Kaz Matamura is nothing short of amazing. A dynamo who is able to juggle an amazing number of projects at once. Kaz, media trainer to corporate executives, athletes and public figures, trains public speakers in the US and Japan, utilizing her theatre background.
In Los Angeles, she has been guiding Japanese instructors in the academic environment on ways to teach Japanese more effectively, while also making the culture more accessible to youth.
She is co-founder of the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. As founder of the non-profit Fire Rose Productions, she has produced over fifty events and festivals, established student exchange programs, and formed children’s theatre at local libraries, including free children’s arts classes. Fire Rose Productions created and manages three theatre companies: New Rose Ensemble, Mini Rose Ensemble and Arigato Kai, a Japanese language performing troupe.
Kaz is also a classical Japanese dance master of the Fujima Souke School under the guidance of renowned Fujima Kansuma. Kaz has trained and coached more than three hundred Japanese and American clients since 2000.
ASIANCE: Tell us where you were born and how you started in theatre and dance.
Kaz: I was born in Chiba, just outside of Tokyo. Because my mother was always working, Okeiko (practice of arts) was my day care center. I was allowed to go anywhere for rehearsals and practice. I took ballet – but I couldn’t see the point. I thought, “We are going to grow up and get taller anyway, so why bother trying to stand on your toes?” I took piano lessons, but my brother, who was NOT taking lessons, took over my piano. Theatre was a perfect fit for me. I had to learn not only speech and acting, but also costuming, manners, and movements, so I never got bored. When theatre companies needed someone who was young, loud, and available, they hired me. I was always ready for anything, so skipping school became a bit of a hobby.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your family.
Kaz: My Mom is my biggest fan. That’s why I am so fearless, because I never felt I was being judged by her. I was named after my grandpa, who was the head of the prefecture Senate in Fukushima. My dad worked for a pharmaceutical company, but I enjoy referring to him as a drug dealer. I have a brother who is owner and CEO of a music label in Japan. My 2nd uncle worked for Hayao Miyazaki and Mushi Productions and directed several animations like Gundam which is how I became familiar with animation and the voice over world. As an interesting side note, Tokyo Rose (Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, an American citizen who participated in English-language propaganda broadcast transmitted by Radio Tokyo to Allied soldiers in the South Pacific during World War II) was married to my grandma’s cousin, and they were actually trying to get in contact with her when I decided to move here. Oddly, in Japan, they used to call her “That American Girl.”
ASIANCE: You always seem involved in so many things. What is your main focus these days?
Kaz: I’m putting a lot of time and energy into making our Non-profit Theatre company a NON non-profit, like anti-nonprofit. It may seem kind of insane to think that one can make a business out of art during our current economic crisis because people don’t have much expendable income. But the problem I see is that because of the non-profit structure, theatre and art institutions have become deathly boring. Non profits tend to play it safe and conservative in order to please donors and grant providers. The objective is to insure the security of their operating budgets. In this fearful environment, we aren’t seeing many risk taking new productions. Therefore, non profits cannot nurture originality because it threatens their livelihood. One of the challenges is people put theatre way down the list of options when deciding on an evening of entertainment. I don’t blame them. It’s so boring and pretentious. So in order to make theatre viable, and without feeling as if we are compromising our art, we must stop concerning ourselves with handouts. We have also decided to train young people, and in this way, get more community involvement. A sort of “grow your own theatre audience” approach.
Also, I am part of creating a theatre festival in Japan. But that’s another story.
Oh, and did I mention the accent reduction programs that I will be publishing?
ASIANCE: Tell us about Fire Rose Productions.
Kaz: Fire Rose Productions is an umbrella company under which there are three theatre ensembles. Arigato Kai performs in traditional Japanese with English subtitles. Mini Rose is our youth ensemble. And New Rose ensemble, or last time I checked it was called “NoHoHoBads”. Seems this wacky and creative group comes up with a new name every week.
We have about 20 active members. Charlie Schlatter is our Artistic director, and several notable actors are active in our company. Melissa Gilbert, Vicki Lewis, Candi Milo, Dwight Hicks and Jim Beaver to name a few.
We are very particular about the projects we take, and I am proud to say, we sell out our shows. Our favorite program is Guerilla Playfare. At 10 AM, six playwrights get together, write plays individually till 2 PM, then actors rehearse till 5, then we move to the theatre to do a tech rehearsal, and at 7:30 we perform on stage.
This is also the 9th season for our ten minute play festival. We pick 21 plays out of the over 300 submissions we receive. We are planning to bring several ten min plays to Japan next year also.
ASIANCE: Any advice you might have for Asian American women actresses?
Kaz: Be an actor before you think of yourself as an ethnic type. Understand what you are selling as an actor. Don’t pay too much attention to what people want to buy because they will get tired of what they are buying now and move on. For instance, sexy Asian chick roles or thug Asian guy roles have only about a 10 years life span. Trends change. Help casting directors see how to cast you. Imagine you are a restaurant. Establish your image. Have a menu of choices for them to eat, have a menu or rolodex of parts you can play, and photos to help them cast you. Be open to their requests and be easy to work with.
ASIANCE: I read in a blog, a story about when you first came to the United States. Evidently, at that time, your English wasn’t the best and a man asked you if you wanted to get high. The story goes that you hopped in a golf cart with him thinking you were going to get a ladder!! True story?
Kaz: Ha, yep, totally true. Good thing I had seen “Less than Zero” before I came here. No way was I going to snort anything up my nose.
ASIANCE: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Kaz: I am not good at setting one particular goal. I’d love to have a multipurpose theatre complex with a Japanese stage attached to it.
ASIANCE: Favorite Colors?
Kaz: Deep purple and King Crimson Red.
ASIANCE: Favorite movies?
Kaz: Paper Moon, The Godfather – all of them, To Kill a Mocking Bird… mostly old flicks. I watch maybe one or two movies a year nowadays. In my teens, I watched 750 movies a year. I counted, and took notes about movies. It was more for studying acting, writing and editing, everything.
ASIANCE: What takes up most of your time?
Kaz: Meetings, production, writing, directing, cooking and eating – all at once.
ASIANCE: Guilty Pleasure:
Kaz: Playing “Bejeweled.” It’s mindless and helps me go to sleep! Enjoying out-drinking everyone.
ASIANCE: Favorite de-stresser?
Kaz: I’m not a high stress kind of person. I get stressed out more if I “have” to take a vacation and have to go places with no internet connection. Thing is, I enjoy working, so when I am busy I am happy.
ASIANCE: Relationship Status?
Kaz: I am fortunate to be in solid and supportive relationship with Michael Helms, a photographer, who is probably the only person who can understand my weirdness. I talk to inanimate objects, I can be a bit of a klutz so I bump into furniture, I often don’t finish sentences, I speak in metaphor a LOT, and he thinks all that stuff is cute.
No kids. I love kids as long as I don’t have to take one home with me.
ASIANCE: Pet Peeve?
Kaz: Untrained actors who think they can just waltz onto a stage and act – and charge admission. Too many people are in this business simply because they want to be “famous” or noticed.
Anyone who takes short cuts under the disguise of being efficient is annoying. Professionals always work on their craft. This is an art form but also a business and a craft.
ASIANCE: Your “Go To” Food?
Kaz: I’m a sucker for a Whopper Jr., no onion, extra pickles with a lot of cheese.
ASIANCE: Fun fact about you?
Kaz: I know Radiohead was named after a Talking Heads’ song. I love Rock n Roll.