Vancouver actor Yoshie Bancroft gives a great deal of thought about her place in the world. As the Canadian-born daughter of a Japanese immigrant woman and a white father from the U.K., Bancroft appreciates the complexity of identity.
It’s one reason why she’s eagerly anticipating her next role as Hiro, the eldest of two daughters, in Leah Nanako Winkler’s God Said This.
“I’m really excited to play someone who’s mixed race,” Bancroft tells Pancouver by phone.
Pacific Theatre will hold the Canadian premiere on Friday (June 2). Bancroft says that her character is, in some respects, a representation of herself. Moreover, Winkler’s script for God Said This, which is set in Kentucky, revolves around what it’s like to face the unknown. It doesn’t focus on issues unique to Japanese Americans.
“It gives me the space to explore the character, be complicated, and not fall into stereotypes,” Bancroft says.
She adds that Hiro has a challenging relationship with her father. So she heads to New York to study and work, but must return home when her mother gets sick.
“I think that the playwright, Leah Nanako Winkler, has done this beautiful job in centering a narrative that is both Japanese American and white American, without the narrative revolving around the identity of these people,” Bancroft says.
Bancroft interrogates her identity
Unlike many other Japanese Canadians, Bancroft’s family history does not include internment during the Second World War. At the same time, she’s observed that many of her contemporaries are also of mixed ancestry, which is a reflection of high intermarriage rates among Japanese Canadians. And all Japanese Canadians live in a country with rising levels of anti-Asian hatred in recent years.
Furthermore, Bancroft sometimes questions if she’s Asian enough to take certain roles.
“I do interrogate myself in terms of my identity in the ways that I operate as a performer,” she acknowledges.
Because she’s half-white and half-Japanese, Bancroft finds it easy to navigate within both worlds. On occasion, it leaves her feeling like she has an advantage.
“But there is the other side of the coin,” she adds. “I can still observe the racism that exists…
“On a good day, it might feel like I do have this superpower,” she continues. “But on other days, it can feel very much so the opposite.”
Bancroft began acting as a kid at Arts Umbrella and later studied theatre at UBC. After graduating, she moved to South Korea to teach English before returning to act in theatre, TV, and movies.
“I think I just wasn’t old enough to face all of the rejection that lay ahead, but my skin is a bit thicker now, I hope,” she says with a laugh. “I came back from Korea and dove right in.”
A passion for social justice
As Bancroft has gained experience, she’s leaning more toward work that is centered around themes of social justice. That was apparent in Forgiveness, a recent Arts Club production. Mark Sakamoto’s memoir of the same name was adapted for the stage by Hiro Kanagawa. Bancroft played Mitsue Sakamoto, who was interned during the Second World War.
Her passion for social justice was also at the forefront back in 2018. She co-created Japanese Problem, which was a site-specific play staged at Hastings Park. It focused on Japanese Canadians who were detained in barns in the park before being sent to internment camps in the B.C. Interior.
Meanwhile, Bancroft feels that within God Said This, there’s a certain level of empowerment. And that gives her tremendous satisfaction.
“We’re dispelling the stereotypes that could so easily be present and just allowing these mixed-race Japanese American characters to be complex and whole humans,” she says. “I think that in itself is really important.”
Watch a trailer for Japanese Problem.
Pacific Theatre will present God Said This as a preview on Thursday (June 1) before the Canadian premiere on Friday (June 2). It will run until June 24. For information and tickets, visit the Pacific Theatre website. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.