Evan Scardino: HMP Theatre Company

For my CIP I have had the opportunity to volunteer at HMP Theatre Company in Osaka. What I actually do there week to week varies based on what they need help with, but the actual activity is not the most important part of what makes volunteering there a fun or informative experience for me. The part of this experience that I have valued the most is the social interaction with people of many different ages who hail from all over Japan.

My activities at HMP have included stage building, app testing, ticket selling, and note taking. Whatever the activities, a group of people usually goes out for drinks at a local izakaya afterwards. These experiences have been fun without exception. HMP’s employees are warm and welcoming, and even if I don’t understand a joke that one of them says, I find myself laughing due to the sheer infectiousness of the atmosphere.

That isn’t to say that I have a great deal of trouble understanding the conversations that go on, or that the experience hasn’t improved my Japanese though, as I don’t, and it certainly has. No one at HMP speaks English, but if there’s something I don’t understand they are ready and willing to explain in simple and easy to understand Japanese. Oftentimes they will anticipate what I won’t understand and explain it to me before I even have the chance to ask.

Observing this tight-knit group has also provided me with a great deal of insight into the culture of Japan, the Japanese theatre community, and this group specifically. As a matter of fact I was shocked by just how much the atmosphere at HMP reminds me of that of off-off-Broadway productions that I have volunteered with. Because the group has been together for a while and they all seem to have a shared repertoire of acquaintances, colleagues, and friends, they have a habit of leaving a “…” in the middle of their sentences, but even without specifying that shared piece of information, all of the participants in the conversation (myself excluded, of course) immediately understand what the speaker is saying.

Another observation I have made about this group is how readily they abandon polite speech to talk to each other in a very casual manner. The director’s younger sister came to help out with ticket sales, and it was the first time most people at the company had met her (due to her lack of resemblance with the director most of them didn’t even know who she was until we all went out for drinks afterwards). Even so, a couple of people started dropping the polite verb endings, picked up the director’s nickname for her, and within a few sentences of conversation she was doing the same right back.

This has definitely had an effect on the way I speak as well. Our assistant director on the current project, Takayasu-san, observed the other night at the izakaya that my once “kirei” Japanese had “disintegrated,” and that I’d even picked up some dialect particular to Osaka. I expressed some ambivalence about this, but she insisted I sounded more like a native speaker this way. All present readily agreed.

Ultimately, I’m truly glad that this was the CIP I chose. Even if the commute is long and the chains of communication can be a little hard to navigate, the warm and friendly environment and fun conversation more than make up for it. I feel like I’m really starting to become a part of this community, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

2 thoughts on “Evan Scardino: HMP Theatre Company

  1. It’s great that you seem to have gotten so much out of the experience! It’s also really interesting that your tasks differed so much week to week. How do these tasks and your social outings compare to your theater experiences in the U.S.?

    • Honestly, the atmosphere is really similar. I was surprised by how much it resembles my experience with off-off-Broadway in particular. The types of people that professional theatre attracts seem to be the same in both countries too.