Japanese earthquake inspires writer's Aug. 4 performance piece at UNT on the Square

Friday, July 10, 2015 - 18:47

What: Add Architecture, Stir Memory, a performance piece by novelist and playwright Shay Youngblood about the memory of home

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 4 (Tuesday)

Where: UNT on the Square, 109 N. Elm St., Denton

Cost: Free

DENTON, Texas (UNT) – Shay Youngblood traveled to Japan in 2011 to research a novel on memory and home. Ten days later, a 9.0 earthquake struck, followed by a tsunami and nuclear fallout.

“It was very unsettling to be there – and heartbreaking and sad,” she said. “Although I was not in a place with physical damage, there was a lot of emotional trauma.”

Now Youngblood has turned those emotions into a performance piece, “Add Architecture, Stir Memory,” which she will present from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 4 (Tuesday) at UNT on the Square.

The production uses a mixture of interviews, animation, live action, video and soundscapes she recorded in Japan.

Youngblood is the author of the novels Black Girl in Paris and Soul Kiss and the plays Amazing Grace, Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery and Talking Bones. The Dallas Observer named her one of the area’s Top 100 Creatives of 2015. She is a former career advisor at the University of North Texas.

As part of a five-month residency with the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, Youngblood was visiting Tokyo to speak with architects and creative professionals about their culture and the effect of the memory of home.

She was on the sixth floor of an apartment building when the earthquake struck.

“It just felt like five minutes of intense shaking,” she said. “I didn’t know if building was going to crumble.”

While Tokyo did not sustain a lot of physical damage, other parts of the country saw cars and buildings destroyed and towns washed away.

“The novel paled to these real life moments that were happening,” she said. “So many people had lost their homes. What does it mean to have lost not only your home and loved ones but your entire community?”

Youngblood explores that in her piece by asking people, and even asking them to draw, what home means to them. She noted some people talked about very specific places, such as a fireplace and staircase.

For the piece, Youngblood worked with Adam Chamberlin, professor of lighting and sound at UNT’s Department of Dance and Theatre, and sound designer Gabriel Vega, a recent UNT new media graduate from UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design.

The piece was first performed in Austin and received funding from an IndieGoGo campaign, a Texas Commission on the Arts grant and the Allgo non-profit organization. She would like to take the performance piece to Tokyo and other venues around the country.

The project has personal meaning to Youngblood, who has lived in Hawaii, Japan and New York.

“Wherever I happened to be, I was home,” she said. “I have to say this project just made it clear how deeply impressed we are. We take home wherever it is, wherever we go.” 

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