“Sometimes I think my head is so big because it is so full of dreams.”
Hamilton Armstrong, actor, director and teacher, quotes from Bernard Pomerance’s play ‘The Elephant Man.’ He said, “In the early ’80s I was a dancer and actor as well as a teacher. In an offshoot of my work with visually impaired and hearing impaired young adults, I developed an interest in attempting roles that had for the performer physical challenges, especially those depicting disabilities.
I was cast as Joseph Merrick in “The Elephant Man.” This is a retelling of the life of this 19th-century man, born with the mutation known as Proteus syndrome. The play gave me the best reviews of my career, and I am forever enamored of this beautiful gem of a story.”
Armstrong’s father, an actor, met his mother when she was a prompter for a play he was in. Both parents died young, and their son was raised by a Jesuit priest. An exuberant, hyperactive young man, Armstrong entered Clemson University in South Carolina. He said, “With all that excess of youthful energy, I spent most of my undergraduate life working on crisis intervention lines at hospitals and homes for the handicapped.” He took his first degree in psychology education and fine arts.
“After that I moved back to New Orleans and studied French cooking until they had no more courses to offer. Then they made me a teacher,” Armstrong went on.
“I taught cooking, catered, managed a restaurant and taught at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Several times I saw Tennessee Williams staggering home in the wee hours through the French Quarter. The atmosphere there seemed thick with the creativity of musicians, artists, dancers, actors, chefs.”
Armstrong’s acting and radio work attracted the attention of the head of the drama department at the University of New Orleans.
“He asked me to audition for a spot in the resident acting company, and offered me an assistantship to work toward my master of fine arts degree in drama. I taught and acted and directed, and conducted literary walking tours through the French Quarter of the places Tennessee Williams wrote about,” he said.
Twenty years ago, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program recruited Armstrong to be a teaching consultant and team teacher in Gifu Prefecture. He saw his mission then “to infuse junior high and high school teachers with livelier, more dramatic listening comprehension methods of teaching English.” For his own part, “I fell in love with the otherness and the sameness of Japan. This place suited my soul.”
In Tokyo, Armstrong found Tokyo International Players, Sophia and Aoyama Universities, and his wife. “That was the big second phase of my life,” he said.
Armstrong has been married for 14 years. His wife is an interpreter/translator and a Montessori School teacher. The couple has a 10-year-old Montessori-educated daughter. Six years ago, Armstrong attained a Ph.D. in Theater History, Literature and Theory. Now he teaches acting, social justice, and public speaking at Aoyama Gakuin University in Aoyama and Sagamihara. He also conducts seminars in literature, women’s studies, popular culture and Diaspora studies.
His own interests include painting and fiber arts, reading, music and yoga.
Armstrong undertook to direct for Tokyo International Players the opening play of this season, “The Elephant Man.” For him directing this “elegant play” is a dream come true. He emphasizes the themes he finds in the production. It brings out the inherent good in humanity, he says. It makes people wonder what is normal, and what is the meaning of existence. He sees in the play the value of creating as a metaphor for life. As the play is set in the 19th century he welcomes the reflective possibilities it provides to present Victorian manners and morals.
Armstrong concludes, “The story unfolds of a cruel world challenged and redeemed by the unconditional love and inexplicable forgiveness of one man dealt the harshest of fates: that of a romantic soul trapped in a frighteningly distorted body. The play is sad, yes, but it contains copious moments of humor, insight, human drama, and inspiration. Ultimately, the memory of Joseph Merrick is honored and celebrated a century later.”
“The Elephant Man” runs for five performances at Shinjuku’s Sun Mall Theater from Oct. 12 to Oct. 14. For details see www.tokyoplayers.org or call 090-6009-4171