By Sabina Mollot
As she has for the past six years, Una Aya Osato, a Stuyvesant Town resident who’s an actor, writer, theater producer and burlesque dancer, is giving New Yorkers a reason to leave their apartments this snow-filled month.
She’ll be participating in the FRIGID Festival, an annual smorgasbord of alternative theater that’s now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
This year’s event will include 30 productions at two East Village venues, one of which is “With You,” a one-woman show written and performed by Osato.
This play, which Osato has described as a “queer rom-com,” focuses on a college rugby team with women and trans-people as members, and it’s actually semi-autobiographical. Osato had attended Wesleyan University, which she said was a pretty progressive place. “Especially in the rugby community,” which was full of artists and LGBT students. That would include Osato, although she prefers the term “queer” over gay.
As for rugby, she added, the sport has a larger following locally than most people think, at least in an underground cult following sort of way.
“There’s a huge rugby community in New York City,” Osato said. “It’s a subculture. Once you’re in it, it doesn’t matter what school you’re in. It’s the tradition and the values and the way we sing together. I hope all people who love rugby will come out to see this show.”
Osato recalled that when she joined her university’s team, it was an all-women’s team, but later opened to transgendered men who wanted to join. In the play there are also transgendered women who join the team and Osato said they would have been welcome if they really had wanted to join. “We say it’s a space for all people — all bodies are welcome.”
However, this didn’t mean no one on the team had a problem with going from being women-only to being co-ed and beyond. There was definitely conflict and this is tackled in the story.
“How do you deal with conflict when we’re playing on the field and we’re accountable for each other on the field?” Osato asked.
However, despite the serious subject, the play is a comedy. Osato will be portraying every member of the team, explaining that in order to do this, “I jump around a lot.”
Interestingly, for Osato, who’s Japanese and Jewish, the decision to become a playwright came out of necessity. She’d always acted, getting plenty of work as a child and then as a teen, when she studied acting at Manhattan’s La Guardia High School. However, she saw parts dry up once she reached adulthood. Gone were the occasional spots on “Sesame Street” and Nickelodeon shows as well the work she’d had from the age of nine to 17 with repertory company City Kids.
“It was during college I realized as a queer Asian woman, there weren’t going to be parts for me,” she said.
But rather than give up, she began writing plays herself.
This first meant having to overcome another obstacle — a learning disability. “The words wouldn’t catch,” she explained. She got through it though, and continued writing plays, some one-woman shows with subjects ranging from bullying at schools to the burlesque scene in New York.
The latter show, “exHOTic Other,” ran at FRIGID two years ago. This too was somewhat autobiographical, since she’d been a burlesque dancer for five years at that point.
She’d been dancing with a company called Brown Girls Burlesque, which is for women of color. Osato said she joined that troupe, which was co-founded by a friend, after seeing the dancers perform at a club in the Financial District. Immediately she became enamored with burlesque, since it was essentially using dance as a form of storytelling.
Osato, who made the unusual move of using her real name instead of a burlesque stage name, has recently formed another troupe with her sister called BrASS Burlesque. This stands for Brown RadicalAss Burlesque. The core members of this group are also women of color though there are other dancers they perform with as well. Osato’s sister, Michi Ilona Osato, performs under the name Sister Selva and the other core member of the group is DawN Crandell a.k.a. Miss Aurora BoobRealis.
Osato’s next burlesque show, this one a solo performance, will be for the opening act for a poetry duo called Dark Matter at Mercury Lounge on February 23.
As for her theater work, her performances have won Osato multiple awards at festivals, including the one about bullying, “Recess,” “ExHOTic Other” and another one called “LOL: The End.” When not on stage, Osato works as an educator, frequently giving workshops on theater and other subjects at universities. She’s also become a bit of an activist — at least through her work since it’s often politically charged.
“With You” will be running at The Kraine Theater. Fri, Feb. 19 at 6:50 p.m., Mon., Feb. 22 at 7:10 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 25 at 10:30 p.m., Sat., Feb. 27 at 8:20 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 6 at 1:50 p.m. Tickets are $18 and can be ordered online at horsetrade.info. For more information about FRIGID Festival, see Town & Village’s Around & About section.