Why you should know her: The Sweet Briar College senior’s directorial debut, Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s “The Love Suicides at Amijima,” will open this weekend in the college’s Babcock Studio Theatre.
Latoya, 22, grew up in Greeneville, S.C., and has been involved in theater since she was a little girl.
“I was always on stage,” she says, “until I came to college. I was introduced to the technical side of theater my freshman year and, since then, I’ve not really gone back to the acting side.”
For her senior project, she chose Monzaemon’s script, which was first performed in 1721 and is about the tragic relationship between a young prostitute and a paper merchant who decide the only way they can be together is to commit a lovers’ suicide.
The directorial effort will be the swan song of Latoya’s four years at Sweet Briar. After she graduates with a theater degree this spring, she plans to teach English abroad in Korea before pursuing anything stage-related.
Where did your interest in Japanese culture and Kabuki theater come from?
“I was introduced to the Japanese style of theater in high school when I had to do a monologue from ‘Madame Butterfly’ for drama class. After that, I dove into learning about not only Japanese theater but also Chinese and Thai.”
What are some characteristics of Kabuki theater?
“Kabuki theater is known for the extravagant makeup and dancing that goes on in each production. Any story that is told through this style of theater is told in a beautiful and elaborate way.”
Has your focus at Sweet Briar been more on acting or behind the scenes roles like directing, or a bit of both?
“Since I came to Sweet Briar, I have only auditioned for a show once. I began working backstage on building the set and went from props master all the way up to stage manager to now directing.”
Why did you choose "The Love Suicides" for your senior project?
“I love Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s writing. Most of the Kabuki plays put on today were written by him. Unfortunately, Kabuki theater is not as popular in America, so I wanted to do what I could to bring this beautiful world of theater into American culture.”
You've said that you want to make this play "more translatable to American culture." How are you doing that here? What are some challenges you've faced in pursuit of that goal?
“In Kabuki theater, there are dances and certain ways to walk that translate easily to a Japanese audience. In my production, I am not sticking strictly to that style, I have made it simpler in that aspect and more Americanized, with no dances or classic Kabuki walking. Luckily, portraying a love story is the easiest thing to translate into different cultures because everyone can find some way to relate. I have faced a couple problems with getting my actors to relate to their characters and how different things are seen and done in Japan in the Edo period.”
Are there any differences in how the two cultures would view certain aspects of the script?
“Yes, in the Japanese culture this play would be the equivalent to our greatest love stories such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or even anything that Nicholas Sparks has written. Along with that, there are certain historical references that the Japanese audience would understand that the American audience probably wouldn't understand.”
Have you ever directed any shows before, here or elsewhere?
“No, this is my first full show that I have directed. I have directed a small 10-minute play for a class, but that is about it.”
What has this experience been like?
“This has definitely been a huge learning experience. I have not only had to direct but also be technical designer, costume designer and of course have my hands in every aspect of this play. It has had its challenges, but I have really enjoyed it.”
You plan to teach abroad in Korea after graduation. After that, where do you see yourself in the theater world?
“I would like to work backstage in theater, along the lines of stage managing. Maybe one day I will decide to direct again.”
Getting to know her
What are you reading? “Since I have been busy with the play I have not been able to read as much as I would like. I am still in the middle of a book called ‘The Clockwork Princess’ by Cassandra Clare.”
What are you listening to? “I am a big fan of Korean pop music/Kpop … groups like Girls Generation, Big Bang and Block B are always playing on my IPod.”
What are you watching on TV? “I love shows [like] ‘Supernatural,’ ‘American Horror Story,’ ‘Revenge’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory.’”
What have been some of your favorite stage roles, whether ones you've performed at Sweet Briar or elsewhere, and why? “In high school, I played The Widow Douglas in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and I think that was my favorite. It was a challenging role for me at that age and of course I loved the old makeup and fancy dress I got to wear.”