How do you engage your audience? When leaving the theater after Under the Radar’s Club Diamond, I was met with the confused and unsatisfied faces of my colleagues. A common complaint was a wish for something...more. My response was honestly not very different. Noting that a common a theme of the piece was in fact silence, this does not seem unwarranted. However, the question is why? Why could we not be satisfied with the silence?
Club Diamond takes the traditional role of the benshi (a traditional Japanese silent film narrator,) to portray an immigration story of a young Japanese woman. The story was based on creator Saori Tsukada’s own story in which she comes to America as a hopeful actress with no money and ends up landing a job in a New York City gentlemen's club. The benshi used to be a respected performer in Japan. but suffered decline with the introduction of the "talkies." Tsukada tells both her own story and that of the benshi and their change of status. Why wasn't this enough for American audiences?
Bringing it back to the theme of silence, Tsukada proposes, “Americans don’t like silence” at the end of her piece. Why don’t Americans like silence? Well, for one, it often exposes truth.
Saori's work in the gentlemen’s club brings to light American “rape” cultures and, in this case, its integration into achieving the “American Dream.” But Saori portrays the problem without commentary.
Tsukada's statement on silence at the end of the work creates a kind of dead air hanging in the theater. The night I saw the performance, the audience sat in silence as if to contradict her assertion. It wasn't until Tsukada summoned her co-creators, Nikki Appino and Tim Fain, that the audience began to applaud. Did this strange ending represent a gap between cultures or a misaligned fusion?