Hiroshi Iwasaki, 59, a longtime member of the College’s arts faculty and technical director of the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Theater Program, died on November 23, 2010, of cancer. As one of the area’s leading designers of sets, costumes and lighting, he made imaginary worlds come alive for audiences throughout the region.
“Hiroshi has designed costumes or sets for nearly every serious theater in Philadelphia,” says Bryn Mawr Theater Director Mark Lord, who co-founded the theater company Big House (Plays & Spectacles) with Iwasaki in 1994. “His work was incredibly important to what is going on in the performing arts in Philadelphia—he was known by theater people, dancers, visual artists, all kinds of people.”
Iwasaki designed for more than 125 theater productions, in addition to dance performances and special events such as award ceremonies and Philadelphia Flower Show exhibits.
In a letter to the campus community, Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe noted, “Hiroshi was known for his love of teaching, his uniqueness as an artist, and the seriousness and intensity of his personality as demonstrated in his work.
“His philosophy of theater design, ideas, and passion are represented in the teaching theater in Goodhart, which he helped design,” said McAuliffe. “Students, faculty, and visitors will experience his presence there for a long time.”
Born in Japan, Iwasaki studied French literature in Lyons and at the Osaka University for Foreign Studies before coming to the United States in 1975. At the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, he studied watercolor, drawing and sculpture; he earned an M.F.A. in scene design from Boston University’s School of the Arts in 1986 and designed for productions in Boston and New York. He taught in the theater program at Mercer College in Trenton, NJ, before joining the Bryn Mawr faculty in 1992.
Lord, who has taught at Bryn Mawr since 1987, formed a fruitful creative partnership with Iwasaki, collaborating on projects both on and off campus.
“It was an amazing coincidence and gift to work in a tiny academic department and to be so totally engaged with another faculty member,” Lord said. “A lot of people find a colleague that they like okay, but that we chose to work together outside of the College is significant—and unusual.”
Lord says he valued Iwasaki’s acute intelligence, his flexibility in finding the visual vocabulary that perfectly supported the overall artistic goals of a given project, his “incredible grasp of the possibilities of material,” and his intense commitment.
“He was always willing to take chances—to try things that might pay off in big ways, but that might be hugely difficult in the execution,” Lord said.
As a teacher, Lord says, Iwasaki “was very respectful of his students’ potential, and he expected a lot of them.” Never patronizing, he didn’t hesitate to point out weaknesses, but he “genuinely valued and respected their ideas,” Lord said.
Iwasaki is predeceased by his parents and brothers residing in Japan where he was born and educated. He is survived by his partner of 26 years, John Howe. Gifts in his memory may be made to the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
On January 21, 2011, Bryn Mawr friends and colleagues hosted a commemorative reception in Goodhart Hall.
One of the most unique and wonderful aspects of Bryn Mawr is the way in which its scale and atmosphere fosters collaboration between students and professors. I was especially privileged to have worked with the late and sorely missed Hiroshi Iwasaki. Given his private nature, I feel compelled to share some of the ways in which he was an awe-inspiring combination of artist, teacher and mentor.
On my first day of work as a student theater technician, I was equally struck by the beauty of Goodhart Hall and by the quiet competence of the man who was gracefully running around the stage, grabbing a ladder from here and a curtain from there. He explained that my first task was to sew hooks onto a piece of fabric so that it could be hung as a backdrop. I said that I didn’t know how to sew. He handed me a needle and thread and confidently replied, “You’ll figure it out.”
This was the first of many interactions with Hiroshi during which I would stand dumbfounded for a moment before realizing that I would have to rise to the occasion. Hiroshi believed in impossible artistic goals and inspired us to do the same. He was never cold or unapproachable but felt it was necessary that we were confident in facing challenges and resilient when we failed. I will always be grateful to Hiroshi for teaching me to be resourceful because it has changed the way I work to overcome obstacles in all aspects of my life.
When I decided to pursue a career in stage management, Hiroshi was both encouraging and pragmatic. He wanted to make sure that I was prepared for the difficulties of a life in the theater and advised me on everything from graduate school admission to working at Starbucks to acquire health insurance.
Throughout the process his honesty, faith in my abilities, and desire to have me consider all the consequences of my decisions made the first few years of my theater career significantly less terrifying.
As Megan “Sky” Stegall York ’07 explains it, “Boss believed in me more than anyone else ever, ever has, and that meant (and still means) the world to me. He had absolute confidence that I could do anything he asked me to do, miracle or otherwise, and that is the greatest gift any teacher or employer or mentor or friend can give someone.” She adds, “I miss him like hell.” We all do.
—Vanessa “Brooklyn” Poggioli ’07
My wife, Ingrid Edlund-Berry, M.A. ’69, Ph.D. ’71, gave me the article in the November 2010 issue about Rehema Trimiew and her experiences in Zambia as well as in Rochester. I read it with great interest, because I worked in Zambia as a geologist from 1966 to 1972, and have ever since looked back on that time as the most exciting and fulfilling in my life.
It was really heart-warming to read this beautifully written article about Ms. Trimiew’s work with the young girls in Lusaka, and especially to read that these orphaned children were so determined to take advantage of the skills that she could impart. I wish Ms. Trimiew as much success in the United States as she found in Zambia, but above all I hope that she is able to continue her association with Zambia, and that ultimately we will see coming out of her work a group of skilled Zambian documentary filmmakers. In the meantime I’ll be on the lookout for Ms. Trimiew’s own work: may she bring to all her future work the same insight and empathy that she developed for her young students in Zambia!
—John Berry (UPenn ’63)
Hiroshi Iwasaki, senior lecturer in theatre design