Naomi's Road opera: Interview with cast members Gina Oh and Gene Wu

Naomi's Road opera:
Interview with cast members Gina Oh and Gene Wu

Cheung, Angus, Gina Oh, Gene Wu, Sam Chung – performers for Vancouver
Opera Touring Ensemble – Naomi's Road – photo Deb Martin.

I had the oppoturnity to interview Gina Oh and Gene Wu, performers in Naomi's Road, with the Vancouver Opera Touring production
I had met Gina on previous occasions after the presentations at the
opening weekend and the November 12th concert for Save Kogawa House, at
the Vancouver Public Library.  This was the first time I had met

Gene Wu has also performed with Jessica
Cheung (soprano) and Sam Chung (tenor) were busy setting up for their
final rehearsal before the spring touring season.  This interview
took place at the Centre for Peace in February.

Check here for my  review of Naomi's Road opening weekend.

Naomi's Road next performs for the general public on
Saturday, March 11, 2006, 7:30pm

Powell Street Festival Society presents Naomi's Road

Vancouver Japanese Language School Hall

487 Alexander Street

Vancouver, BC

Admission: $10 (general) / $8 (students, seniors) / $5 (children 12 and under)

Tickets and Information: (604) 683 8240 /


Todd Wong
Gene, you were part of the workshop. How does it feel working with the group,?

Gene Wu
It's great.  It's a great dynamic.  It's a great cast.  Couldnt ask
for a better cast.  Coming into it after being away for so long, I
really surprise myself by remembering so much of the music.  Because
there were cuts and slight changes to the music but luckily not so much
for me,

It was really nice that I could remember it, and
that goes to the composer's credit how memorable the music is, and how
singable it is.

TW:  and you haven't performed on the road with the group yet?

No I haven't done this particular show on the road.  I did a tour last
year with Calgary Opera, another local interest piece called Turtle
Wakes. About the Frank Slide at Turtle Mountain, And I did the tour
with them for about a month.  Iim looking forward to this though.

What is it like being able to do an Asian
Canadian story, as an AC

I think it is great.  You know, the story is quite compelling.  Having
read Obasan and Naomi's Road it's something that really needs to be
told.  Especially with all the press that Joy's been getting about her
house,   I think it is one of those issues that the Canadian people I
think really need to hear more about.  It's been  kind of creeping in
every once in a while, but to bring it to the forefront like this is
really great.

You haven't done it in front of the
audiences, but I'm sure you've been stories (about the audience
reaction) from the cast.  What are some of the great stories that
you've heard.

Actually, I haven't any stories yet… 
I;ve spent this past week rehearsing, so I'm just trying to get my head
around all the stageing  and what everybody else is doing, in trying to
integrate it.  Because being the new guy into the production, I just
have to make sure that I'm on the same page as everybody else.  And I
don't want to mess up anybody else's staging or music or anything like
that.  So my focus has just been to concentrate and integrate myself as
well into the production as possible .

So stories probably won't come into we hit the road and little
anecdotes come up because somebody will say, “Oh! I remember when so-and-so did this and
we all had a good laugh about it afterwards.”

Gina Oh
But for the record,  Gene is assimilating so well, and he's just…Bravo!

But you (Gina) weren't there during the workshops when Grace was doing it with Gene,


This is like the first time you are working with Gene

It's like a tag team effort. I guess

Well that's the thing about these touring ensembles It is a group
effort, and to have a really wonderful cast that works well  together

And I actually… A lot of it has to be the creative team because the
creative team is so strong.  And by creative team I mean the director,
and the composer, and the musical director, and we have the assistant
director who is directing the remount. 

Because the ideas are so stable for them to express what they want
from us,  it makes it very easy for us to do our job essentially
because we are really just vessels, and because we have the composer
right there it's very easy for us to just work and develop creatively

Jessica Cheung, Gina Oh and Gene Wu – soprano, alto and baritone for Naomi's Road opera – photo Deb Martin

Great! So one of the reaons I was really inpired to request an
interview with you is because, I have heard stories coming from the road that are still
very  very memorable..   Ellen Crowe-Swords was there in Uculet and has
some pictures for you.  And that still stands out very much for Ellen
and Joy
So what are some of the stories from the road that stand out for you?

You, know… it is amazing!  I think first of all,  being
on the road just locally let's say within Vancouver

It has been amazing to see these schools with such a high Asian
population, especially with every school we go to.  I think it's
moment we are packing, and there are the 3 rice bowls and the
And all of a sudden, the kids I think feel an understanding, that
you know these kinds of utensils are used in our home. You know, we
don't use forks and knives and things like that.  There are small
connections to see the kid's reactions.  It's something I wish
that we had more of like that as icons when we were younger. You know
to say “That's like our family.”

