LOS ANGELES — Spring is a time of growth, and the East West Players stage is full of new artists.
Take Thomas Winter, who plays Melchior in “Spring Awakening.” The musical marks his professional debut.
“It was like a dream come true, just being in that space,” Winter said.
“It’s a space with a long history. The theater inhabits a historic church in Little Tokyo. A plaque on the sidewalk out front details how Japanese families lined up there to be transported to internment camps during World War II .
Thomas’ grandfather may not have boarded one of these buses but was incarcerated in Manzinar. He then returned to this specific neighborhood, starting a radiology business just a stone’s throw from the theater where Thomas currently performs.
“Right there,” he says, pointing to a corner building, his mother on Facetime helping him identify the exact location. She said that when she was a child, she would go to the office, sometimes to watch the big Nisei Week parade.
That business, Central of Japanese ancestry incarcerated at that time. .
He says making his stage debut just steps from where his grandfather worked is very special. He never had the chance to meet him, but he always felt a strong connection.
“I’m named after him,” Winter said. “His name was Tom. And my name is Thomas.”
He also carries his grandmother with him. She died earlier this year and every night at the theater he wears a bracelet that once belonged to her.
“One of the last things she told me was to do good things,” he recalls. “And I feel like that’s what she would have wanted, is just, you know, connecting me with my community, with my roots.”
Among the other actors, who are making their debut on EWP, there is an already famous face. Tamlyn Tomita wore a vintage EWP t-shirt from the early 1980s to show how long she’s been a fan and supporter of their work, even though this was her first time appearing on one of their shows.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” she said of the experience. “It’s scary like fffffff” – preventing himself from finishing the word.
The actress, who appeared on screen in projects like “The Karate Kid 2” and “Cobra Kai”, plays all the adult women in the series. She shares the stage with her husband, Daniel Blinkoff, who also makes his EWP debut playing all the grown men.
Although the musical is set in Germany in 1891, it deals with topics that it says are still incredibly relevant today. Abortion, mental health and sex were certainly not discussed in her childhood.
She brought her mother to one of the rehearsals and told her about the play.
“‘So it’s about sexual awakening, Mom. Spring Awakening is a euphemism for sexual awakening,'” Tomita recalls. She asked her to explain to the cast how she taught Tomita about sex.
“I didn’t teach you about sex!” » she said, imitating her mother’s shock. “That’s right. But we’re talking about it now and Spring Awakening has always been about it. You know what it means to talk or not talk about things and what the consequences are.
Tomita thanks East West Players for their work for decades to create opportunities for Asian-American artists from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands and says change is definitely happening, even as it happens “sometimes excruciatingly slow.”
As an admirer of the company’s work for decades, she is delighted to add her name to the long line of personalities who have graced these boards.
“I’m just really, super proud that I can, you know, at my age, just start with them,” she said, her voice growing calm and serious. “But I know that I am just a small stone on a long path of stars going out from here and stars to come.”
Rising stars like Winter recognize that while progress has been made for artists of color, there is still a long way to go. It’s an effort to which he is honored to add his voice.
“Knowing that I’m part of this legacy. It’s very surreal,” he said.
This production of Spring Awakening, directed by former Artistic Director Tim Dang, has been extended and will run through December 3.