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‘Meet Kae Fujisawa, Triple Threat: Director, Actor, Playwright’

Director Kae Fujisawa (courtesy of HB Studio)

It is not often that one meets an individual who is ambitious, talented and pursues the arts after mastering a Ph.D. in another language as Kae Fujisawa has done. Indeed, academia didn’t satisfy Kae. She went on to pursue a dramatic arts career in New York City, which many hesitate to do once they discover the difficulties. Kae Fujisawa, who was born in Hokkaido, Japan, is Japanese. She speaks English with an ever-so -slight charming accent which nearly has disappeared since I met her in 2017 at HB Studio. And I can say unequivocally that she is a “Triple Threat.”

Director Kae Fujisawa in the center with the cast of 7 Shitty Hombres and playwright Ellen DeLisle (courtesy of HB Studio)

I have seen Kae’s excellent directing work at HB Studio in 2018 and 2019. At HB she took classes and workshops with some of the finest teachers in New York City. The first production I saw her direct was a scene from a full-length play The Rules of Unspoken Words. The scene was included in a collection of scenes from longer plays presented by the HB Studio Playwriting and Directing Division. At the HB Studio’s Playrights Theater, I enjoyed her excellent direction of the full-length comedy 7 Shitty Hombres by Ellen DeLisle. The humorous play, the actors and Kae’s direction received plaudits from the packed house as well as from her peers and teachers.

Director Kae Fujisawa with Therapy cast and playwright Susan Jane McDonald (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

Kae’s talents directing live theater were made known to me with one of her earliest directing gambits she initiated, which she also produced via her unregistered company Theatre Borderless at the Jefferson Market Library Auditorium in 2018. The short one-act play by Anton Chekov, Swan Song, featured two actors who she shepherded so beautifully through the difficult piece, that I was impressed. I am a Drama Desk reviewer and have been an entertainment journalist for over a decade. Kae’s work struck me because Chekov can be difficult; the language is archaic. But this wasn’t a problem for her or for the actors. As a result of her direction, one of the actors gained the confidence to try out for more classical theater and after her guidance landed Shakespearean roles.

Director Kae Fujisawa (courtesy of HB Studio)

Other live theater she directed I was able to see before COVID-19 shut down New York City for almost two years. These included a Greenhouse Ensemble play that won its entry into the Greenhouse Play Festival. The playwright John Patrick Bray’s Fix was chosen for Kae to direct. With ingenuity, she was able to convey the snowy setting which amazed me. And the actors once again delivered fine performances because of her diligence and efforts.

Kae Fujisawa with the Lullaby movie cast, crew, and the co-screenplay writer and leading actress Nicole Gut (courtesy of Merciful Delusions Productions)

Kae believes in doing a lot of rehearsals if the actors’ schedules permit this. Importantly, they always are willing to accommodate the rigorous rehearsal schedule because of her easy manner, subtle discipline and high standards. Though she works very hard, she has the personality to gently guide her actors toward excellent results with great good humor and grace. I have seen this with other live productions, Therapy by Susan Jane McDonald and Lullaby by Nicole Gut. Both plays were presented at the New Short Play Festival in the John Cullum Theater. In a span of over one year Kae accomplished a tremendous amount of work and then the pandemic hit.

Kae Fujisawa as Yoko in Sketches of Happiness (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)
Kae Fujisawa as Yoko in Sketches of Happiness (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

That did not stop Kae. She has been even more industrious in creating opportunities for herself streaming live films and performing and directing Zoom Theatre and film. I saw her virtual streaming live productions of Falling Awake by Matthew Davis which she self-produced, Prime Real Estate by Joseph Cox for Greenhouse Ensemble and Sketches of Happiness which she wrote, cast, directed and presented for Crossways Theatre. Each of these productions revealed the same level of diligence and perceptive teasing out of the skills of the actors with delightful and profound results.

Because she had directed Lullaby the film, based on the play version, she easily negotiated presenting other productions on Zoom which is a smaller screen, but a screen nevertheless.

Poster for the film Lullaby with its listed award and nominations (courtesy of Merciful Delusions Productions)

Oftentimes, it is more difficult, because you are not always assured that the actors in their own residences have the same WiFi receptivity. So when there is live streaming, one must give attention to additional technical aspects like sound and connectivity, as well as editing, and shot composition.

Kae Fujisawa as Ella in John Gabriel Borkman (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

Kae’s enthusiasm to work in any medium allowed her to get into directing film. In film she brought the same diligence and prodigious effort that she brings to whatever artistic endeavor she accomplishes. I have never seen her efforts not pay off. The film Lullaby was nominated for a number of awards and won an award for Best Short Suspense Film at Culver City Film Festival. She also won a Best Director award for her Zoom film production of Manifesto for Manhattan Rep’s Short Film Festival.

Poster for the multi-award winning Zoom Theatre Film, Manifesto (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

In fact the production won Best Zoom Theatre Film, Best Actress, and Best Ensemble Awards in addition to the Best Director Award. Kae also edited the film, doing a yeoman’s job.

Kae Fujisawa as Mrs. Barker in The American Dream (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

When Kae is not busy directing or writing, she is acting. Most recently she appeared in The Program (Falconworks Theatre), a play, and the movie Mid Autumn (director Rraine Hanson, post production). I have not been able to see her performances except for Sketches of Happiness which she wrote and directed. She was wonderful. Her performance showed nuance, sensitivity and balance.

