Playwright finds Japanese audience and collaboration with trip to Tokyo


Trista Baldwin, local playwright and professor, is in Japan to collaborate on a bicultural work with renowned playwright and director Shirotama Hitsujiya. 

Baldwin, a Professor of Playwriting at St. Cloud State University, is co-producing DOE, an original work that is now DOE2.0, a three-year collaboration in English and Japanese and in co-direction with both Hitsujiya and Baldwin. The two performed an updated work of DOE2.0 in Tokyo.

In DOE2.0 the two create a way to perceive American and Japanese actors on stage in both languages in a way that no translation is needed, said Baldwin. The play explores identity and relationships within the realm of language and culture – and of how the two are defined within the self when with someone else.

“It is a new play that we are working on together but is base on my existing play,” said Baldwin, adding that the play delves into intriguing gray cultural areas of Japan and the United States.

In DOE, the original, a woman wakes up in a hotel and cannot remember her name or anything about the woman sleeping next to her. She struggles to recall how she left her husband and then hit a deer.

“The other woman is sort of related to the incident,” said Baldwin. “She stays her while the deer is dying. It is about mortality and our own mortality – the whole assessment of self.”

The DOE2.0 collaboration is set in Japan and America, with a similar story in each place – what Baldwin calls a shared experience or sort of doppelganger in two countries. The binding element to the two stories is the woman in the bed.

The 3-year project began when DOE was invited to be performed on at the 2007 Tokyo International Festival. Although Baldwin said she has not ever lived in Japan or had a relationship with a Japanese person, she was very curious why her work on the internal female landscape translated so well to this audience.

“We worked together in this play for a couple of weeks,” she added. “In Tokyo the audience has said that it doesn’t feel foreign, and that it feels like a Japanese play.”

The first update was staged last summer when Hitsujiya came to Minneapolis. The work went well, according to Baldwin, who was concerned about two languages on stage at the same time.

Baldwin said Sharatomi brings a physicality that serves as a third language of the body on stage. She said it wove together in such a way that the audience could feel what was being said.

The cast included local American actors along with Haruka Lee of New York, and local Japanese speaking actors, Sachiko Nishiuchi (Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre) and Masanari Kawahara (In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre).

While in Tokyo, Baldwin said the two hope to investigate new ways of developing an imaginative script based on images and themes. They also hope to create some new work together.

Baldwin said she is excited to continue the collaboration with someone who also has a strong emphasis on the feminine experience and thinks a little outside the box on societal and spiritual topics.

She said the process on DOE2.0 has revealed some interesting perceptual differences on relationships, with the emphasis more about east-west than Japan-U.S. She said the incidents in the play were worked out on stage between the different couples with big differences in dialogue and physical expression.

“It is really exciting improvisational work and the actors take it and pull out the physicality in a virtual exploration and we hope to take it further,” said Baldwin.

Hitsujiya is known for taking stereotypical pop images of girls in Japan and reinterpreting them in her work. Baldwin says this process exposes exterior images, and explores the humanity and intelligence behind sexually charged motivations to reveal a more thoughtful and intelligent work that is often considered avant-garde.

Hitsujiya started her career as a Tokyo nightclub singer and then founded YUBIWA Hotel, an all-female theater company that works to form new views and images of society, the world and women. She continues to serve as its artistic director and is known for her work depicting “human desire, sexuality, violence and the instinct for food, life, and death,” according to her Web site description (

She is now the Director of the Japan Directors Association, and has an international presence and most recently in America, France and Brazil.

Baldwin grew up in the Seattle area, and moved to Minnesota from New York, which she considers her home. She produces work as a writer, director and performer, and is known for her plays on economics and class, humor and satire, sexuality, feminism and gender issues, and on death and dying.

Baldwin has another play, American Sexy, opening at the Guthrie Theater in January. The play, which centers on four college students (two couples) that encounter a life-changing experience en route to “Sin City” together for Spring Break. It reportedly had great success in the Minnesota Fringe Festival and will be directed at the Guthrie by Brian Balcom.