So it's like a sense of self-identification

Exactly! Because I think we don't have a lot of Asian icons in society
as it is, and for the kids they always want to relate to something.  And
since kids are very visual, for them to see an Asian cast is very
special.  And I am so honoured to be part of that, because for me, I've
always wanted that.

That and the
Island was amazing, what an opportunity to see BC.  And I am so looking
forward to Lethbridge and Seattle.  That's going to be awesome and fun.

But on the island, it's very interesting because the pace is different,
the pace of living is very slow, and the appreciation is greater…
overwhelming actually.   The response from Denman Island were
these standing
ovations, and the gratitude from each production.

Uculet was
actually adjoined with Tofino.  They actually held the show late,
because the bus was late, it was a duo city community effort , and they
said they hadn't any thing, that kind of entertainment like that in
years.  It was amazing.  And they put out this great reception, and to
have Joy there was especially nice, to see her join us at certain moments in
our tour.

Uculet and Tofino during the teim of the
internment stood out differently,  We just talked with Ron Macleod from
a fishing family there, and we just introduced him to Ellen Crowe-Swords and
he remembers seeing her Dad, and he tells stories about how they knew everybody there.

That was a special show in Uculet though,, it was very special because Joy was there.  And there was a lot of awareness.

The Tofino-Uculet Historical society for instance..

Yes, exacactly, they definitely made an effort.  They had a lot of
knowledge behind them.  As a sitting audience, to have so much
knowledge about what we are doing makes me a real modest performer
because I often fell like I am only the first layer of describing

Because I don't really have a personal connection, because this is just my craft.

Denman Island had a different appreciation I think.  I don't know if
they had the same richness or knowledge as Uculet.  But most audiences
are awae and they learn about this in school.  

There's this
school on an Indian Reservation. The day after Halloween, so the kids
were hopped up on sugar.  That was an amazing moment for me too,
because Roughlock Bill is portrayed.  And I felt that those kids were
really special to us, because they connected right away for some reason
with the entire production.  The kids came out, and they were climbing
in our vans, and they felt really comfortable with us.  It was almost
like because we looked similar to  them some kind of way. It was already
there was no barrier.  There was a hug right away,  there was a
kinesthetic opening…  you could just hug them.

Had you had that kind of connection with First Nations before?

Personally, ummm… not a lot, not a lot…

The Audience difference between the adults, comparing the Normant
Rothsteien with Tofino, or in comparison with the children in the
schools, How is it different?

Oh, on so many levels… so many levels…  It’s interesting,
In terms on Q&A period, the adults tend to become very reserved,
and that they ask very intelligent questions that have relevance, and
things like that.

Kids… there is something about kids.
They just don’t tend to have a filter.  An the pure honesty of it
is so refreshing, and it’s something that really appreciate, because it
‘s really pure

It could be any comment, positive or negative comments, it’s all
positive. They have absolutely paid attention.  Some of these kids…

I was telling our director one story,… that one of the kids was so
attentive.  She must have been quite young, because she was
sitting in the front half of the room.  In the story, the mother
goes to Japan and tells Naomi, because your great grandmother is
ill.  So that’s a thte very beginning in the show.   A
little girl asked “Did the grandmother die?” 

And I thought Obasan?  “No… Obasan is not dead at the end of the story.”

She said “No… the grandmother!”

I thought, oh… the mother’s grandmother.  They are already that
aware.  We do this, and we forget layers of it from time to time,
And then we are reminded time to time.

All the kids look at the show and see a family and relate it to their
own family life.  So to me, I am just imagining that that young
girl would have a connection  to her family and her roots.

Now… there was a school (Larson Elementary in North Vancouver) that came out and sang the Farewell Song back to you.

Ohhhh…. Myyyyy….. Yes….  We were speechless… speechless.  
We got out.  We took our bows… We took our questions and then a
teacher got up and  she said, “And now we have a presentation for

And she sat down (at a piano) and started playing.  And the entire
gymnasium started singing.  And then most purest voices.

Ma-ta o-o-o
Hi-ma de
Ma-ta o-o
Hi-ma de

Jessica and I were in tears…..

That was like a huge gift in so many ways.  Because it was
music.  They had learned something, They learnt music which was
our language.  Not just the story, and they got the entire school
to do it.

Just in Closing…. I just want to share with you that a Richmond
Elementary School has visited Kogawa House with Joy.  They have
been so moved by the book and opera that they have written letters and
will be going to present them to Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, asking
to help save the house.

We are honoured by this.  We all have our scores signed I think, by her (Joy)
We are very proud to be part of this,
It’s a very lucky time.  Very serendipitous time for all of us.
It’s not just me being a performer.  For us as performers,
ultimately this is a trade that we do.  But the fact is that this
is being propelled by so much history that is relevant right now. 
It’s amazing timing, so we are very appreciative of our time.

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