Kae Fujisawa as Mrs. Barker in The American Dream (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

What continually amazes me about Kae is her energy and her love of all things performance, theater, music, opera, film. The only time she was not herself occurred after she took her Moderna vaccine. In fact it was her acute description of how she felt after the vaccines that largely directed me to take the Pfizer shots for COVID. Otherwise, that is the only time I have seen Kae redirected away from her ebullience and love of the dramatic arts and film.

Kae Fujisawa as Ella in John Gabriel Borkman (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

Currently, Kae is working on a few projects. One of them is to direct scenes from The Berglarian, a full length comedic play which I have written inspired by true events. If things eventually settle down with the pandemic, Kae, I and the exceptional actors will continue to workshop it, do readings and perhaps pitch it to producers.

I am expecting great things from Kae Fujisawa during COVID and after. She is continually originating work and creating opportunities with others in the entertainment arts. A tremendous asset to the theater arts and film community in New York City and beyond, she will continue to be a “triple threat!”

Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival Review: ‘Lullaby’

Lullaby, Nicole Gut, Nicholas Ferrara, Susan Jane McDonald

(top to bottom): Nicole Gut, Nicholas Ferrara, Susan Jane McDonald in ‘Lullaby,’ directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

How many times have we walked by homeless people on the NYC sidewalk overbundled with blankets and towels in the wintertime? Did you toss change in their cup and walk away free from the guilt? Or did you have a conversation if you had a bit of time to spare, in a show of human decency?

I’ve often thought that the change didn’t begin to answer the loss of a life of connectedness that the individual experiences daily bracing against the elements as he or she determine to live on the streets. If the individual is an older person, I’ve wondered how they might have gotten there. Was it a downhill spiral from drugs or alcohol or not taking their meds? What do we do with their presence which represents a failure of our culture and government to care for its own? Do we walk by ignoring them as invisible people, throw change or when no one is looking use them for an occasion to unleash our devils within?

Ryan Mills, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Ryan Mills, ‘Lullaby,’ directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival (Merciful Delusions Productions)

Nicole Gut Executive Producer, Author, Songwriter, Composer, Actor, Singer considered these issues and wrote a short play about a woman who has lost her singing voice. Through a series of events the woman ends up living on the streets of New York with the hope of returning to herself one day. It is a day which never comes.

Lullaby premiered at the John Cullum Theatre at the American Theatre of Actors in Manhattan in New York on October 2018 as an entry for Paul Michael’s New Short Play Festival. The play was directed by Kae Fujisawa and was a success.

Ryan Mills, an actor in the production gave a hard and long look at what the team accomplished. He was convinced there was so much more to the story that must be told. With his insight and assistance, Nicole decided to transform LULLABY into a SAG narrative short film. Kae Fujisawa whose dedication and perceptiveness as a director who helped to shepherd the play to a home run would be the director and co-writer of the film. At that point events moved quickly. Nicole and Kae worked on the script to add complications and deepen the themes.

The resultant film from Nicole Gut’s titular short play Lullaby is a work they are proud of. It had a number of screenings, one at the Network Film Festival in New York City where it was well received. Nicole Gut garnered a Best Actress Nomination and Jack Utrata was nominated for Best Cinematography.

The film stars Ryan Mills as Brian Mills and Nicholas Ferrara as Michael Franklin who portray friends and near-do-wells who are ethically and morally challenged. Both, especially Brian, are unable to solve the overwhelming issues that threaten to destroy their lives. Alcohol is never a panacea to heal soul damage. In fact it exacerbates the damage and launches one into a place that is an abyss of misery and torment.

Susan Jane McDonald, Ryan Mills, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Susan Jane McDonald, Ryan Mills, ‘Lullaby,’ Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

And so it goes for Brian and Michael who on a drunken spree come across a homeless woman and former singer Sarah Hughes (Nicole Gut) who has lost her voice. The alcohol overtakes Brian and Michael and they allow it to dominate their will, self-hood and decency. Sarah tries to defend herself, but her response provokes the men, especially Brian. We learn later why he moves against her with venom. Susan Jane McDonald as Brian’s mom reveals Brian’s untoward actions, which are deeply rooted in sorrow. Indeed, when old wounds do not heal, they bleed out onto other individuals and the reckoning is horrific for everyone involved, a reckoning which has no answer and no end.

I screened Lullaby at a private screening at Shetler Studios after the Network Film Festival. It was then I learned that the film was accepted to Culver City Film Festival as a narrative short and screened 6-12 of December. I can understand why. It is well conceived, acted and directed; the cinematography (by Jack Utrata) lighting and shot construction are cogent and propel the story and atmosphere of the film toward its ironic and eerie conclusion. Kudos to Nicole Gut, Kae Fujisawa, Jack Ultrata and other members of the team who worked to effect a story that has currency with our time.

Nicole Gut, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Nicole Gut, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

The creative team intend to submit the film to additional festivals as they work on a full-length feature that promises to broaden the characterizations and themes. These center around issues of homelessness, bullying, psychological trauma, discrimination, and the mistaken assumptions that kindness is weakness and machismo shows one is powerful.

Lullaby screened at Culver City Film Festival in Los Angeles, California where it won the Best Short Suspense Award. To learn more about Lullaby on Instagram, go to @LullabySweetDreamsFilm. On Facebook CLICK HERE.

To become a part of the LULLABY team by donating to their Indie Go Go campaign, CLICK HERE.

For the Lullaby website to stay apprised of the events related to the film CLICK HERE.

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