Soul of The City
“…a defiant call that the city’s living memory, its spirit and soul, persists.”
Soul of The City follows a storyteller who has no more stories to tell. Her husband is sick, her boy has moved away, and no one is listening to her stories. Pursued by demons and haunted by ghosts, the storyteller embarks on a journey to find the soul of San Francisco. This multimedia music drama is a ritual performance. Rooted in traditional Japanese theater and music and infused with contemporary spoken word and Asian American Jazz, the Soul of The City reveals the divine in us all.
The audience is invited to dress in celebratory attire and will gather in the garden to put prayers, photographs, or talisman on the Soul of The City sacred tree. A Buddhist priest will bless us with a purification ceremony and willing participants will be given temple bells to call the ancestors. We will then go inside the theatre. The audience will witness a ritual performance of jazz, storytelling, and poetry that is accompanied by photographs and images of Brenda’s family in San Francisco since the 1800’s. At the conclusion of the performance we will return to the garden for refreshments, renewed, recharged and inspired to carry on.
Soul of The City Creative Team
Written by Brenda Wong Aoki. Directed by David Furumoto with musical direction by Masaru Koga. Original music by Mark Izu, Masaru Koga, and Derek Nakamoto. Multimedia by Andi Wong, Olivia Ting, and Mark Shigenaga. Costumes by Lydia Tanji. Performers include Brenda Wong Aoki, Caroline Cabading, Masaru Koga, devorah major, Shoko Hikage, Jimi Nakagawa, and Kenneth Nash.
Soul of The City Trailer
Receiving the Hewlett 50 Playwright Commission is the greatest honor of my life, and a responsibility to truth tell that I do not take lightly. I received this award prior to the pandemic and was going to create a very different work, but life intervened. My husband and I were stalked for miles in Golden Gate Park by a man calling us the “Virus!” Four of our friends were beaten up, one so badly he almost died. People were calling Mark and I from all over the country asking us here in San Francisco, the birthplace of Asia America, for guidance as assaults spiked nationally. The violence continued to spread, encompassing the vulnerable in all communities, not just Asians. Covid continued and performing artists spent years without work. I got so stressed out that I ended up in the hospital. That is where this work, Soul of The City, really began.
In the hospital I couldn’t talk, which is very distressing for a storyteller. It wasn’t that I couldn’t actually talk, it was that I didn’t know how to respond because people’s emotions were so much louder than their words. That’s when I realized that I could talk to anyone whose language I didn’t speak! It was wonderful! I’d look into their eyes (the windows of the soul) and use my face and hands to show them how I felt, and we understood each other perfectly.
Outside the window of my hospital room was a gigantic pine tree. One day when I was feeling blue I looked at her and realized she was trying to talk to me (Aoki means pine tree.) The tree’s long beautiful needles danced in the breeze as if soothing me and when I was depressed, they shook like pom-poms cheering me on.
I looked at this huge mama tree and understood that our roots connect us to the earth and the earth connects us to one another. The only thing that heals is love and the greatest love is mother’s love because we women are the creators of the next generation so God, The Creator, must be a Mother.
This work, Soul of The City, is presented to you with some of my dearest friends – masters of their crafts with nothing to prove but lots to share. We are warriors – but not soldiers. We are Soulgers. We know why we are here, on this planet, at this moment in time, and we know what we must do. We will do it until we die. And even after because like all of us, our bodies return to the earth, our souls go back to Source and the actions we put into motion continue.
– Brenda Wong Aoki
“Brenda Wong Aoki is a Bay Area talent who creates the kind of shows you just won’t find anywhere else. The playwright, actor and storyteller’s works are an eclectic blend of Eastern and Western traditional narratives, dance, poetry, Asian and traditional jazz music and other elements that come together in a way that feels both ancient and of the moment.”
I think Soul of the City is an allegorical story about the city of San Francisco and in particular, Brenda’s life spent living here. It also serves as a rallying call for the true citizens of the city to overcome all the doom and gloom and come together as a unified community to push back hatred of any group of people and to revive the soul of the city.
Based on many autobiographical stories of her mixed ethnic family tree, she follows how they all come to San Francisco and become a major part of the history of the City and follows her own path here as a performer, teacher, social activist and a proud long time San Franciscan. With the premise of a storyteller who feels she has no more stories to tell and being attacked for her Asian heritage, she hovers between life and death. With the appearance of the Mother (played by esteemed SF poet laureate devorah major) who takes her on a journey of self-discovery and decision.
The piece will be a moving and inspiring mix of spoken word, poetry, musical styles (featuring seven musicians representing jazz, taiko, koto, African percussion) and movement (drawing upon Asian theatre forms one will see influences such as Kabuki and Noh) and ultimately will hopefully have the audience reenergized and bring the soul of the City back to a newly vibrant state.
Prior to entering the theatre there will be events happening in the plaza outside where audience members will have the opportunity to write their own wishes and prayers to hang on the Tree of Life (a special ikebana installation) as well as be blessed and offer prayers for peace and in honor of the Ancestors.
– David Furumoto, Director
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