June Fukumura’s Dramaturgy


June Fukumura is a Japanese-Canadian multi-disciplinary theatre artist. She is a Co-Founder of New(to)Town Collective, an artist collective with a mandate to create new experimental works, provide ongoing accessible physical theatre training, and conduct experimental research workshops in Vancouver. New(to)Town Collective’s most recent work, My Name is SUMIKO, a clown show starring June, won the Public Market Pick of the Fringe Award. June is also the Co-Artistic Director of Popcorn Galaxies an experimental theatre company interested in re-enchanting the everyday through unconventional site-responsive works. During the last year, she has been developing a new practice in dramaturgy, both at Banff’s Playwrights Lab and as the first ever MSG Emerging Dramaturg supported by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and PTC. Kathleen Flaherty sat down with June to ask her about this new(ish) arrow in her professional quiver.

KF:  When you talk about dramaturgy, what do you say it is?

JF:  I think that my dramaturgical process is a collaborative inquiry working with the primary artist in trying to clarify what their vision is with them, for them, and with other folks in the room. I think “dramaturgically” everyone is working together, but as the dramaturg you have the position of being both inside the work and outside the work and to be fluid in what the artist needs.

KF:  So if you were telling your dad what you did for a living….?

JF: (laughs)  I help artists create work (laughs) in whatever capacity they need me in.

KF:  When did you start thinking that some of your skill set might apply to dramaturgy? 

JF:  I’ve been working as an independent artist for almost ten years now. I started at SFU Theatre and created my own work, so my work has been everything from creating scripts to performing them to producing them to being the administrator to working with other people. So, I’ve worked in various capacities over the years. And I think all of those skills are really useful to me now, and it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve thought that all these skills are actually applicable to dramaturgy.

KF:  About a year, you say? 

JF:  Yeah.

KF:  How did it manifest?

JF:  How did it manifest? I was called by Banff Playwrights Lab to be their Assistant Dramaturg.

KF:  So, what do you think made them think it should be you?

JF:  (Laughs) Excellent question. I think that they saw the independent work that I was doing, they maybe thought that I had a really well-rounded view of creation, in theatre formally, but also in other interdisciplinary forms. So, I think I bring my experience of being a creator in a lot of different capacities.

KF:  Are there particular aspects of your work that you think more apply to dramaturgy? That you rely on in a way, maybe?

JF:  Hmmm. I think what I’m interested in is embodied practice, which stems from my practice in physical theatre, in Grotowski-based, clown-based work, that’s very much about the body.  So I’m very interested in, curious about, those elements and having the vocabulary around embodied practice. And I’m also really interested in site-responsive work, in site-specific work, in the relationship the performer/performance has to audience. What the negotiation is between spectator and performer.  So those are two different but simultaneous interests that I have, that I work in a lot, that I bring to the dramaturgical process. The physical space you’re in and how you design the audience’s experience within that space is of interest to me. And, with my theatre company, Popcorn Galaxies we work often in traditionally non-theatrical spaces, so that’s a specific interest within a site specific or site responsive practice – working outdoors or in unconventional parts of the city or buildings that don’t usually have performers inside of them or performance inside of them.

MSG workshop with June Fukumura photo by Estefania Millan

MSG workshop with June Fukumura (centre), Gavan Cheema (left) and Kathleen Flaherty (right). Photo by Estefania Millan

KF:  Is there anything particular that surprised you about dramaturgy as you do it or as other people do it in the time that you’ve paid attention to it?

JF:  I suppose something that I’m learning, that I’m currently engaged with is the processes of, for example, casting… that feel like they’re both dramaturgical and administrative. Everything around the process.  It’s not just the one-to-one conversations that you’re having with the artist, but how you support the entire process – it can be so many different things for different processes. And I think I’m amazed at the adaptability of dramaturgs to be able to support processes; to find their way in is different with every single process and every different artist. So, I’m surprised by how adaptable you need to be, how flexible, and how responsive you need to be in that moment.  Because you never actually know what the process will be until you’re in it. That’s what I’m learning right now and I’m trying to find within that my own curiosities and my own strengths.

KF:  I know you are not surprised to find out how powerful some of your devising processes are, Hot Seat for example, but I wonder if you are surprised to find out how much impact they could have in a writing context.

JF:  Mmmmm, yeah. I think being able to draw on some of my practice as an actor, it seemed helpful to the playwrights who don’t have that experience.  So that was really exciting for me, to be able to take some of the things I’ve learned in my other practice and bring it forward into the dramaturgical practice. Because in playwrighting, for example, you really need to be able to write from the character’s perspective and you need to be inside that world in order to write it.

KF:  So, are you developing a philosophy of dramaturgy? Do you find yourself leaning toward certain principles as you navigate this territory?

JF:  I would say that I don’t really have one yet, but I’m developing one.

KF:  What are some of the attributes of it?

JF:  I think what I’m trying to develop is a sense of listening, deep listening, and trying to navigate and distinguish between a director’s point of view and a dramaturg’s point of view, and I think that’s very important. Especially with new work. And trying to articulate what I perceive and not take it personally or not feel attached to any one thing, because the work ultimately is not my own. To be deeply invested in a work and also be able to step away from it. I think of that, again, that flexibility, that adaptability of being able to be inside but also really on the outside.   think that’s a very useful, but also challenging position to be in. So, I think my philosophy about that would be, yeah, flexibility, adaptability, and listening (laughs).

KF:  I know you have different kinds of projects that you like to work on as an artist, as a creator. What kind of projects do you like to work on as a dramaturg? What attracts you to a project, makes you go, “Yeah, I could be a dramaturg for this project.”?

JF:  Most recently I’ve been really curious about dance dramaturgy and non-verbal dramaturgy, or works that don’t necessarily involve words.  I’ve never done that before; I think that’s one reason I’m so drawn to it. And recently I’ve worked with a lot of visual artists and dancers and people who work outside the realm of “theatre” and I’ve become more curious about how that works.

KF:  Are there different definitions of ‘narrative’ in those contexts, or is narrative even a consideration?

JF:  It seems like it could be more kaleidoscopic, in that you’re looking at the whole… images and how they affect your body, listening to your body in response to what’s happening. I’m curious about what it is, if there’s maybe a narrative, how it emerges….

KF:  I personally have no tools to bring to that, except observing my physical reactions and wondering how consistent they are.

JF:  I think maybe I just bring my self to it, and I think this goes back a bit to my philosophy, about curiosity. It’s integral for me to be able to trust my intuition and my curiosity and what draws my own attention.  Because what I’m bringing to the process is my self, and my own perspective, and nobody else’s.  If that’s useful to the process, that’s great; if that’s not useful to the process, I shouldn’t be the dramaturg for that process (laughs). In a similar way, if it’s dance or theatre, or whatever it is, it’s about noticing my own impulses and my curiosity and trying to articulate that so it’s helpful to the artist I’m working with. At least that’s my theory, and we’ll see, maybe I’ll test it.

KF:  Thanks, June.