in the business can be an uphill battle, but the issue of race can make the battle a demoralizing one. Instead of walking away defeated, Narita chose to take a risk and strike out on her own. Her frustration with the mainstream avenues of performance fired the creative process.
“It prompted me to try to write a piece for theater that worked with what I looked like,” Narita said.
That first piece, which Narita intended to be a monologue, turned into her first one-woman show. Narita focused her energy on developing thoughtful, realistic depictions of Asian and Asian-American women from varying social, economic and cultural backgrounds.
Independent of the Hollywood system, she has been able to entertain and enlighten audiences, while garnering critical acclaim and sustaining a passion for her work.
“I’ve built this whole career and gone out and been involved in peoples lives in a theater because when you do theater you become a part of peoples’ memory and their life,” Narita said.
Although the women profiled in “Stories Waiting to be Told” are united by race, Narita feels her stories are universal.
“I think what art has the potential to do is to unify us and remind us of our similarities and our humanity and that goes beyond gender and race,” she said.
Breaking down racial stereotypes is a beneficial byproduct of her work, but the way in which racial issues are dealt with is never didactic. Though she understands an element of her production is inherently political, Narita’s role is more that of guide than preacher.
“You’re not going to come in and get harangued and lectured,” she said. “The agreement is you come in and I entertain you in theater and we take a journey together, and hopefully your heart will open and we’ll experience this together.”