I had the opportunity to review Anzu Lawson’s wonderful solo show last year.
“Dear Yoko” is an image to the iconic women herself and well as a magical exploration of Anzu’s life, her relationship with her mother and the truly remarkable parallels she has to Yoko.
Solo shows are always born of fire of one kind or another, and at their very best they are the Phoenix we all believe we can be. Anuzu’s skills are apparent as she inhabits Yoko Ono’s persona and gracefully flits from herself, to Yoko, and all the other cast of characters in the moments she shows us form her word. It’s such a remarkable blend of skills that we wanted to know how on earth Anzu managed this marvelous endeavor and so we asked!
WHY A SOLO SHOW?
For several years, I had been pitching a biopic screenplay and an all-original 28 song Broadway-ready musical called “DEAR JOHN, WHY YOKO?” I had written. And while researching Yoko Ono’s life every day for nearly 8 years, I continued to find surprising parallels between my life and hers, ala; the strict mothers, child kidnappings, overcoming drugs, scandalous pregnancies, feeling stifled in a patriarchal Japan, coming to America for artistic freedom and being misunderstood, just to name a few. Then my mother died on May 17, 2018. I needed to channel my grief and somehow this story of my tiger mom, Yoko Ono and myself, started to intricately weave itself together. This story of three strong-willed Asian women in search of a meaningful life in a xenophobic world boldly revealed itself to me, and it had to be told…in this intimate way.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOKO ONO THAT DREW YOU TO HER?
I’ll be honest and say it was my dramaturge Jocelyn Jones that looked at me one day and asked me if I had ever thought of playing “Yoko Ono.” My knee jerk reaction was to scoff it off because unfortunately, I too, had grown up (even though I was Asian) to be conditioned to have some prejudice against her. It was never explained to me why but, growing up around musicians, I knew she wasn’t very liked and as a kid, I just wanted to be liked. Jocelyn assigned me to a “picture exercise” so I started researching Yoko Ono’s life and my mind was blown with the way she saw the world. Her non-conforming/mind-bending confidence to “beat to the beat of her own drum” gives me endless inspiration and strength today. Yoko continues to grow me as a humanitarian and as a forward-thinking female artist.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE FOR PRODUCING YOUR OWN PLAY?
I certainly couldn’t have done this without my director Jessica Lynn Johnson holding my hand the whole way and without the support of her Solo Artist community that she’s created. Doing a One Person Show about something so deeply personal has been the scariest and most rewarding thing I’ve even done as a writer/performer. I’d say, find a director who creates a safe space for you… someone who has steered the ship and has successfully navigated those waters many times. Surround yourself with the best & experienced. My favorite saying is “Eagles Never Kick It With Pigeons” and I apply it to everything in life. Oh… and yes, get a publicist!
HOW HAS THIS SHOW CHANGED YOU, HEALED YOU, MADE YOU STRONGER?
I thought I was a fearless person before this show… but now, as an actress, I feel like I’ve earned my stripes and got my Masters and this show is my thesis. As a daughter, it has allowed me to honor my late mother for all the sacrifices she made, to give my sister and me a better life while celebrating my Asian lineage in a way I’ve never done before. As a woman, it has allowed me the proper medium to finally speak my truth about the transgressions I kept silent trying to “make it” in a male-dominated industry. But most importantly… as a writer, I know just how important it is to continue to excavate & execute stories of the underdog for the purpose of raising the consciousness of humanity
SOLOFEST IS A GREAT RESOURCE FOR ARTISTS, WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH THE FESTIVAL AND OTHER FESTIVALS?
My Sunday, February 2 at 3pm SOLOFEST performance at The Whitefire Theatre will only be my 3rd performance of “DEAR YOKO,” and it has been an honor to have been an official selection for The 2019 BFF Festival at The Santa Monica Playhouse and now an official selection for the 2020 SOLOFEST. This is my first One Woman Show and it’s true when they say “Build It And They Will Come.” I’m very grateful for these two LA-based Solo festivals for the opportunities they provide by shining a spotlight on solo theatre works. Solofest 2020 is featuring 80 solo shows in 90 days, and it keeps growing every year. It’s pretty amazing how one voice in a dark theatre can heal, inspire and transform an unsuspecting person in the audience. Would I dare say… it may even save lives? Ha haha. Well, it may have only saved mine but I will say… every show will touch a place in your soul you forgot was touchable.
YOUR FAVORITE ANECDOTE OF THIS YEARS SOLOFEST?
This is my first solo show and first Solofest. Now, I can see why John Leguizamo continues to make One Man Shows. You have so much freedom as an artist and as a storyteller. That freedom can become addicting to an actor like me, who is often typecast. But to answer the anecdote question, I had no idea how deeply it would affect me to hear that my unconventional life story told in all its vulnerability would bring men and women to tears & laughter the way it does. Turning pain into something positive is the unexpected and ultimate reward. Dear Yoko is playing at the Whitefire theatres Solofest on February 2nd at 3pm. Its such a fantastical journey and Anzu is not the only one who transforms I can assure you. This kind of exquisitely personal art is why theatre is the absolute best medium for women to tell their stories.