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  • Writer's pictureKagan Goh


Kagan Goh had a mentor session with Tetsuro Shigematsu: the Japanese Canadian playwright, actor, and broadcaster on 20 August 2020 arranged and facilitated by Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture as part of my award for being the inaugural recipient of the Geoff McMurchy Artist Development Grant. Tetsuro is the genius behind the VACT (Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre) play’s: Empire of the Son, 1 Hour Photo, and Kuroko. We had a brilliant conversation where Tetsuro shared his wisdom, advice, suggestions, gleaned from years of experience as a successful artist. I learned and gained a lot from talking with him on Zoom. I really look up to Tetsuro for he is my favourite Canadian artist. I consider Tetsuro to be a hero, a cultural icon, a mentor, and role model of a successful yet down-to-earth, humble, and humorous self-depreciating Asian Canadian artist.

The biggest nugget of wisdom I gleaned from our one and a half hour conversation is Tetsuro recommended not to become obsessed about a particular work or project, slaving and struggling like Sisyphus up the mountain with a boulder on my shoulders. He recommended I shift my focus instead on to the audience. He said somewhere sometime you may become someone’s favourite author or artist, and it is our duty to serve our audience, not to ingratiate or appease them, but provide work for them to enjoy on a consistent basis. I like the idea of the duty of serving our audience. It deflates the self-importance of the act of creating art as a rarified preoccupation and distills it as a service to others. The Hero's Journey speaks of the hero venturing into foreign lands to eventually return home with the elixir or boon to heal the home tribe. I like the idea of art being a service or a gift to bestow unto others. I have a history and track record of taking 15 to 20 year or more to complete long-term projects. That is too long a period between projects to hold onto the elixir or boon. I need to return to the home tribe sooner rather than later otherwise I may lose my way in the dark forest of the night. Tetsuro said the drawback of these prolonged gaps between projects means audiences will forget about you. Also, you will produce fewer works in this lifetime. We have a short life to live. Not all of us can be Terrence Malick, Kurbick, and Tarkovski, taking decades to realize and manifest masterpiece projects. He said to choose to be more prolific over creating masterpieces because the more you produce, the more you learn and the better you grow and improve as an artist. The example I gave is the analogy of a pottery class divided into 2 groups. One group is asked to produce hundreds of pots and not care if they are perfect or imperfect. The other group is asked to produce one perfect pot. The group that consistently produces higher and better quality pots is the group that is not precious about trial and error of making many pots. The group assigned to make one perfect pot ended up making an inferior product. That was the most valuable piece of advice Tetsuro gave me: don't slave over the work and to aim to be prolific over being a perfectionist. I am in humble service to my audience and not to be a perfectionist and precious about the creative process. At the same time, a balance needs to be found: I agree quantity should not sacrifice quality. Thank you Tetsuro for taking the time to share your wisdom with this emerging artist. Thanks also to Kait Blake, Artistic Director of Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture for facilitating and arranging this Zoom mentor meeting.

All My Relations,

Kagan Goh

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