Drama, drama, drama… It’s ironic that even though I was an aspiring actor, I normally shied away from drama. I liked to use the word ‘aspiring’ rather than ‘tried to be’ or ‘hoped to be’ because, it sounded grander, but I’ve tried to become an actor for some time now – hoping for a big break.
I thought that part of my problem was that I’m Japanese, as it limited the roles that I could be considered for. There weren’t many directors or producers who thought that I’d be suitable to play Hamlet… or Macbeth but I can’t stop trying. Not yet…
I was a twenty-six-year-old bank Teller at the Commonwealth Bank in Habberfield, in the middle of Sydney’s little Italy (which in itself, is another kettle of fish) and lived with my Mother and younger sister. My father had died when I was seven and it had been tough for my mum, as far as raising my sister and I but even though we currently did well financially, she worried about our futures.
Or at least my future as in her mind, my twenty-two-year-old sister Acari, was set for life because she was engaged to a successful ‘Japanese’ businessman, where I didn’t even have a girlfriend. She asked me ‘Ren! Why won’t you find a nice Japanese girl?!’ As if I picked and chose who I wanted to have a relationship with!
My parents were born in Narita, Japan while my sister and I were born in Balmain, near Sydney but my mum had Japan in her heart, and we were raised with Japanese culture and customs. Don’t get me wrong… I love my culture, but I also loved Sydney.
I was fit, kept my long black hair in a ponytail, as I liked that Samurai look and apart from acting, I loved playing the piano.
It was a quiet day at the bank but especially quiet for me, as most of the older clients asked to be served by someone who spoke Italian, which I seriously started thinking of learning. Not just for my client’s sake but for a role that that I intended to audition for. Romeo Montague from ‘Romeo And Juliet’ was Italian and I thought that learning to speak the language, would help me understand and portray the character.
The Castle Hill Players had decided to present Shakespeare’s Tragedy at the Pavilion Theater located in Castle Hill, which was where I had found myself a few weeks later. I had learned a little Italian but more importantly, tried to get into the head of an Italian teenage boy (I watched some Italian movies, online). There were about a dozen of us who waited to be called up onto the little stage and I eagerly waited for my turn.
I sat there, shaking form the cold… or nerves but it was a cold winter night and they didn’t have the heat on. I watched and listened as each of the people read for the directors, then I heard,
I sprang from my chair and walked onto the stage, but I couldn’t see the directors as they had the stage lights on, and the audience lights off.
“When you’re ready, Ren…”
I then cleared my throat an read the scene that they had asked us to memorize.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun...”
I thought that I performed it well! I wasn’t nervous or anything, then I heard a voice from the dark void,
“Uhm… That was nice, Ren. We’ll let you know in the new few days.”
I then thanked them for their time and headed home. The next day, I received a call from one of the directors and I tried to conceal my excitement when I answered.
“Hello, may I please speak to Ren Sato.”
“That’s me… Who’s calling?”
“I’m Bill Jacobs from The Castle Hill Players and I’m calling to offer you the part of Benvolio… Romeos cousin.”
I hid my disappointment and tried to remember that I was at least offered a part.
“Uhm… thank you!”
I said appreciatively.
“But I do want to tell you that you were almost successful in getting the part of Romeo and in fact, we want you to be the understudy.”
“Wow. Well, thanks for the opportunity!”
He then gave me the rehearsal schedule and I thanked him again. A few weeks later, I found myself back at the Pavilion Theater were Bill asked us to introduce ourselves. The guy playing Mercutio, was pretty cool and we got on like a house on fire from the first moment we met. His name was Alex and had a natural ability that a lot of actors would have killed for.
The girl playing Juliet was really sweet and pretty. Her name was Donna Thompson and was a part time check out chick at Coles during the week. She had red hair, freckles and a slight Scottish accent but the guy playing Romeo was an arrogant jerk named Jack Dempsey.
He was a good-looking guy who’s only claim to fame, was a short part in some Harvey Norman commercial, which he made sure that everyone knew about but what got me, was when I went I went and introduced myself and said,
“Hi, it’s Jack, right?”
Jack looked me up and down and responded,
“My name’s Ren… I’m playing Benvolio and I’ll also be your understudy!”
Jack turned to his friends, who were also in the production and smiled, before turning back to me and said,
“Really! I wonder why you didn’t get the part?”
Then he and his three friends went to grab some refreshments. Donna had observed the interaction then walked up to me and said,
“Don’t worry about that guy. He only gets these parts because he’s good looking. Not because he’s particularly talented. My name’s Donna.”
“Thanks for saying that, Donna. I’m Ren. It’s nice to meet you… I watched you perform for the part of Juliet the night that I auditioned. You’re really good!”
“I know! I was particularly successful in my role as ‘check out check number five’, in the production of ‘Coles… The grocery store’!”
