We had the good fortune of connecting with Yuriko Shibata and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yuriko, what do you attribute your success to?
Well, I don’t yet consider myself a successful artist; however, I do believe I’ve come a long way. In a rather short period of time, I’ve been able to make great achievements, such as composing the musical “SKIN,” which had an Off-Broadway workshop production debut at Rattlestick Theater in NYC. I’ve also had a few of my works presented at a couple of art centers here and there in NYC like Don’t Tell Mama, Green Room 42, and Lincoln Centre. Not to mention, my experience in the film industry includes the movie “Jesus,” which was the winner of the San Sebastián International Film Festival 2018. I’d personally say one of the most important factors behind my musical growth and partial success has been collaboration, which is, in my opinion, a greatly overlooked characteristic of successful artists. Collaboration has played a vital role in my musical growth to the extent that I don’t believe anymore that there’s such thing as a “self-made artist.” There’s no way for a musical artist to attain their musical goals and elevate their craft unless by benefiting from the help and experience of others. That is, collaboration along with chemistry, skills, and talent are all ingredients that add up to the recipe for success.
Looking back at my musical journey, I’d say I was never aware of the value of collaboration in musical theater. As far as I remember, music has always been an inseparable part of my life as I started playing the piano at a very early age, as young as three. Since I was a young child, I’ve always been obsessed with learning as many musical skills as possible. I always thought that in order to realize my future dreams, I needed to be a “miss know-it-all”! However, when I stepped into the real world of music, I noticed that besides knowledge, it’s collaboration that plays a key role in both personal and professional development. I’ve noticed that just like all other artists and creative types, I could be too sensitive and even stubborn at times. Simply put, I generally prefer to do things my own way. However, my education in NYU Tisch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program provided me with plenty of precious opportunities to collaborate with other artists, especially librettists and lyricists. That helped me learn to challenge myself by getting out of my comfort zone and synchronizing myself with the ones I had the best chemistry with. Through collaboration, I learned which ideas to stick to and which ones to throw away. We might have different opinions from our collaborators, but at the end of the day, we all want to produce the best possible piece of art, and that can only be done through working with ones who complement your skills and bring something to the table. Above all, musical theater is such a unique and social art that it’s simply much more fun working with friends and partners you enjoy hanging out with.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Even though I’ve always had music by my side since I was a little child, I’d say my true musical journey started when I was in high school. As a teenager, I always kept up with the latest American music; especially, I was a huge fan of Lady Gaga. I remember her captivating singing and piano performance at The Grammy Awards left a strong impression on me and piqued my interest in the American entertainment industry. From that moment on, I always aspired to work as a composer in entertainment in the USA, hoping it would help me receive recognition as an international artist someday.
After college graduation, my dream of engagement in the US entertainment industry still held an important place in my mindset, but it was hard to find a way to realize my dream as I personally didn’t know anyone who shared the same aspiration as mine in Japan. In other words, there was no one for me to turn to when I felt despair or needed assistance. I had no choice but to figure out a plan and show what it takes all by myself to fulfill my aspirations. That was when I came up with the idea of going to NYU Tisch, which is famous for its education in modern art. Meanwhile, one of the toughest challenges for me to get in such a prestigious school was the English language barrier. Thus, besides studying music in college, I had to study English around the clock. On top of that, the whole idea of moving to a new country with a different language and culture seemed so intimidating at first, but despite all the odds, I finally managed to overcome all the challenges and graduate from NYU Tisch last May.
Last but not least, as a Japanese woman who wants to work in the American theater industry where minority people haven’t been given enough room to shine, I’ve had multiple times where I’ve felt a lack of understanding from the people around me, telling me directly or indirectly, “You can’t make it there.” I believe that being an Asian immigrant could be a source of distress, but on the other hand, embracing these parts of myself has given me a greater ability to express my art distinctively. Looking on the bright side, I can tell my Japanese heritage contributes to my music composition, influencing my choices through my unique access to the cross-cultural tonal worlds of western and Japanese music. I even believe that these parts of me will be the things that make me unique and outshined.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I can surely be a great tour guide for anyone intending to enjoy the fantastic attractions of New York City. My suggested itinerary for traveling around NYC would be more focused on art and food than basic sightseeing. As a theater person, I’d say visiting the theaters is a must, given New York is the epicenter of performing arts. My list of recommendations most definitely includes Broadway’s musical masterpieces like The Phantom of the Opera, Aladdin, and Wicked. On top of that, I strongly suggest checking out more contemporary works such as Tony Award-winning queer musical Strange Loop and Off-Broadways such as Sleep No More. If my and Andrew’s musical, SKIN, is presented again in NY, you gotta check that out too!
