On the Way to Tomo
Imagine planning for almost 10 months to put together a single night of performances that encapsulate both entertainment and a cultural learning experience. Imagine spending hours in practice for dance, singing or drumming in preparation for a single performance. Imagine a show that tries to help people integrate their culture with their lifestyle in America.
For Tomo No Kai, UC Irvine’s Japanese/Japanese-American cultural and social club, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since June of last year. The club is debuting its 26th Annual Cultural Night, Kicking It With Tomo, on Saturday, May 4 at the UCI Barclay Theater.
“The Cultural Night is meant to inform as well as entertain the audience of the Japanese-American culture,” second-year Lauren Hishinuma, one of the two Cultural Directors, said. “It is a chance for regular college students from our club to try something out of the ordinary, whether it be acting, singing or dancing.”
The Cultural Night has been in the works and planned since last June, with contributions from the two Cultural Directors, the President, the Cabinet and the performers for each act.
“Masaki Coggins and Lauren Hishinuma, our Cultural Night directors, have been dedicating hundreds of hours in planning and organizing it out. Each act we have has their own coordinators who specialize in each cultural aspect, and they are the ones that teach our general members. We get the groups together by publicizing our Cultural Night early on in fall quarter and see who is interested,” president of Tomo No Kai and fourth-year student Kevin Onishi said.
The club showcases its Cultural Acts, including a skit, Odori, Modern, Tones and Taiko. The skit relates to a topic in Japanese-American culture, Odori is a form of traditional Japanese dancing and Modern is the modern dance group that puts their own flair of Japanese-American culture into the choreography. Tones is the singing group and Taiko is a type of Japanese drumming.
Rehearsals for the acts begin during fall quarter and practices during the week consist of going over their lines or dance pieces constantly. Each act meets once a week, some for as long as four hours of practice. Actual rehearsals for Cultural Night began on Saturday, April 27, where all of the acts met together for the first time to do a complete run-through.
The skit this year focuses on the struggles of the Japanese-American basketball league communities and how they have to deal with new issues such as diversity and understanding one’s culture.
“Each year we ask someone to be our skit writer for the year and it has been a trend to ask Tomo Alumni. This year, our skit writers include Brad Ishikawa, Bryce Kubo and Grant Kakehashi, and they began writing it in August of last summer,” Onishi said.
Open skit practices are held in fall quarter for people interested in performing and then skit writers hold auditions to assign the roles.
“The best part was the process of developing the story. We wanted to make sure the skit wouldn’t lose the interest of the cast or the audience at any point, so we had a lot of fun working jokes and obscure references into the script. But the most rewarding part is seeing the cast members become engaged and working toward our ultimate goal — celebrating our culture,” Brad Ishikawa, an alumnus of Tomo No Kai, said.
The cast of the skit contains 19 members, each with a role that brings something worthwhile for the skit and makes it fun for them.
“We tried to tailor each role to the cast member so they’d be comfortable in it,” Ishikawa said.
Overall, despite the stresses of planning, rehearsing and practicing, the students and performers of Tomo No Kai are ready to put on a great performance that helps entertain their audience and encourages them to connect with their culture.
“My favorite part is definitely seeing the members of each act progress and at the end come together into one cohesive show. There’s so much that goes into planning the Cultural Night that it can get overwhelming, but with the support everyone has given us, it has made it more enjoyable,” Hishinuma said.