BY LEIGH WELLSVIEW
(image to left: Ryanne Konno as Mercy Lewis, Hannah Weakley as Abigail Williams, Hiyori Onozaki as Betty Parris, and Victoria Caccavale as Mary Warren in Tokyo International Players’ The Crucible, March 1-4 at Ebisu Echo Theater.)
Founded in 1896, Tokyo International Players (TIP) is the oldest English-language theatre group in Japan and has a rich and varied history. The volunteer-run organisation, which has seen many of its past members go on to become or remain involved with professional theatre, is part-way through another exciting Main Stage season, and about to open The Crucible, which runs March 1–4 at the Ebisu Echo Theatre.
Written by Arthur Miller and directed by Ed Gilmartin, The Crucible is an American classic with a dramatic plot. When two young girls fall sick after a night of illicit dancing, it sets a town of religious extremists looking for the cause. What follows is neighbour-on-neighbour strife, where old wounds and secret desires are cloaked under the search for witches. At the centre of it all is one man who must face his own transgressions before he can bring the community back from the brink of hysteria.
As usual, this production of TIP involves several foreign women, including Hannah Weakley, who plays Abigail, the play’s main antagonist. Of the role Hannah says, “Abigail is a dream role, being one of the most famous ‘bad girls’ in American theatre, so I was obviously thrilled to get the part. But I was also terrified. Crazy-evil characters may be the most fun to play, but they’re also extremely difficult…As an actor, it’s my job to understand the reasons and feelings behind Abby’s decisions. Understanding Abby’s motivations has been one of the most fun and challenging aspects of the production. It’s all that background motivation that makes a character interesting to play and to watch, and Abby is a very interesting character on both counts.”
As an American living in Japan, Hannah was introduced to the play as a student, and as she describes, has only become closer to the piece with time: “like most kids growing up in the American school system, I studied the play in my high school English class. I’ve read it several times and with each reading I’ve grown more passionate about this story. I have a strong relationship with God, and the idea of someone using God or religion as a platform for hurting people makes me livid. But stuff like this keeps happening. Witch hunts of various kinds continue to take place all over the world. That’s why I think this play will always be relevant. It’s a story that reminds us that these things can and will happen if there’s no one to stand up for the truth.” This passion for both the play and the subject matter will surely contribute to Weakley’s interpretation of the character as TIP mounts the production next month.
Should seeing The Crucible encourage you to become involved with community theatre in Tokyo, TIP is always looking for new faces to become involved with either front or back of house roles, and they usually have several shows scheduled at any given time. About the often-nerve-wracking process of auditioning, Hannah suggests that you “Just go for it. Audition without regrets. Make mistakes and don’t be afraid. The more auditions you go on, the less you’ll be afraid of them and the better you’ll get.”
It seems safe to say that no matter what role you take on, women who are involved with TIP are likely to have an experience that is both challenging and rewarding, as it seems to be for Hannah: “The nice thing about TIP is that you have the opportunity to work with actors and actresses from all over the world. We have people from New York, LA, London, and of course Tokyo. For me, the opportunity to work with actors from such different and various backgrounds is a real privilege.”
To find out more about this great theatre company, purchase tickets to see Hannah and the rest of the cast in The Crucible, or find out what shows are coming up next, visit their website. For specific information about getting involved, including information on auditions, advertising, volunteering, and other opportunities, click here. For further information about The Crucible, you can read more on Wikipedia.