Aside from theater, I’d show you around modern art museums, particularly MoMA. It’s unbelievable how such a large number of world-famous paintings have been gathered in a single place in MoMa. You don’t really need to be an avid art aficionado to cherish the renowned artworks that you certainly studied in school.
Oh, and let’s not forget to add a tour of NYC restaurants to our agenda. As a self-declared foodie myself, I can tell you NYC is one of the best places in the world to try a wide range of scrumptious dishes since it boasts diverse food cultures and culinary traditions. It would be fair to say that the opportunity one can get in NYC to explore such diversity and magnitude of cultural influences is truly one of a kind. I’m especially crazy about fusion-cuisine restaurants like the ones that serve Asian-French food and Michelin-starred restaurant Tuome, where you can relish Chinese-rooted American dishes. Also, remember to go to speakeasies or hidden bars after your dinner! New York is famously known as the city that never sleeps, so I want you to feel what that means by having some holistic nightlife experiences!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First and foremost, I’d like to give a shoutout to my dearest collaborator Andrew Strano, a lyricist who I had the privilege to meet in my graduate program at NYU. I worked with Andrew to write a 90-minute musical, named SKIN, as a thesis for the musical theater program. Much to my delight, SKIN turned out to be a huge success, undergoing a 4-week workshop at Off-Broadway Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre. SKIN managed to sell out three shows at Rattlestick even though the shows were just the debut of the musical.
The musical SKIN is an impressionistic window into a world of yearning, queer identity, and parts of who we are that we so savagely cut ourselves off from. The musical gave me and Andrew a chance to reflect upon our life and confront our identity problems – me as an immigrant Asian woman seeking success in NYC, and Andrew as a gender non-conforming person.
SKIN was not only a great step in my musical career but also a turning point in my life helping me connect the dots and have a clear vision of who I want to be and how I want to represent myself in the future. As a result of this collaborative work, we don’t feel like strangers to the question of identity anymore, and we truly think it’s our duty to share our experience with those who’ve been through the same struggle.
Another important factor that led to a fruitful collaboration between me and Andrew was mutual confidence in each other’s artistic capabilities. Our experience of mutual cooperation proved that we could trust each other’s instincts, making it more comfortable for both of us to freely put our passion, emotion, heart, and soul into our work.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to express my special thanks to Rattlestick Theater, which allowed us to have a 4-week rehearsal session to develop and workshop our musical. I have to admit I had such an incredible time there ‘cuz it was my first time working in teams in person since the pandemic hit. I’m glad that the whole creative team at Rattlestick was fearless and assertive in sharing opinions and giving us advice to modify some parts, so we were able to benefit hugely from their knowledge. These incredibly talented people made me feel safe to throw my ideas back and forth, which reminded me of how much I love making art with like-minded artists who have the same passion as me; a simple joyful activity that had turned into an unattainable dream because of the pandemic and isolation period. That’s why I sincerely give credit to Rattlestick Theater and its creative team who made it possible to present our show to the world.
Heather – Hannah Bailey
Eddie – Brenton Cosier
Cath – Lynn Craig
Cate – Sara James
Siobh – Mariah Lotz
Ed – Ben McHugh
Lighting Designer – Bailey Costa
Line Producer – Jody Doo
Band – Nya Holmes (Bass), Zachary Larson (Guitar), Morgan Parker (Percussion)
Stage Manager – Abbey Howard
Assistant Stage Manager – Andrew Kasper
Sound Designer – Sean Ramos
Costume & Scenic Designer – Lukas Wassmann
Other: Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/yuriko-shibata-2
Image of my solo photos by Koki Sato, Instagram @kokisa10 Rehearsal photo of everyone in the SKIN team taken by me. The Talkback photo was taken by Lynn Craig. Skin Dress rehearsal photos by Matt Davies, Instagram @mattdaviesphotography Dress rehearsal photo explanation (if needed) 1, Eddie singing “Come with me’, inviting his best friends to start a new life with him. 2, Cath is reconnecting with her memory, the memory with her ex-lover Heather. 3, Heather is going into the ocean at midnight. The fabric means the wave.