Ryo Kamibayashi, School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Collaborators: Diego Rodriguez, SMTD; Johannes Pardi, FTVM; Brenda Yue Cai, Stamps; Elaine Cho, Interarts; Sydney Geysbeek, Stamps

The writer of this piece, Ryo Kamibayashi, was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, and moved to America in 2019 to attend the University of Michigan to study Musical Theatre. Beyond greatly expanding his performance skills, he has fallen in love with writing and composing his own stories; those that he has not seen represented in the current Broadway Canon.

Having difficulty prescribing himself to the performance standard of American Realism, he has found a deep devotion to self-expression through his compositions, telling stories that represent his background and experiences as an Americanized Japanese citizen living in the inbetween.

CANVAS is a new musical about the intersection of Kamibayashi’s identity as both a Japanese citizen and an American student, living with synesthesia. This piece strives to expand the narrative of what representation looks like through Musical Theatre.

Many existing AAPI shows focus on the struggles and traumas of their communities, resulting in them serving the purpose of education rather than entertainment. By not explicitly setting the piece in an Asian culture and focusing solely on the circumstances of the characters, the audience can view the show through a non-cultural lens.

Telling this story, reflective on an AAPI experience with culture not being at the forefront of the narrative, audiences will be able to resonate with a story focused on the characters carefully crafted to avoid the subconscious filter Western eyes tend to put on foreign art. CANVAS is our attempt to provoke an artistic and emotional impact transcendent of race while still exposing the audience to a Japanese cultural experience.

We’ve been collaborating with students in LSA’s FTVM program, Stamps Art & Design, & SMTD, to cultivate a creative environment that works to bridge our perspective art forms for this project. Providing us with a hands-on educational creative experience where we learn to communicate with others in their respective fields: lighting, producing, composing, writing, graphic design, sound design, and film, allows us to understand our career as performer/creators through a multidisciplinary lens.

Additionally, Ryo Kamibyashi will have the opportunity to see a realized production of his own original work on stage for the first time, providing an unmatched experience of seeing the progress of his work from page to the stage here at Michigan. We booked the Duderstadt Video Center to record the first act of CANVAS the first week of April. The creative team has had multiple meetings with the Duderstadt production team to discuss how we can bring out the essence of each artistic medium cohesively, namely the visual aspects, cinematography, live music, and musical theatre performers.

In combining visual arts and cinematography with musical theatre, this interdisciplinary approach to storytelling will provide a platform for how musical theatre can adapt to contemporary art forms and technologies, increasing the accessibility to more audiences without sacrificing the quality of the performance itself.