Japantastick No. 6: Tears of joy as personal stories are turned into theatre

Note: This is Day 6 of our daily report from Japan, where members of Denver’s handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company are participating in a 10-day goodwill trip that will culminate with a performance of “The Fantasticks”:

The cast of Phamaly Theatre Company’s “The Fantasticks” does a runthrough of the show with theatre students from a local university “live dubbing” the show so that when the performance takes place, the Japanese audience will understand the words.

Phamaly Theatre Company’s first week in Japan culminated with unique performances by local Japanese actors they guided through a series of creative workshops.

At the start of the week, members of Denver’s acclaimed handicapped theatre company coaxed the local Japanese, most with disabilities themselves, into sharing their true, personal stories. Together, they turned those stories into performance pieces.

Phamaly actor Robert Michael Sanders called it an unforgettable day of memorable stories set to music and dance.

Stewart Caswell in Osaka. “I saw people who were really shy come out of their shell and perform in front of an audience for the first time,” added Stewart Caswell, who will play Mortimer in Phamaly’s upcoming performance of The Fantasticks in Osaka.

“I saw a Hitomi, a woman who has been confined to a wheelchair all her life, burst into tears because she was able to sing a song on stage.”

Caswell should know how meaningful the moment was to that Japanese woman. Caswell has cerebral palsy from a brain injury at birth. He uses what he calls “a tricked-out mobility scooter” himself, but that hasn’t stopped him from acting since age 9.

“A lot of people ask me why I am an actor,” he said. “I love being able to leap into the skin of another person. But more than that, I love that at the beginning of a project, what begins as a room full of people who don’t know each other transforms into a giant family you call really good friends.”

That’s what’s been happening all week in Osaka.

“It was a very personal day for everyone,” said Daniel Traylor, who plays Matt. “There was a sense of accomplishment throughout the room. Things came together flawlessly. Theatre magic is a beautiful thing. “

Added Jenna Bainbridge, who plays Luisa: “The performances were so moving that I cannot even put it in words.”

Added Sanders, who plays Bellomy in The Fantasticks: “There were tears and hugs and the overwhelming sound of barriers breaking down. There were lessons learned and memories made across continents, time, abilities and languages. Yet somehow we all landed together and found our light.”

Curtain call for the workshop performances in Japan.

Curtain call for the workshop performances in Japan.

Preparing for the Fantasticks performance

After the workshop performances, Phamaly actors conducted a table read of The Fantasticks incorporating theatre students from a local Japanese college who have been assigned to play their “counterpart roles” in the upcoming performance.

The Japanese thespians will shadow their American partners and repeat all of their words in Japanese. The process is called “live dubbing.”

“They were a joy to work with,” Bainbridge said. “After rehearsal they joined us for dinner and a rousing round of Uno before bed. At dinner, they graciously helped us order and taught us some proper etiquette. They could not have been more gracious.”

The day’s lesson, said Phamaly actor Mark Dissette: Lead with your heart.

“You can travel halfway around the world and discover that no matter how far you go, you can’t outrun your fears,” said Dissette, who plays Hucklebee. “You must turn and face them. Lessons forgotten rap against your heart sometimes gently at other times with a rending fury.”




No. 1: Phamaly’s ‘massive moment’ in Osaka begins
No. 2: It’s raining yen​
No. 3: Boundaries created by war can be broken
No. 4: Overcoming barriers and finding commonality 
​No. 5: Making music with total strangers


Phamaly to take The Fantasticks to Japan
Phamaly picks Bryce Alexander as new artistic director

Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson
DCPA Access-Ability Video featuring Phamaly actors