A short chat with Lola Fukushima about Engaged Theatre

A short chat with Lola Fukushima about Engaged Theatre

Lola Fukushima is an actor and semi-recent Cornish College of the Arts graduate. This past October, Lola performed as Mariana and Provost in Engaged Theatre’s tour of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. We spoke to Lola about their acting experience, how they came to Engaged Theatre, and what it was like performing for extraordinary audiences.

Can you talk a little bit about your acting experience?

Yeah, absolutely. I am a semi-recent graduate from Cornish College of the Arts. I graduated in 2021 in theatre, with a concentration in musical theatre. So I’ve always been kind of immersed in the Seattle theatre scene here. And then when I graduated, I just started working professionally, and I kind of gravitated more towards acting than musicals. I found that I started to really enjoy engaging with theatre that was really engaging, very interactive. I was more interested in doing theatre that meant something to people. And I worked with Robin Lynn Smith, at Cornish. She was an instructor of mine, and I knew about this work that she did for the Engaged Theatre tour. And I made it very clear to her, even when I was back in school, that it was something that I was very interested in doing as an actor. That’s kind of how I found my way into this.

And did you have a lot of experience with either Shakespeare in general or with this play in particular before you signed on?

So I had never done any Shakespeare professionally. I learned a little bit in school, but it was actually something that I never thought that I could be good at. But I had always appreciated it. The language of Shakespeare has always been really, really appealing to me. So I always loved going to see it and watching it be done. And it wasn’t until I got to dive into this script here, in Measure for Measure, where I really started to see how I could fit in this industry, or this particular niche of the theatre industry.

What was it that attracted you to Engaged Theatre and what were your expectations going in?

I am a very big believer in the abolition of the prison system here in America. And that’s always been a very big passion of mine, alongside theatre. I knew that theatre was meant to engage communities, and I knew someone who had done [Engaged Theatre] for a few years in the past. And the way that he talked about it, I knew it was something that’s so perfectly aligned with my values and my principles. And I have always been interested in performing theatre in unconventional or unorthodox spaces, because I think that’s what it really should be for. Because if the space, or theatre, doesn’t exist, you really have to reconnect with the storytelling aspect of what you’re doing, which really is the core of what acting is. And I could just tell that it would be very fulfilling work for me. 

Can you talk about what the experience of actually touring was like? 

The actual days of the tour were long and grueling. They were 15 hour days, I think. But every second was so exciting and invigorating. We got there early to check in. And then we would unload all of our set, our costumes, props and our sound equipment. We would have that all checked and counted by the officers. And then we would set everything up: We measured out our set pieces and our spikes and set up chairs; we set up our sound equipment. And then there was a bit of a waiting period, because once we finished everything, we then had to wait for the first workshop of the day. 

So then we do a workshop with a smaller unit in the prison that didn’t necessarily have access to the full production at the end of the day. We would do some selected scenes and do some writing and thought exercises with them–which was incredible, the things that these people were writing. There were some of the most profoundly inspiring, thoughtful and considerate poems I had ever heard. And because Measure for Measure is a show about forgiveness…we talked a lot about that, and to hear what these people–who never really had been granted that [forgiveness]–had to say about the concept of forgiveness was so beautiful, and so touching, and moving, and so hopeful. 

So then I would go after the workshop to recover from the moving work, the overwhelming work in such a beautiful way. And then we would just hustle to get ready for the big, full length show in the evening for the larger unit of the prison. We would get set up, we would run the show (in a different space each time). And when time allowed, we were able to take questions and comments from the audience at the end of the show, which was so lovely. 

Again, just some of the most thoughtful and incredibly considerate and reflective words that I had ever heard from a person. What was most important to me throughout all of those days was, after everything, there were small moments of time where the troupe was able to actually go up to inmates as they were escorted back to their homes, and we were able to have individual conversations with some of them. There was just such a large amount of gratitude bouncing back and forth between both parties. Both parties not understanding why the other would be grateful for each other…it was just kind of a beautiful mismatch of gratitude. 

Are there any specific interactions or moments that stick out?

Yeah. Well, it was an interaction that didn’t actually happen during the performance. I played a character named Mariana, who, after an entire play of watching a man, Angelo, misbehave, and act in less than favorable ways–she begs for his life, and begs for a pardon for him and remains madly in love with him, even after knowing all of the stuff that he does. And it was a really meaningful interaction that I had when a person came up to me and he said, “You know, I just wanted to come up and ask you about playing Mariana. How did you find it in yourself as the actor to ask for forgiveness for this man?” And, you know, Mariana had to get married to him at the end of the play. And it was really fun and interesting. You know, he was coming to me with something that I actually kind of disagreed with. I believe that Mariana sees Angelo for who he is as a whole person. And, you know, we were able to kind of go back and forth a couple of times; me kind of stating my side, and then him stating what he was watching as he saw the play unfold. And that kind of engagement and that kind of discourse was something that I could see was so important in this work of engaging this community. Even just from that small interaction, that small, brief conversation, I could see that that’s exactly why we come in here to do this: to give them something to think about; to give them something to engage with. So even though we were contradicting each other, it was still a really meaningful interaction.

So having done your first Shakespeare play, what do you think?

I’m in love with it. I was just recently saying to someone about how I hope, in time, I can be considered a Shakespeare actor here in Seattle. Because I just want to do it all the time. His language has such an ability to disarm me, just by reading it cold. It was so fun to be able to dive into a play that isn’t done very much, but has, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful Shakespearean language that he’s ever written. 

I am someone who is so moved by language and poetry, and I think Shakespeare is like the perfect way in to accessing that kind of emotionality. And because I was someone who–not uncommonly–believed that Shakespeare was not for me, I now have this desire to do more Shakespeare and make it more accessible to people. I want to find ways to show that there are these universal themes and this universal language that we all share because of this one anthology of works.

Do you think you’ll be doing more Engaged Theatre? 

Oh, my gosh, I will. I will be doing it every season that they will have me. Yes, absolutely!

Is there anything we didn’t cover in the interview that you would like people to know about?

It is so clear to me, after having done this tour, that nothing else can be true except for the fact that community engagement is the way to rehabilitation. Which is something that I strongly believe in as an abolitionist. Which is why as grueling as those long days were on the tour, as long and arduous as the rehearsal process was [it was worth it]. 

That is the reason why every season that they will have me I will come back! Because I love being a part of these people’s rehabilitative journey. And that is just so important to me as a human. And so I’m very grateful, honestly. I am so grateful to Freehold for having been the pioneer of this work here in Seattle and for allowing me to participate in this work that is just so important and meaningful to me.