Five years ago Hidden Memories started as a one-act play Lillian Nakamura Maguire drafted to improve her dialogue skills for a creative writing class. Now the full-length version will be featured in the Vancouver Fringe Festival’s Advance Theatre: New Works by Diverse Women on September 13.

“It’s the first time Hidden Memories will be read to a mixed audience of non-Japanese who may be unfamiliar with the story, and Japanese Canadians know the story of our relocation very well,” says Maguire.

Hidden Memories follows the daughter of Japanese immigrants as she sifts through her parents’ memorabilia, piecing together their early British Columbia life and forced relocation.

She tries to find peace with her parents’ choices during times of racial discrimination, her own identity and what she passes on to her daughter.

The script was one of over 83 submissions to the Ruby Slippers Theatre Company for production with Equity in Theatre, an initiative to balance gender and ethnic imbalance in the theatre industry. Only five were selected.

“I was kinda floored that they chose mine.” Maguire’s modesty stems from her childhood as the daughter of Japanese Canadian immigrants.

“For a long time I didn’t see myself as a writer. I grew up with parents who hardly spoke English at home. I didn’t think I could express myself well enough in English to call myself a writer.”

But, she says, “it was important to me to tell the story of the mother, the daughter and the grandmother,” which sparked her interest in the memoir writing circle at the Whitehorse United Church.

She struggled with issues of real life versus fiction. “There’s a fine line,” she says. “And I don’t know for certain what happened to my parents.”

Maguire found help in Gwaandak Theatre workshops and Jamella Hagen’s Yukon College creative writing classes.

“Part of theatre is the drama and conflict. I struggle with it because in Japanese culture, you can’t go and confront someone. So how was I to show conflict?”

She examined the characters’ motives and came to some realizations.

“Motivation creates interest and tension in the scene,” she says.

Funding support came from the National Association of Japanese Canadians Endowment Fund and research support from the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby. They arranged interviews and made diaries and other documents available to Maguire.

“It gave me a sense of what it was like to grow up in the Lower Mainland during and after the (Second World) War, because I didn’t grow up in B.C.,” says Maguire. “I was born in Regina and came to the Yukon via Calgary.”

In 2015, Compass North workshops, hosted by the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Whitehorse added another creative spark.

“It was the first time I was able to see so many plays at once and meet with a group of knowledgeable analytical theatre professionals,” she says.

One of those professionals was Donna Yamamoto, artistic director with the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre. Yamamoto agreed to direct, and one of her colleagues to cast, Maguire’s actors at Fringe.

On September 24, an excerpt of Maguire’s work will be read at the National Association of Japanese Canadians annual conference in Ottawa.

“There’s a high awareness among Japanese Canadians of our history here, and the need to embrace the arts to tell our story the way we want to tell it,” says Maguire.

She hopes the exposure will lead to more interest in Hidden Memories. In the meantime Maguire plans to keep writing.

“I have a funny play in my head about getting old.”


Freelance Writer and What’s Up Yukon columnist Jessica Simon was a frequent contributor to What’s Up Yukon who wrote columns on books, mining and a variety of other topics. She will be sadly missed, she had so many more stories to share with us all.