"Well now, why can't I?" - An Interview with Ron Munekawa

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These interviews have shown me that the cast members of The Song of the Nightingale come from such beautifully varied walks of life! Take Ron Munekawa. He is the Planning Director for the City of San Mateo Community Development Department. Given such a civically-oriented title, you wouldn't think that Ron is also a dancer and performer in musical theatre. He's also the Staff Coordinator and Visual (marching) Caption Head for the Sacramento Mandarins Drum and Bugle Corps. Wow, right? Read on, and get to know Ron a little more...

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MIN: Share a bit about your performance history. How did you get into performing?

RON: I have been performing in musicals off and on for about 25 years. Most of my work has been with Broadway by the Bay (formerly Peninsula Civic Light Opera). I have primarily been in the chorus, so The Song of the Nightingale has given me the opportunity to take on a couple of roles with more speaking lines than is usually the case for me!

  Ron with fellow PCLO/BBB alums Deedra Wong (Nightingale) and Edmond Kwong (Head Chef/Fisherman for the 2010 Staged Reading)

Ron with fellow PCLO/BBB alums Deedra Wong (Nightingale) and Edmond Kwong (Head Chef/Fisherman for the 2010 Staged Reading)

I owe my musical theater experience to Berle Davis. I was taking classes from Berle at the time he was also the resident choreographer for PCLO (note: I did not start taking dance classes until I was older than most of the Nightingale cast!).  One day after class, Berle said he was looking for a few male dancers to do a number in an upcoming PCLO musical, and would I be interested in being a Shriner in Bye Bye Birdie? I immediately said yes, although I really had no idea what he was talking about other than it was my first chance to be in a show!  We rehearsed the number for a week before tech, did tech week, the run of the show and from then on I was hooked.

Berle could be very demanding, but if not for him, I certainly would not be in a position to be answering this interview today! While Berle is not actively teaching today, I try to still take a class a week at the Dance Arts Center which I plan to do as the show winds down. 

M: What has your experience working on The Song of the Nightingale been like?

R: It has been a great experience. One of the things that drew me to audition was the opportunity to be a part of an original work. To see the development of the show, particularly with the show’s creator being directly involved, has been very unique, and I am grateful to be a small part of it. The show itself is wonderful as it takes a classic fairy tale, which includes what I would consider to be some universal truths, and tells it in its own very special way.

I came into the show late, after about a week or so of rehearsals.  Everyone in the cast and production team was very helpful and understanding as I had to catch up. Now that the run has started, during warm-ups before every show I look around me and realize how fortunate I am to be working with such a talented, hardworking, supportive group of people.

Also, to be a part of an all Asian cast is an opportunity that does not come by very often.  In part, I think that Nightingale is about going beyond pre-set boundaries that one assumes are the case, resulting in the growth of the show’s characters.  While it is changing, there are not a lot of Asian Americans involved in theater. Hopefully by seeing Asian actors on stage, there may be someone out there who says “Well now, why can’t I?” and thereby take a step they hadn’t imagined themselves capable of before. 

M: You play two contrasting characters: Head Chef & Head Fisherman. Was any of them more of a challenge for you than the other? Why?

R: Well, while they both respond to conflict in a different manner, I do think that both do show different sides of leadership.  The Head Chef is easier to portray since he is very externally driven and shows the worry and concern very outwardly in his expressions and mannerisms.  How is he going to be able to produce three more banquets? How can he manage with his staff?

Head Fisherman is torn between acknowledging how difficult the situation is, but at the same time needing to appear calm and in control as the leader of the village. I think that only Head Fisherman realizes how the dire the situation really is, and that it is far beyond anything the village has ever encountered.  However, if he lets on to others that this is the case, panic may result, so he is walking a very fine line.  This has been, by far, the more challenging role.

  Head Fisherman (Ron) has to deal with the well-being of his community as well as the rebellious spirit of his son Xiao Hai (Sean Fenton).

Head Fisherman (Ron) has to deal with the well-being of his community as well as the rebellious spirit of his son Xiao Hai (Sean Fenton).

I also think that Head Fisherman knows his time as a leader is coming to an end; he is uncertain as to how to handle the current situation and starts to feel powerless and inept.  He realizes that his son should soon take over.  However, given the turbulent times, Head Fisherman questions whether he is actually handing over a legacy or a burden to his son, and is struggling to make things right.

I think it is this desperation and sense of powerlessness that also leads Head Fisherman to act in a manner more akin to Head Chef when the one real constant in his life, his family, is threatened.  So maybe they have more in common than meets the eye?

M: You're bringing an insight to the character that wasn't on my radar. I love how actors will do that with roles I've written! Anything else you'd like to share?

R: First of all, thank you Min and Christina for allowing me to be a part of this production.  I also have to thank my family who have always supported me in all my activities.

I have found that regardless of my environment – at City Hall, on a football field, or on a stage - I have always been fortunate to be surrounded by such talented, supportive persons that I always appear to be a better person/performer than I really am, simply by virtue of the people I am working with.  Certainly that is the case in The Song of the Nightingale.