Personal Life and Education:
Watoku Ueno was born in Japan and graduated from the Sokei Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied various kinds of painting techniques. He was drawn to American painters from the 1950s, particularly Arshile Gorky and Willem De Kooning. Outside of school he wrote and produced four plays. He was in charge of most aspects of the production and also acted in these pieces, but he was most passionate about directing and design. Given his interest in theatre and Modern Art, it was quite natural that he eventually landed in New York. He chose not the glamour of Broadway shows, but the experimental work at La MaMa E.T.C. He has never looked back.
Recognition and Notable Shows:
Mr. Ueno was nominated for the Henry Hewes Design Award for Production Design and Notable Effects for his production of After the Rain at La MaMa. He was a recipient of a NEA/TCG Design Fellowship nominated for an American Theatre Wing award in set design for his work on Ping Chong’s Deshima, which performed at La MaMa, and at international arts festivals in Tokyo and Singapore. He also designed the set for Ping Chong shows: After Sorrow, which performed at La MaMa and on tour in Los Angeles and Korea; Pojagi, which performed at La MaMa and at Harvard and Secret History which performed at the Ohio Theatre and at La MaMa. Recently, he designed the set for Ping Chong’s Angels of Swedenborg. He also created the set for Lady Aoi, written by Mishima and directed by George Ferencz, which was a collaboration with META Theatre in Munich.
Yara Arts Group:
A founding member of the Yara Arts Group. For over twenty five years for Yara he designed 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs, Dark Night Bright Stars, Hitting Bedrock, Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine, Linter Light, Midwinter Night, Dream Bridge, Winter Sun, Scythian Stones, Er Toshtuk, Still the River Flows, Janyl, Koliada: Winter Songs, The Warrior’s Sister, Swan, Howling, Obo: Our Shamanism, Song Tree, Circle, Flight of the White Bird, Virtual Souls, Wayward Wind, Waterfall/Reflections, Yara's Forest Song, Blind Sight, Explosions, A Light From The East that performed at La MaMa, on tour at Harvard and at festivals in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. He also created, directed and designed two Yara productions: After the Rain and Sundown, both based on Japanese sources. Recently, he created ten shadow puppet productions including: Grain of Wood, Secret, Brother Ken, The Curious Case of the Sidewalk Tree, John Man: One the Waves, Music in the Wood, Illuminations, and Singing Tree. At La MaMa he also designed An Altar to Himself and Three Moons, directed by Virlana Tkacz, Hypothesis directed by Liz Diamond; Mana Goes to the Moon, choreographed by David Rousseve.
Ubu Rep Theatre:
Mr. Ueno had also designed over twenty shows for Ubu Rep Theatre, including: Alive by Night, Your Handsome Captain, The Chairs, The Free Zone, Fire's Daughter (directed by Ntozake Shange), Talk About Love, Orphanage, A Modest Proposal, Tropical Breeze, Another Story, The Night Before the Forest, The Case of Caspar Mayer (directed by Andre Ernotte), Bonds of Affection, Always Together and Murder in Mind. He also created the set for the celebrated production of Bald Soprano directed by Joe Chaikin, starring John Turturo.
Watoku Ueno was the assistant to La MaMa’s Resident Set Designer, Jun Maeda, for five seasons at La MaMa working for such directors as: Tadeusz Kantor, Andrei Serban, Tom O'Horgan, Tadashi Suzuki, Joseph Chaikin; as well as Kyogen (Noh style comedy) at Lincoln Center, Bunraku and Kabuki Troupes at Japan House and John Jesurun at The Kitchen. He designed the sets and lights for eleven Poetry in Performance Workshops at Harvard Summer School, which he also helped to conduct. He taught theatre design at John Jay College and New York City Technical College.