Then we both laughed. The director asked us to take a seat so we could go over the rehearsal schedule and critical dates. Donna and I sat next to each other while Mercutio… I mean Alex, sat on the other side of me but our instant connection didn’t go unnoticed...
Later that evening Alex, Donna and I walked to our cars while talking about the play, when we were joined by Jack and his flunkies.
I turned around and responded,
“It’s Ren, actually…”
“Whatever… Don’t you feel funny being in a play where you’re the only Chinaman?”
Asked Jack, with a whole lot of contempt.
“My parents were Japanese.”
Alex then came to my aide.
“We should ask you if you feel funny being in a play where you’re the only one that can’t act!”
Donna and I laughed but Jack didn’t find it funny. Instead, he continued with his twisted point.
“There weren’t any Asians in Romeo and Juliet.”
“Are you Italian, Jack?”
“No! I’m not a wog!”
“Because Romeo was Italian. Do you speak any Italian, stronzo (asshole)?”
I asked with a smirk.
“No. What does stronzo mean?!”
“It means friend.”
Jack gave me a strange look then all three bozos went to their cars. Alex then turned to me and asked,
“What did you call him?”
Alex and Donna laughed, then we said our goodbyes and headed home.
A few weeks had gone by and I really enjoyed the rehearsal experience. Sure it was a small role but catching up with Donna and Alex was a lot of fun! Jack and his goons would watch me and snigger, but I didn’t care then one evening while I was in the men’s room, Jack approached Donna and said,
“Hi Donna. Having fun this evening?”
“Oh, hi Jack. Yeah, I am.”
She responded, while glancing at Jack’s friends who seemed amused by the interaction.
“I was thinking that we should go out for dinner or drinks one of these nights. You know… get to know each other better, since we’re meant to be… lovers.”
The way that Jack leered at her sent shivers up her spine, but she gracefully replied,
“That’s kind of you but I don’t think that we need to.”
Jack’s sleazy demeanor quickly changed to contempt and he snapped back,
“Why! Do you have a thing for Asians?!
Donna heard the two jerks behind him snigger, then she let out a sigh and said,
“No… I have a thing for nice guys.”
“What is a China-man doing in a Shakespearean play anyway!!”
Demanded Jack but she then turned and walked away from him. The next few weeks were a little tense and not just between Jack and me or Jack and Donna. The director’s patience with him was wearing thin, as he would arrive late, be disruptive and generally rubbed everyone the wrong way. Then one evening, Bill stood up and approached the cast then said,
“OK… It’s now half past and Jack still isn’t here. Ren… Could you please read for him while we await for his highness’ arrival?”
We picked up from the balcony scene and apart from the opportunity to play Romeo, even just in front of the cast, I was able to do it with Donna! We seemed to have chemistry both on and off the stage and when we ended the scene, I looked back at Bill who seemed to have a pensive look on his face. I then looked toward the theater entrance, where Jack stood, seething in silence because we went ahead without him. I didn’t know how long he was there for, but he eventually made his presence known.
“OK! I’m here now so we can do the scene again, properly!”
“I’m sorry Jack but your commitment and professionalism are lacking, and Ren just blew you off the stage!”
“Are you implying that this… Asian is a better actor than me?!”
Asked a red-faced Jack.
“No… I’m stating it outright!”
He then turned to the cast and asked,
“What do you guys think?”
He received affirmation from everyone apart from Jack’s friends, but they didn’t argue the point either. Bill then turned to Jack and said,
“If you want to be part of this performance, you can play the part of Benvolio and be Ren’s understudy.”
“I refuse to take such a small part!”
“Well, thanks for coming and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. On second thought, let it!”
Jack stomped out of the theater to the sound of applause, but I was sure that it wasn’t the type that he sought. Bill turned to me and said,
“Ren… the prejudice that you had faced from Jack, will actually help us with our production, as there will be a small number of the audience that will think the same way as he does. Romeo and Juliet fought prejudice themselves, because of their feuding families… Similarly, with West Side Story with Tony and Maria but you will turn them around with your sincerity and talent, Ren.”
“Wow… Thank you, Bill.”
We continued rehearsing and before I left, everyone came up to me and told me how well I did! A few months later, we had our first performance and even though most of the audience were family and friends of the cast, we had so much fun! I realized that love of performing was more important that getting my ‘big break’.
Our production ended after a few weeks but since then, the Castle Hill Players had me perform in many of their next productions. Donna and I started to go out and I eventually introduced her to my mum, but I did give Donna a heads up.
“OK Donna… The Montagues and the Capulets, have ‘nothing’ on my mum so I’m sorry in advance.”
Actually, she wasn’t as bad as I thought she would be, as she saw how sweet and kind Donna was. While Donna’s parents were great from the get-go.
In the end, it seemed that ‘our’ version of Romeo and Juliet, won’t end in tragedy. Instead, we had a happily ever after…
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