Powell Street Festival Theatre

G. Kumagai
Powell Street Festival Theatre, 1994
Washi and graphite on mylar.

“The festival is kyodo genso. It’s a shared fantasy or illusion. Very difficult to translate. Being able to be yourself and, from the bottom of your being, to relate to each other – everybody, at the same time – and then create something.” – Les Kamada, Kikyo.

Powell Street is home to the Powell Street Festival, an eclectic annual celebration of the arrival in 1877 of the first Japanese immigrant to Canada. On the first weekend in August, Oppenheimer Park and the surrounding streets become a stage set for the performance of music, the playing of games, the exchange of news and enjoyment of theatre. During these two days of the year, the Japanese Canadian community gathers to inhabit the place from which they, their family and friends were forcibly ‘evacuated’ years ago, not to dwell unduly on the past; but to celebrate their cultural identity.

The loss of dignity in the evacuation of the Japanese Canadian residents of the Powell Street neighbourhood in Vancouver has never been publicly addressed at the site, except by the annual Powell Street festival. The Festival is the only manifest evidence of this relationship between lost dignity and the will to restore it. Although the movement for redress resulted in a symbolic new beginning for Japanese Canadian culture, it did not provide any opportunity for personal revaluation of that lost during the war.

The Powell Street Festival Theatre is intended to create a permanent presence that reflects what Powell Street used to be and could become, memories and dreams seen in rosy half-light, distant from the derelict buildings that are there today. Upon seeing the place reclaimed however briefly by the festival, one understands how this place and it’s memory transform in the minds of the revelers into the paradise of their youth. The proposed theatre stage is presented in-the-round, surrounded on three sides by fixed seating, and on the fourth by movable seating that unfolds origami-style into the street, engaging the public space of Oppenheimer Park during special events.

A separate fixed park paviliion and mini-stage creates a 365 day venue for impromptu community events, and acts as a satellite of the main theatre building.