Back in September 2017, I blogged about Katsura Sunshine, the unique Canadian purveyor of the traditional Japanese storytelling genre Rakugo.
He flew into London from New York last Thursday, sat out his two-day Covid isolation in a hotel, performed his show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday, then flew out to Tokyo yesterday (Tuesday). I chatted to him before he left.
JOHN: When are you coming back again?
KATSURA: I’m going to be performing my show Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo at the Leicester Square Theatre every month for the next year. Dates are on their website.
It’s going to be my one-year run in the West End. It’s only once-a-month on a Sunday, but it’s a one-year-run… And, starting next month, I also have my weekly run in New York for a year, every Thursday.
JOHN: On Broadway?
KATSURA: The theatre’s on-Broadway; the size is off-Broadway.
JOHN: So you will be performing a one-year run of your show in London’s West End AND simultaneously be performing a one-year run of your show on Broadway in New York…
KATSURA: Yes. So once a month on a Friday I will fly to London to perform at Leicester Square on the Sunday.
It doesn’t make any economic sense.
However, the thought was – pending Covid etc – I can be here once a month for a week with a base at the Leicester Square Theatre and do other shows in the UK and Paris and around Europe. That would make more economic sense.
I could play New York on the Thursday; fly to London on Friday; play Paris on Saturday; London on Sunday; and New York the following Thursday.
JOHN: And, the rest of each month, when you are performing weekly in New York…
KATSURA: I would be living in New York.
JOHN: With visits to Tokyo?
KATSURA: The current (Covid) quarantine restrictions in Tokyo are tight. A two-week quarantine.
JOHN: Will you be doing roughly the same show in New York and London?
KATSURA: Yeah. When I was performing before – twice-a-week for six months in New York – Thursdays and Saturdays – it was a different show every month. Meaning different stories in the show every month… and I started to get a lot of ‘repeaters’. Quite a few people would come back monthly. Which is kind of the way it’s performed in Japan too.
JOHN: So, over the next year, you could hopefully build up repeat London audiences in the same way…
JOHN: What’s your New York venue?
KATSURA: It’s called New World Stages and it’s built like a movie theater in that, when you come in, there’s five different theaters. Two 500-seaters, two 350-seaters and a smaller one. I’m in one of the 350-seaters. The way I am able to do it is there’s a children’s show that has been in there for maybe three or four days a week for 13 years; on a Saturday, they do 3 or 4 shows. When you get to Christmas, they’re doing 10, maybe 12 shows a week.
JOHN: For 13 years! Jesus!
KATSURA: It’s called The Gazillion Bubble Show – they blow bubbles. It’s for small children and they don’t use the theater in the evening, so I was able to piggy-back off it. That’s the way I can do one-day-a-week in a Broadway theater, which is kind-of unheard-of.
JOHN: You should do the Edinburgh Fringe next August. (LAUGHS) Fit it into your busy international schedule. Do your weekly show in New York, your monthly show in London and fly up to do a one-off Edinburgh show the same weekend as London.
KATSURA: That’s a great idea!
JOHN: I was joking… But think of the publicity! New York on Thursday; Edinburgh on Saturday; London on Sunday…
KATSURA: (LAUGHS) It’s a great idea!
JOHN: So how is your career of taking original traditional Japanese storytelling around the world going?
KATSURA: Step by step. Being interrupted by Covid was not so good; but six months on Broadway was not bad before that; and the theater’s waiting for me there. I’m really lucky I can start again. I started the show in September 2019 and the theaters got closed down in March 2020.
JOHN: So, like all performers, Covid stopped your career for 18 months.
KATSURA: I started a denim kimono fashion line.
JOHN: You seem to be wearing some sort of super-denim kimono.
KATSURA: Yeah, it’s kind-of lamé fabric, got a silver coating to it. But I also sell normal denim. And haori.
KATSURA: You wear them over the kimono and they come down to your knees. I’m spinning the kimonos off into a separate business: Katsura Sunshine Kimono.
JOHN: You’re a money-spinner. You sell kimonos to non-Japanese people?
KATSURA: Half-and-half. Right now, people email me for their size and it’s made-to-order.
JOHN: When you leave London now, you’re flying to Tokyo?
KATSURA: I hope… I have a lot of important performances over New Year.
KATSURA: It’s a New Year family festival at a hotel. They’ve been doing it for like 50 years. The other performers are all extremely famous.
JOHN: New Year is big in Japan?
KATSURA: The 23rd/24th December is for dates and 31st December is for family.
KATSURA: Girls who don’t have a boyfriend try their best to get a boyfriend by Christmas. Everyone goes on dates then goes to a hotel.
JOHN: I’m shocked!
KATSURA: (LAUGHS) I was shocked the first time. I thought they were making fun of me when they first told me that 20 years ago!
JOHN: That everyone goes to hotels?
KATSURA: Yes. You go to a restaurant and then you go to a ‘love hotel’. That’s at Christmas… Last Christmas I spent in (Covid) quarantine because I had just come back from New York to Tokyo… and this Christmas I will be in quarantine too.
JOHN: Eating turkey…
KATSURA: In the West we eat turkey at Christmas but, in Japan, the thing is to eat chicken.
JOHN: Not just chicken, it seems.