Maiko Yamamoto and James Long

Recent recipients of the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, the largest theatre prize in Canada, Maiko Yamamoto and James Long are both graduates of our School for the Contemporary Arts. They founded Theatre Replacement in 2003. Aside from their annual East Van Panto, which has been entertaining audiences of all ages for eight years, the company produces experimental theatre that is authentic, contemporary, and hopeful. Their most recent production, MINE, in which gamers/performers aged 11 to 46 act out mother-son narratives using the video game Minecraft, has been transformed into a livestreamed event on Facebook and Twitch due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Theatre Replacement's work has been presented in 43 cities and venues around the world, and, as freelance artists, they also direct, write, teach and create theatre productions with many collaborators.

We asked Maiko and James 10 questions to get to know them better: 

Describe your dream job.

Maiko Yamamoto: Essentially, working for my own company is my dream job. Jamie and I have worked hard to grow Theatre Replacement into a company that best realizes the projects that get dreamed up, both for ourselves and the amazing artists and people we work with. So supporting the vision of T/R (a company that focuses on new work, made through collaborative processes, with intercultural teams, building networks near and far) is still super fulfilling for me. Do I wish we had more resources so that we could go further and deepen the work we do? Most definitely. Do I wish I had a bit more time to simply dream and think of new projects? Yes. Do I wish we had better benefits? Of course. Life/work balance? Please. But it's hard to deny what it has meant to have Theatre Replacement as a home and a vehicle.

James Long: When I am in the studio and there is joy amongst the collaborators and things are clicking, difficult and dialog inducing, it’s kind of hard to beat the job I have.  

What is your idea of success?

MY: I think of success much differently than when I was a younger artist. When I was younger, I thought success was getting a grant, or booking a touring gig, or receiving a positive critique. But I now know that success is actually a series of things that are moving me towards being balanced in the work I do. So, in any given week it could be having a great conversation with an artist on a future collaboration; going for a run; reading an inspiring article; settling some details around an upcoming tour; helping my kids with their homework; working a day in the studio on a creative project; seeing a show I enjoyed; getting a grant in, etc. If I can feel like I've got all these plates spinning and I'm enjoying spinning them, and I'm spinning them with some skill and finesse, then I feel like I'm getting somewhere. 

JL: That above-mentioned feeling of clicking and difficult and dialog inducing. If that can happen in a process and then carry on to the experience of a public experiencing a finished work — that is success.

Describe your most memorable experience during your time at SFU.

MY: I just remember this incredible feeling of community. So many days and nights hanging out with people who were chewing on the same things, and moments of flight and friendship. There were challenges, sure, but I mostly remember feeling like I was right where I was supposed to be. 

JL: Many of those happened with a small group of friends and occasional strangers on the side of Burnaby Mountain late, late at night.  It’s best I keep the details private.  

Tell us about one of your important mentors or role models.

MYKer Wells. I was taught by Ker, and then taught with Ker, and also had the great pleasure of making work with Ker. He will forever be a mentor and dear friend. 

JL: There are so many — we lean on each other a lot in the arts. Norman Armour for sure for his friendship, kindness and ethic. 

What is the most important thing you learned during your degree?

MY: This might sound a bit strange, but it's probably the etiquette that Marc Diamond and Penelope Stella taught as part of their pedagogy. A large part of the training was on how to sustain yourself through all the ins and outs of a life in the theatre. Everything from how to deal with opening night praise, to leaving tough work at the studio door, to staying away from gossip. These are things I still use to this day. 

JL: Repetition works. 

If you could go back to school and take any course for fun, what would you study?

MY: Before I auditioned for the theatre program at SFU, I was taking courses in sociology and anthropology, as well as archaeology. I'd probably go back into something like that again. Or mycology. I'm really into fungi.  

JL: So many. I just went back and did a master’s in Urban Studies and got turned on to the vast world of economics, especially the not so mathy kind. I could imagine rolling around in that for a while. 

What do you most want to change about the world?

MY: This is a particularly tough question these days, and I feel like any answer I give is not going to do any of the things that need to change in this world any justice. Maybe I'll just quote my 9-year-old son, who said to me the other day: "Floods, locusts, fires, corona virus, climate you think I'll be a dad someday?"

JL: That question might be too much. I have little kids. 

What is the last book you read? 

MYReality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. Fascinating read. All about how video games could change the world. Right now, I'm reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which Jamie (Long) actually gifted to me. It's great so far. 

JL: I try to double up, a fiction and a non. The most recent one was Milkman by Anna Burns and A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

MY: I guess something like: don't sweat stuff so much. I spent a lot of time replaying conversations, moments and events and trying to do them 'better.' It certainly didn't hinder me, but I don't know how much it helped. 

JL: A life in the arts means making a lot of things up as you go along. Be smart about it.  Look for balance. 

If you had a catchphrase, what would it be?

MY: Oh gawd, I'm going to be bad at this. A few years ago, I made a show with some SFU theatre students, and we worked in the evenings, which was tough on all our brains. One of the students asked me what they should do during a particular moment, and I said: "You do as you is," which came out wrong, but sort of became the catch phrase of our process, and when I see these students now, they always repeat it back to me. So maybe I'll use this one for now: You do as you is. 

JL: This too shall pass.