English Shows Tokyo had an interview with Gini Benson, a multitalented actor, who works as both cast and crew in the English theater community in Tokyo.
Cover photo by Rodger Sono
-You have had many acting experiences here in Tokyo. Please introduce yourself and tell us your shows that you have been/are working on.
Hi! My name is Gini Benson, and I’ve lived in Japan for twelve years. I’ve spent the last four of those years doing work with volunteer English language theatre groups like Tokyo International Players(TIP), Black Stripe Theater, and Tokyo Theater for Children, as well as made stage appearances with Tokyo Comedy Store’s Improvazilla, and the Broadway cabaret show, SMASH Cabaret. I’ve been in several musicals and plays, including The Secret Garden, Confusions, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, The Language Archive, Big River, Blackbird, The Who’s Tommy, and this season’s TIP show Hand to God. I’ve also crewed several shows, such as Sweeney Todd, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Songs for A New World, and Big Bad Musical. I am also currently working as assistant to the director on TIP’s season finale musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
TIP presents Hand to God
Tickets available at www.tokyoplayers.org
-How did you get involved with theater?
I’ve been doing theatre since I was very young. I started in church as a child, doing Christmas and Easter pageants. My first regular stage appearance was in high school, where I was pulled in twice to cover older students who’d had to drop out of school. I joined the thespian club and the Forensics club in high school and did as much acting as I could and then continued to study in university, where I got a Bachelor of Arts in Drama.
-You also won a singing competition, SMASH Cabaret. How did you learn singing? Also, is it exciting to work with Japanese actors/singers?
My mother and father were both music majors in university, before leaving school in order to raise me. Music was always just been a part of my life. My parents taught my siblings and I to sing from an early age. We performed together at church, a little like the Von Trapp family.
I was invited to perform at SMASH by its creator, Manatsu Domoto in 2017, after she saw me in an Improvazilla show. When I performed there the first time, I won and I was totally shocked! I’d performed in singing competitions before; I was on Nodojiman The World twice in 2013 and 2014, but it was with other foreigners.
Singing with Japanese people who were also very passionate about Broadway and musicals was so delightful. It was an entirely different atmosphere. Even though it was a competition, everyone’s first priority was having fun and showing off their love for music. Recently, I had my last performance with SMASH Cabaret, and I won for a second time. It was such a lovely way to bookend my time with the showcase, and I have created many very special memories with all of the wonderful people who are involved with the show.
-You have experience not only as cast, but crew. Why do you work as crew, too? Did you learn anything from working as crew?
Before I started acting on stage in high school, I decided to try out theatre by first working on the crew, to see how I liked the experience. The school was doing Grease as the musical that year, and they needed someone for follow spot. I had a lot of fun doing that, but I didn’t do much more backstage work until I got to college, where I worked backstage crew at the school’s opera house as work-study. Since my first thought was that I wanted to become a theatre teacher, I knew I needed backstage experience and training. I realized that everything about theatre was fascinating for me and I grew an appreciation for how hard people working backstage work. Their jobs are usually thankless. If a show goes perfectly, it’s because everyone backstage did their job and you didn’t notice it. I learned that I didn’t care how I got to do theatre. It didn’t matter if it was onstage or backstage, as long as I could be a part of making a show successful.
-What brought you to Japan?
I lived in Japan as a child. My first onstage experience happened in a small church in Okinawa, Japan when I was probably six or seven, actually! When I left Japan to return to America, I believed in my heart that I would come back one day. I rediscovered Japan in college and it felt as if a missing piece of me fell back into place and I knew I had to return as soon as I could.
-What is your next goal?
After twelve years of living in Japan and rediscovering my love of performing, I’ve decided to return to America to give the profession a shot. My goal, for now, is simply to establish myself in show business, however that looks for me. I’ve got some voice acting experience, and have done some work in digital media, and because of my stage work in Japan, I feel like I’ve collected a lot of useful experience to carry me into my next pursuit.
-What was your best show/role in Japan? Please tell us about your favorite/most unforgettable roles.
That’s so hard to do! I have too many, but I guess I can say for certain that Martha from The Secret Garden, The Pinball Wizard from The Who’s Tommy, and Una from Blackbird may possibly be my three most cherished roles.
Martha is so important to me because it was the first featured soloist role I’d ever had in a musical, as well as being my first role on a stage in six or seven years. I auditioned hoping to get that specific role not knowing whether or not I would, so I was astounded to be cast.
The Pinball Wizard was a role I was not anticipating, but my time on The Who’s Tommy was incredibly formative for me. I learned a lot about myself, and the types of roles I wanted to have. The honor of holding a role like The Pinball Wizard was something truly immense.
I have very mixed feelings regarding my time spent on Blackbird, but Una was the first (and only) lead role I’d ever had, and playing her pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of accomplishing as an actor.
-What is Tokyo to you?
Tokyo has been like a very slow rebirth for me. I came to Japan at twenty-two. In many ways, I was still a child, trying to determine what I wanted out of life. Every experience shaped me into something new. Immersing myself in theatre again taught me that there was more to living than just doing what was practical and what was safe. It taught me that eventually I would need to take a chance on myself and risk something big to succeed. I’ve spent over half of my life in Japan, and so it is home to me, and will always be a part of me. I look forward to coming back one day.
The English theater community is going to miss you, but this is a great opportunity for you to progress from this part of your life to the next. English Shows Tokyo wishes you all the best.
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