When she was a little girl, Minako Suzuki used to like “dreaming of being someone else.” Many little girls play similar pretend games. In Minako’s case, her pretending led her professionally and as a volunteer to the world of entertainment.
As a child living at Yokota, she used to play after school with American children from the air force base there. “They didn’t speak Japanese, and I picked up English from them,” she said. “I think I spoke it pretty well, and colloquially, but in school we had to memorize textbook English, and I didn’t do well. After high school, I wanted to do something different from anything usual. I entered acting school in Sendai.”
She had the support of her parents, both lovers of the theater, who approved of her originality and imagination. On her return from Sendai to Tokyo, still with her main interests listed as “current events, films, theater, music and fitness,” she decided to capitalize on her English-speaking skills. She helped a friend who was running a school for interpreters and translators. She read English-language publications. In time she gained a national certificate for proficiency. Today she speaks English as well as if she had been educated abroad. She has traveled to other countries, but not lived anywhere other than Japan. “I would like to,” she said. “I want to know what it is like to be a foreigner.”
Minako kept faith with her main interests as she undertook professional, freelance work in interpreting and translating. She accepted employment with a Hawaiian health club, with Ray Charles and his band, and with the 1991 track and field world championships in Tokyo. She was available for Shochiku’s movie distribution company and theater company. As interpreter-translator and assistant to producers, she handled contracts, correspondence and scripts between an animation film studio and Warner Bros./Universal Studios. Other credits stem from her office administration for Kodak Japan, Nike Japan and Walt Disney Attractions Japan. Now she has given up freelancing in favor of regular employment. For all of this year she has been bilingual secretary for international sales with JP Morgan, using the computer skills that she taught herself.
She is conscientious about following the fitness routines she has set for herself. Amongst her exercises she includes boxing, “in a class, with music,” she said.
A few years ago, Minako attended auditions for a production planned by Tokyo International Players. “I was curious about TIP,” she said. “I didn’t get a part, but ended up doing sound for the production. Now I have been doing backstage work for TIP for four years. Backstage too, we get high when the performances are over. I’m happy with that.”
Minako knows that her stage-managing reliability behind the scenes is invaluable for TIP. A production depends for its success as much on her and the unseen team she works with as it does on the actors and actresses out in front. “Backstage, I have the feeling of being close to the stage,” she said. “I don’t have to memorize lines, as I would if I were acting. And I don’t have to be afraid of appearing in public.”
She says she has stage-managed two or three times for TIP, and once “had to run the show. I was managing everything,” she said. “Attending to every detail and being responsible was exhausting. But after the show was over, I had the feeling of having accomplished something, even without going on stage.” Still in the capacity of volunteer, Minako serves on the board of governors for TIP.
Tokyo International Players has been in existence, not always under the same name, since 1896. Made up of members of the international community, it is the oldest theatrical group of its kind in Asia. It prides itself on maintaining its continuity and funding despite the constantly changing personnel of Tokyo’s transient residents. With many members having professional experience overseas and in Japan, TIP achieves its aim of “presenting quality English-language theater.”
“The Nerd” by Larry Shue will be staged at the Tokyo American Club in January (having been rescheduled from its originally planned 2001-2002 season opening at the end of this month). Behind the scenes, Minako will be stage managing to help ensure that everything goes smoothly. “I am very happy working with TIP,” she said.