Crazy for the Kitagawas

Barbara and Yukio Kitagawa with Artistic Director, Stafford Arima Jeff Yee

Volunteers who love the art of storytelling

Barbara and Yukio Kitagawa have been volunteering with Theatre Calgary for 24 years – but they’ve been attending our shows for even longer! This dedicated couple arrived in Calgary from Lethbridge in 1969, and they’ve been loyal Theatre Calgary patrons ever since.

They began to volunteer at the theatre in 1993 after a production of Evita inspired them to get involved. Their decision also coincided with a philosophical choice – “To be of use to others.” Theatre Calgary has reason to be grateful for this philosophy: in the mid-nineties, when it was financially threatened enough to consider closure, Barbara and Yukio spearheaded a local fundraising campaign that contributed greatly to Theatre Calgary’s continued operation.

The Kitagawas also ensure the sustained success of Theatre Calgary’s Senior Saturday Matinees. When they started, these matinees were attended by fifteen or twenty seniors, who sat down with Theatre Calgary staff over tea and Oreos. Since the program’s inception, attendance has increased to a point where most Senior Saturday Matinees sell out the house, and Barb and Yukio generously provide all of the edible fare to ensure that the seniors are able to enjoy some good food and good theatre.

They have always shown this kind of entrepreneurial spirit in their volunteerism…

In addition to helping ensure the success of Theatre Calgary’s Senior Saturday Matinees, Barb and Yukio have shared their time and funds with other organizations across Southern Alberta. If an organization that the Kitagawas’ volunteer with does not have the means necessary to carry out their proposed programming, Barb and Yukio will gladly take the helm at fundraising for the project, or make their own contributions.  “Every organization we went to: we raised money or we used our own resources to make it happen,” Yukio shared.

For instance, they spent some time volunteering with the Colonel Belcher Veterans Care Centre, taking the veterans to Theatre Calgary shows and other concerts. When they realized that the veterans had no dress clothes to wear to these types of events, they pioneered the “Blue Blazer Program.”  Barb explained “We got permission from the Colonel Belcher staff [to] raise money to buy blazers, and grey slacks, and white shirts, and then the Legion came up with ties and berets. And so we had a generic closet there, and we could dress about twenty, twenty-five of them and take them out, so that was a big project.”

Yukio also cycles in his “Pennies for K’s” program to raise money for the Vauxhall Baseball Academy in Vauxhall, AB. Barb and Yukio’s fundraising efforts have worked to bring the students from the Vauxhall Academy and Vauxhall High School to Theatre Calgary. Thanks to the Kitagawas, Vauxhall has been attending performances of A Christmas Carol at Theatre Calgary for the past eleven seasons. They are as dedicated to bringing young people to the theatre as they are to making sure that seniors have access to the arts.

Theatre Calgary and Arts Commons have also provided the Kitagawas with opportunities to share stories of their family. A number of years ago Theatre Calgary partnered with the Calgary Stampede, and released a fundraising 'Calgary-Monopoly' board game called Calgary On Board. Local businesses could sponsor squares on the board, and Barbara purchased one in her brother’s name. He had suffered a brain aneurism some years before, and is living with partial paralysis, but he still loves board games, and was thrilled to have a square on a board game named after him. Barb and Yukio have also dedicated seats in the Max Bell Theatre to their grandchildren.

When asked about what their dream project would be to work on with Theatre Calgary in the future, Yukio expressed a desire to share the stories of the Japanese community in Southern Alberta. As a child, Yukio spent six years on a sugar beet farm near Lethbridge, and he knows how difficult it is for people to share stories from that time. According to Yukio, many internees were simply unwilling to talk about their experiences, and there was a real motivation to quietly move on, given the political climate. There was continuing anxiety in Alberta even after the war, and some politicians like Earnest Manning actually called for the deportation of all Japanese Canadians, even those who were citizens and had been born here.  “My people… They were hurt, but they did not blame people. Obviously, it must have been there, but they realized that, heck, this is the way it is,” Yukio shared.

Barb wonders if that sort of attitude is where the reluctance to share stories comes from. “You know, I found, with my experience with it, like Yukio’s dad and mom, they never wanted to talk about it. I think that’s why it is history that’s not known, because even within the family, like the only reason our kids know about it is because we told them. Their grandparents didn’t tell them. But we told them.”

The Kitagawas are pleased with Theatre Calgary’s continued dedication to expanding its programming to represent the wider diversity of our community and our audience. They are also very excited about Theatre Calgary’s new Artistic Director, Stafford Arima, because they are familiar with his work with the Japanese American community.

Barbara and Yukio Kitagawa continue to volunteer, and Theatre Calgary couldn’t be happier that they do, and for their commitment to the art of storytelling.