Put the Public’s Club Diamond On Your Radar

Outside the Theatre   Put the Public’s Club Diamond On Your Radar Nikki Appino’s show combining silent film and live performance pushes theatrical boundaries as part of the Under the Radar Festival.
Nikki Appino
Nikki Appino Marc J Franklin

Who: Nikki Appino
Outside: The Public Theater

Nikki Appino and Saori Tsukada’s Club Diamond is part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, which showcases new works of theatre from around the world. The co-creators combine black-and-white silent film and live performance to present the immigration story of a Japanese street performer. Tsukada stars, and Tim Fain, who composed original music for Club Diamond, performs on the violin.

Nikki Appino
Nikki Appino Marc J Franklin

How did you and Saori begin working on Club Diamond?
NA: A few years ago, I met Saori Tsukada at Philip Glass’ Days and Nights Festival. Silent film was one of the things that we both loved and were enthusiastic about—from both the Western tradition and the Japanese tradition. When Saori told me her story of coming to America when she was in her 20s, [we thought about adapting it]. It’s a post-modern immigration tale. In some ways it’s about her, but not really.

Did you always intend to pair live action with the film?
NA: Yes. We always wanted the silent film to be the centerpiece for the live action to go around.

In Club Diamond, Tsukada plays the role of a Benshi. Can you explain to me what that is?
NA: There’s a Japanese tradition called the Benshi—narrators who sat at the side of the stage in the theatre. The Benshis were integral to silent film in Japan, and were stars in their own rights. They often out-shone the films themselves. So making the silent film and the character of the Benshi came along together. The film was going to fold into the performance.

How did you approach making the silent film?
NA: The nature of film is that once it’s made, it’s hard to change—you need to re-shoot or re-edit. It’s not like performance, where you can start over. So we strategized for a long time and waited. Then we began drawing up the storyboard and, in my warehouse, we sketched out the whole film. Last November we shot it in 16 mm black-and-white film.

Projections and film onstage can be distracting—was that a concern of yours?
NA: It’s tricky because once you put a screen onstage, it’s very dominating. In Club Diamond, the Benshi is so much of a star that he fights to [get the attention]. The film also functions as a film during the performance, it's meant to be watched.

And there is a violinist performing onstage as well?
NA: Yes, we asked Tim Fain to compose original music and now he’s integral to the show and has a great dynamic with the Benshi.

What do you hope audiences will leave the show with?
NA: I want them to be on the journey with us—is my general answer!

For more information on Under the Radar, including the complete line-up, visit PublicTheater.org.