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COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on the arts community, or as local actor Jason Sakaki puts it: “This quarantine frickin’ sucks.” Here at VanMag, we’ve been getting a slew of the expected, but still disappointing emails postponing premieres, rescheduling festivals, and cancelling shows. Some performances have been moved online, but that requires technology, time, and money—resources that many arts organizations don’t have to spare.
But what do you really need to put on a show? If you’re Sakaki, it’s a couple of hats, an iPhone, a very supportive roommate (another local theatre artist, Laura Reynolds) and—oh yeah—a killer voice. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Sakaki was on a bike ride with a friend lamenting over the loss of theatre when she suggested that he put on an entire musical by himself. “It was a joke,” Sakaki laughs, “but I was like, ‘That’s a brilliant idea.’”
You might recognize Sakaki from his most recent role as Rolf in the Arts Club’s The Sound of Music, which premiered last fall. The 20-year-old multidisciplinary artist knew that, in order to pull off a one-man musical, he’d need to choose a show that he knew inside and out. “I thought, ‘Okay, what musical do I know front to back, the entire story, and could tell over an Instagram live… and that was Les Mis,” says Sakaki, “so I decided to do the entire thing, and play every single character, because obviously I can’t have anyone come over.” The livestream was filmed by Reynolds, who also supported Sakaki by setting scenes, tossing him props, and occasionally whispering reminders.
It was supposed to be a just-for-fun two-hour livestream; Sakaki didn’t anticipate a large audience: “I thought maybe ten of my closest friends were going to watch it.” Instead, over an almost three-hour production (including three breaks), Sakaki and Reynolds were capturing audiences of up to 300 people at once, and over 1,000 throughout the evening. Sakaki couldn’t see the numbers (or the dozens of supportive comments) but at times Reynolds would write down the number of viewers or a particularly funny comment so he could see them. “It was unreal,” he says.
It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention online for more than a couple of seconds, but as soon as Les Misakaki started (a spirited rendition of “Look Down,” which the young actor performed crouched on his bathroom floor, a cardboard boat held up to the steady stream of the showerhead) I was hooked. There was a different hat/wig/headband for each character, and at times the costuming got even more creative (case in point: Jean Valjean was a top hat, Thenardier was the same top hat tilted a bit to the right). Other than Sakaki’s undeniable talent, one of the most entertaining elements was him hurrying to summarize parts of the show that were cut for time. I started watching it alone and by the second act had my phone propped up so my entire household could see it, and I know that we weren’t the only home captivated by the show.
Next up is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. “We really have to step up our game,” says Sakaki, who now has access to some lighting and more costumes. It’s a more family-friendly show and it’s not sung through the way Les Mis is, so audiences can look forward to more of Sakaki’s hilarious summarization. The show premieres on Friday, April 3 at 7:00 p.m. on Sakaki’s Instagram, @jasonsakaki. He’s not only thrilled with the success of his last livestream, but with what that support means for the arts community: “It’s mind blowing to see those numbers, and to see that people still want art and theatre in their lives,” he says. “The coolest thing was to see all the actors and the people who support Vancouver theatre getting to come together again.”
Livestreamed on Instagram @jasonsakakiFriday, April 3 7:00pm PST