Many people shared their personal recollections of Andrew Tsubaki at the memorial service in Lawrence, Kansas on 20 December 2009. For me, the two most moving testimonials came from his sons.
Philip, the younger son who lives in Campinas, Brazil, said his father left Japan for North America in 1957, at the age of 26, his character and personality already formed as a young Japanese male from that period—strict, stern, austere, demanding, undemonstrative, unemotional. Philip confessed that he was surprised, and ultimately comforted by, the many email messages which poured in from his father’s former students—one in particular, which said that “the sensei always had hugs for everyone.”
Arthur, the older son who lives in Rockford, Illinois, spoke of his father’s love of travel, and how he took Lily and the boys with him whenever he could. But, Arthur said, they rarely actually travelled together, because his father always departed a day or two earlier, to make sure all the arrangements and accommodations were satisfactory. Having paved the way, he would then meet the family at the airport upon their arrival, and that’s how all their trips began. Arthur ended the reminiscence by saying this is how he now views the death of his father—that, as is his habit, he has simply preceded them on yet another trip, paving the way for them, and that they will again find him waiting for them at the end of their journey.
Although I thought I would, I was not among those who spoke at Andrew Tsubaki’s memorial service, because I suddenly didn’t quite know how to put my thoughts into words, not after I heard the outpouring of grief and love from his two sons. But now, a couple of days later, my mind a bit clearer, I’d like to share my own Andrew Tsubaki story.
In 1995, Andrew directed the English Alternative Theatre production of Tea by Velina Hasu Houston, a play about five Japanese warbrides trying to live “normal” lives in Junction City, Kansas. As the producer of the show, I had made arrangements to hold our rehearsals in a large studio-like space on the second floor of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. A couple of days before rehearsals began, Andrew asked me if the budget for the production could include the purchase of half a dozen each of the following items—brooms, dustpans, mops, sponges, buckets.
“Yes, of course,” I replied, “but what are they for?”
“The rehearsal space is sacred,” he said. “This place is not as clean as it should be. The actors must clean this place each night before we rehearse.”
And that’s what they did, the five Asian women we had found to play the Japanese warbrides, on their hands and knees each night before rehearsals began, scrubbing and cleaning those wooden floors at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. Needless to say, the EAT production of Tea was wondrous and magical. Andrew Tsubaki would not have had it otherwise.
Although I love the notion that the rehearsal space for a play is sacred, I’ve never dared to ask my actors to do what Andrew Tsubaki demanded of his. Only the sensei could get away with it. I have visions of him now, supervising a choir of angels, all of them on their hands and knees, purifying the heavens, because the final resting place of an artist is, without any doubt, sacred.
Paul, this is SO great. What a story. Thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing! I have wonderful memories of Andrew as his office assistant in the early 80s.
Sorry to have missed the services. I’ve been in Seattle for awhile and will be till New Years. I just wanted to share a small story with you about Andy.
In the summer of 1976, I was on a Japan Foundation Grant, feverishly touring Japan’s largest museums photographing Ukiyoe woodblock prints. I made special trip to Osaka to see “Chushingura” at the famous Bunraku theatre there. Prior to entering, I was asked not to take photographs during the performance, which was a real source of disappoint for me but I obviously complied. Within minutes after the performance began, someone sitting behind me began to take photographs with their 35 mm. camera. The click, click, click of their shutter almost drove me crazy making it abundantly clear why photography was not allowed during performances. At intermission I got up to go to the lobby when I thought I would glance back to convey a dirty look to the instigator of this distraction, and discovered that the camera operator was Andy Tsubaki who was sitting directly behind me. He was obviously one of the privileged few to be allowed to take photographs during performances. We had lunch afterwards and had a good laugh over this.
Paul: I love your memory of Andrew. That story is so accurate to how he conducted his life. And I agree he is probably making the stage clean for others that will come.
Thank you, Paul, for your lovely story. I am deeply saddened to learn about Andrew Tsubaki’s death and sorry that I wasn’t at his memorial service. One of my fondest memories and proudest experiences, as an actor, was playing the bandit in Andrew’s mainstage production of Rashomon at KU. Professor Tsubaki
knew exactly what he wanted, which was
for us actors to perform the play in a quasi-Kabuki style. The work was exotic and deliciously challenging, and I know that frequently our efforts must have
appeared clumsy and crude to Andrew.
Never hinting at any disappointment or
the frustration that I often felt, Andrew
Tsubaki kept gently nudging us forward
until he quietly let us know finally that we
got it. I don’t think that I was ever so pleased to please a director. I can only hope that he somehow sensed the respect
and affection I felt for him. Thank you, Paul, for allowing me to say so.
I never had the pleasure of taking one of your classes or being in one of your shows but I was ALWAYS blown away by your work! My friends who did have the honor of studying with you commanded a great respect for you.
I know you don’t know who I am but I wanted to thank you so much for posting your thoughts and some of what was said during Tsubaki Sensei’s memorial. I loved and respected him dearly. I really wanted to go home for the service but I could not swing it. Your post is really beautiful and made me feel like I was there.
Thank you again and I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy New Year.
In over forty years of going to the theatre, I can count on one hand the shows I revisit frequently in my mind’s eye, and Andrew Tsubaki’s production of RASHOMON is right up there. As I recall, Andrew not only directed it, but he also designed the set and the costumes. Rhonda Blair’s first entrance into the forest, and your first glimpse of her, remain forever etched in my memory.
It was apparent from the remarks at Andrew Tsubaki’s memorial service, that he had a tremendous range of interests, and that they all contributed to the kind of theatre he created. In an age of specialization, we have fewer and fewer teachers like Andy, which makes us feel his loss even more. I’m glad that you knew him too.
That’s a wonderful story. Up till the late 1970s, and maybe even into the early 1980s, Andy took all the photographs of all the productions at University Theatre, and they have him to thank for their wonderful archives during that period.
The funny thing is that the “cleaning ritual” became so natural to me, even after leaving Kansas, whenever I found myself in some live events either hosting or mc’ing or just crewing, I would come in early and clean the space.
Wonderful story Paul. Tsubaki Sensei certainly had a different way of doing things, which was challenging and incredibly refreshing.
I can echo all of Peter Miner’s sentiments. I’m still thankful for the rare priviledge of playing the husband in his last production of Roshomon (in 1996?), and I remember thinking “What? A 3-month rehearsal process? Seriously?” But then by the time of opening, feeling like I wished we’d had more time, to be able to “nail it” with the same precision that Andrew could muster when demonstrating, which seemed almost effortless to him.
The thing that surprised me throughout the process, was how incredibly warm (and funny) he was. In my years there, before I knew him, he appeared to be quite stern, intimidating. Once you were within his circle, he was shockingly warm and caring, and frequently told jokes. His jokes, told by anyone else might not have been exceptionally funny, but coming from him, with that subdued half-smile, were utterly hilarious.
I’ve thought of the show often over the years, still carry a scar on one knee, from the death-blow plunge of the bandit’s sword, which was just a few inches off one performance. It was one of my favorite experiences at KU.
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