Empire of the Son
An Interview with creator & performer Tetsuro Shigematsu

Interiewer John Jane

On September 28, Pacific Theatre will open their fortieth season with Empire of the Son. It will possibly be the last time audiences will see this play performed live in Vancouver. Creator and performer Tetsuro Shigematsu has already performed this very personal piece of storytelling not just all over Canada, but in a number of countries beyond these borders.

I spoke to him by telephone this week (August 28) as he was attending a theatre conference in Victoria by the Sea, P.E.I. I asked what audiences will find different in this production compared to the one first seen in 2015.
Tetsuro is promising, under the challenge of Pacific Theatre artist director Kaitlin Williams, a new approach to the work. The artist will set about presenting the play as if he were performing it for the very first time. Considering that Tetsuro has performed this work a few hundred times, it’s going to be a big ask. Kaitlin Williams, who be directing, is calling for a set design that will accommodate the theatre’s unique seating and will feature origami.

Empire of the Son is a poignant, bittersweet family story. Tetsuro will admit that his family (he is the youngest of five siblings) was initially sceptical of the concept being philosophically accessible to even Vancouver audiences. They needn’t have worried. The universal themes of cross-cultural family dynamics have obviously had a broad appeal.

Born in London, England and raised in British Colombia by Japanese parents, Tetsuro Shigematsu is a true cosmopolitan. He completed an arts degree through Concordia University and has a PhD from UBC. He has also studied dance in Japan.

Aside from being a performance artist, Tetsuro has worked in film and live radio with the CBC. When pushed for a self description, he sees himself as what he interestingly terms as a “dramatic equivalent.” Asked who has been an inspiration to his career as an artist – his answer was surprising. Initially, Andy Kaufman’s madcap, over-the-top style would seem to be diametrically opposite to Tetsuro’s more measured approach, but further conversation revealed how Kaufman’s ability to turn comedy upside-down could be both exhilarating and inspiring.

So far, other than the single exception of a student performing the piece as a school project, only the creator has given public performances. However, Tetsuro is open to other actors interpreting his work in the future.

So what’s next for this hard-working artist? Tetsuro Shigematsu doesn’t worry about the future, except to suggest a potential new work commissioned by Pacific Theatre that explores his complicated relationship with God. Sounds like something to look forward to.

© 2023 John Jane