It was fate when I joined the musical four years ago. I had never heard of it before Prefectural Orientation, and that year, the show was Beauty and the Beast. It was a perfect combination: my favorite Disney story, retold in dance and song, both activities that I enjoyed. Since then, the musical has been shaped and reshaped by the different members each year, finding ways to tell old stories in new, refreshing ways, contributing to different worldwide charities.
My first show, Beauty and the Beast, was a cast of 24 people: the largest we had in my time here.. I was cast as the main villain, and although I was apprehensive about the responsibility, I trusted the direction of the directors and took confidence from my singing. It was a huge leap to co-directorship in my second year with an 18-person cast in Sleeping Beauty. In my definitely biased opinion, it’s the best and most cohesive musical we’ve ever had. I took a more supporting role on stage in my final two years with The Frog Prince and Robin Hood, but my backstage work exploded, partly because of smaller casts and crews. I edited music. Made the webpage. Learned graphic design. Choreographed dances for the first time in my life. I felt like I gave a lot of my time and effort, but I also gained confidence, technical skills, experience, and joy in return. Every stressful turn of the musical, it was worth it.
It was worth it because I got so much back from the musical. I owe the musical a lot, and not just the technical experience. I loved the exhilaration from every show we’ve ever done. We brought something to Niigata every year that was unique and could not be found anywhere else. We were being cultural ambassadors, and having fun doing it. Most of all, the people I met through musical are the people who made the best of friends. We had each other’s backs. We understood what we were going through, and if we didn’t, we made sure we could support each other. We proved that where we lived in the prefecture did not define who we became friends with, but rather our friends were the people who shared our interests and would go the distance for us, both in geography and in heart. We wanted to do some good work, and we had fun doing it. These are the people that I want to talk to, work with, spend my life with. The musical gave me the love of my life, and I was far from the only person to have had this over the years.
Thank you to the ALTs and the people of Niigata Prefecture for coming out to support us, year after year, and watch ourselves be silly on the stage. Thank you to the BoEs, the cities that we have our shows in, the eikaiwas that help and support us, and the community centers that assist with our performances. Last but never least, thank you to all of the 43 individuals whom I have worked with in the Niigata musical over all these years.
The musical is an ode to creativity, hard-work, and the teamwork of the cast and crew of Niigata Prefecture. Although I won’t be in the landmark 20th anniversary of the musical next year, I am proud to have helped bring the show to where it is and to hammer out the script for next year. Good luck, and I look forward to the new show!
-Katherine Truong (Musical Director 2013-2014 )
While I was researching prefectures in Japan that I would like to live in, I remember coming across the Niigata JET website; it was here that I first heard about the Charity Musical. From the moment I read about it, I knew Niigata was the prefecture for me and that I wanted to be a part of the musical. I felt so strongly about it, that I even listed it as my primary reason for wanting to be placed there. So months and months later, I was absolutely ecstatic to find out that I had gotten my first choice.
2013 will be my third year of directing the Niigata Charity Musical. It’s been a lot of work, but I can say without a doubt that every second I’ve put into these shows has been worth it.
During my first year, we put on a completely original show called Shamisen Hero. It was a really fun show that parodied both Japanese video games and pop idol culture. Last year, we went with a more familiar story, Aladdin, and just put our own twist on it by giving Jafar a controlling wife and a lazy son. For the 2013 Niigata Charity Musical, we have already begun writing our own version of Beauty and the Beast.
Over the last two years, the musical has become more than just a production to me; the musical is the place where I made my best friends in Japan. I’ve been able to do so much more than just create musicals with the other JETs. I’ve been to China and Korea with them, I’ve been to Tokyo Disney Sea and Universal Studios Japan with them. I’ve been to beaches, hanamis, K-pop concerts, Noh performances, karaoke, and Round One with them. And of course let’s not forget konbinis… Lots and lots of konbinis…
When I came to Japan, I think my biggest fear was that I would never be able to make the kind of friends here that I had back home; people who would be there for me through the highs and the lows. People who I could be myself around. People who I could trust.
Through the musical, not only was I able to make friends, but friends that I will keep for the rest of my life. Although each of us joined the musical for different reasons, I believe we all stuck with it because of one thing: the people in it.
That’s why I believe the musical is so much more than a show. It really is a place where you can make your home away from home.
– Megan Kelly ( Musical Director 2010-2013)
I was involved in the Niigata Charity Musical for all five of my JET years, and it has by far been one of the most rewarding and fun things I’ve done. Niigata winters are long and cold, but getting together two weekends a month to practice is an excellent motivator, especially when you’re prone to hibernating and never leaving your house. My best friends in Niigata are the people I’ve met through musical, and even though you are working on a production, there’s still plenty of time to just hang out, too. Rehearsals are held all over the prefecture, so you stay at the homes of the local JETs, and they plan activities to do in the area. Added bonus: you get to know other parts of the prefecture.
The musical also serves as an outlet for those who are artistically inclined. We have people working on sets, costumes, dancing, singing, and acting. People who like drawing have made posters, playbills, and t-shirts in addition to sets. If you like writing, there is script writing as well as lyric writing. The whole process is incredibly creative: we write our own script, then choose songs and change the lyrics to great an entirely original show. My personal favorite part is lyric writing, but I was a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic when I was a child.
Finally, it’s all done to raise money to build a school and fund education in rural Papua New Guinea. It’s sometimes hard to care about charity projects when you can’t directly see the results, but there is an annual trip to PNG where we visit the village and help them work on the school. The people are so welcoming, and you see how much it truly improves their lives.
– Katrina Schmidt (2009)
Yet another season of the Niigata charity musical has come and gone but this year’s final curtain is definitely far from the last. 2005 marked the eighth year of this annual fundraising project, an endeavour unique to Niigata’s ALT community.
It first began when a group of 10 ALTs decided to raise money for a volunteer trip to Fiji close to a decade ago by performing a musical, written in simple English, in cities around Niigata Prefecture. All money raised through ticket sales and donations would go towards materials needed for the volunteer trip. Thus, the Niigata charity musical was born, and now, 8 years later, the Niigata International Charity Organization (NICO) is still going strong.
This year we had about 40 individuals involved with the production consisting of both foreign and Japanese individuals. The production was “Peter Ja Pan”, a parody of the classic tale with a cultural twist. There was no shortage of swash-buckling pirates or animal-print wearing tribes people, along with some lost elementary school children, a former ALT Captain who lost his hand in a mean game of “Fruit Basket”, and Wendy’s little sister Na-chan who also flew with Peter to Neverland. All in all, I think a good time was had by cast, crew, and audience members alike.
A great big round of applause goes to everyone in Niigata Prefecture who contributed to the success of this year’s production (you know who you are), and to all of our audience members and supporters, we’d like to give you a tremendous thank you for contributing to the spirit of this cause.
– Jessicah Loh (2005)