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Eth-Noh-Tec Celebrates 22 Years with Young Audiences Arts for Learning!

Oct 12, 2022

This month, Young Audiences Arts for Learning of Massachusetts celebrates 22 wonderful years with the dynamic storyteller and visiting artist Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-Noh-Tec. Robert's roots as a musician combined with his wife Nancy Wang's theater experience created what they call kinetic, or movement-based storytelling. Eth-Noh-Tec presents Asia Fantasia, folk tales and myths from Asia: Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, and more Asian cultures. YAMA Staff had a great time catching up with Robert from his residence on the west coast.


What is significant to you about performing for young people?


When I was a kid, I had the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a political theater group/improv group, come to my high school. I got to see performers onstage, and that was really cool. Even before that, I always loved the arts, they were always part of my life. I was drawn to music, dance, and theater even in grade school. When I saw this professional group and I started seeing more and more artists, I thought, ‘Wow, I should get involved with this and with the arts.’ I identify with my fourth grade inner child of discovery of learning, exploring, creativity. When I hit the stage and see 100 or 200 kids just light up, or when I say, ‘Are there any questions about the story I just told or the music I just presented?’ and the hands just shoot up. I just see the vitality of young people wanting to know about the world through the arts. Young Audiences really opened up that door. The carpet rolled out and there were hundreds of kids on that carpet waiting for me to step out on stage.


Can you share a fond memory of doing a YAMA performance?


It’s really great to see that Young Audiences was really open to the issue of diversity and providing insights into other worlds of America. My Asian-American face showed up, and of course, with the ever-evolving demographics of the United States, there is a hunger to see cultural representation. I’ll go into these suburbs or cities, and I’ll say…like in Lynn, Massachusetts, “I’m going to tell a story from the Hmong people.” I see all the Hmong kids in Lynn going “*gasp!* Our stories, our people, our culture.” I’ve had that experience in countless communities throughout the United States through Young Audiences. One time I remember at one of my shows, I told a Korean folk tale, and an adult teacher said, “I’m half Korean, and I remember my grandmother telling me that story." The arts, storytelling, and culture help you reach out to people and make connections with people. It’s that kind of connection that really enlivens me because I know that I’m doing my job.


What is your wish for the future of arts education?

I am looking at the last 40 years as a performer on stage with a lot of young people and families and adults. Probably in my performing life, I’ve performed to over a million people in cities all over the United States. Being with Young Audiences and seeing that there’s still an interest in the arts and it being even more important to get young people to get in touch with feeling and expression. That’s never going away.

I know the arts have always been threatened, people go, “What’s the importance of learning how to draw or play an instrument? That’s just fun. We need to get serious.” On the other hand, we know as arts educators those are the building blocks for learning. Being able to use your creative intelligence and your hands and your eyes, it is an integrative approach to literacy, math skills, learning about the world, social studies, geography, all those things, even learning how to express oneself.

The wish for the future is maybe a question. How can we use this new era? I think people and young people are feeling a hunger to keep their humanity. My wish for the future is to find a celebratory way to meld technology and the arts in real time. We’ve gone through a horrendous pandemic era, and for a lot of us artists and for a lot of students in schools and Young Audiences, we’ve had to fast track how we deal with this new era which may or may not be going away…you still have to go through the rest of the Coronavirus alphabet.


Perhaps we can use this as a lesson and see what’s most important. How do we build communities? How do we use the arts to keep children, their families, their schools, and their communities intact to celebrate what’s important to them…whether it be their cultural ethnicity or looking at the world with the climate crisis? My wish for the future is that we all embrace the arts always.


We are hoping to bring Robert in person to Massachusetts schools this spring, however Asia Fantasia is available on your school's online platform all year long!