University Alum Dwight Sora Reflects on Acting, Aikido, and How the Pandemic Changed His Ambitions

Dwight Sora (A.B. ’95) performed in The Gift Theatre’s “At the Vanishing Point,” a compilation of Midwestern vignettes and monologues that incorporates elements of the fantastic.


Claire Demos

Dwight Sora (A.B. ‘95) recently performed in The Gift Theatre’s production of “At the Vanishing Point.”

By Abigail Poag, Arts Reporter

Dwight Sora (A.B. ’95) is mere feet from the audience. Clad in a baseball cap and blue jeans, he sits in a pale green armchair on a wooden platform set apart from the main stage. He is so close to the audience that the minutiae of his performance become visible: the moments he changes his facial expression or shifts his grip on the fiddle in his hands.

In his first in-person show since before the pandemic began, Sora performed as accountant Martin Kinflein in Gift Theatre’s At the Vanishing Point—a series of vignettes following the residents of a Midwestern town. After months of pandemic delays, rehearsals for the play, written by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Lavina Jadhwani, commenced in early 2022.

Sora, whose only pandemic-era public performance was in a Zoom reimagining of the play The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, was excited to act in a physical space again. “When the set started being put together, it felt like being on a playground,” Sora told The Maroon. “It felt great just to move in three dimensions.”

The sparse design of At the Vanishing Point’s set directs the audience’s focus to the actors, who monologue one by one, relaying a series of loosely linked recollections from their lives. In addition to a smaller platform situated to the right of the main stage, the set consists of a thrust stage dotted with objects, including a record player with a box of discs and a projector that casts ghostly snippets of old photographs onto the wall behind the actors.

In his monologue, Martin reflects on his fiddle-playing father’s encounter with the devil. This “hint of the supernatural” appeals to Sora, who was drawn to fantasy during the pandemic. Recently, he has been revisiting favorite books from youth, including Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a fantasy novel that is also set in a small Midwestern town.

“Everyone has had their own way of dealing with [the pandemic], and for me, [that has] been a lot of reading up on history, reading up on myth,” he said.

During table discussions, Sora pointed out the play’s focus on the theme of memory, noting that many of the characters wonder what “they hope to remember or be remembered for.”

At the Vanishing Point’s exploration of legacy and loss resonates with Sora. In the play, Martin’s father died at 104. Sora’s own grandmother passed away last year at the age of 102.

“I have thought about the fact that whatever stories lived in my grandmother are now effectively lost except for whatever she has passed down to me or my mom,” he said.

For Sora, the pandemic has offered an opportunity to reflect on his career, a process he said had “slightly blunted [his] ambitions—in a good way.” Instead of actively searching for the next big project as he would have earlier in his career, Sora has focused on enjoying his time performing in At the Vanishing Point.

“At this stage, I’m literally just happy to be here,” he said. “I have zero expectations for myself, which has made it very easy to just be as big and full as I can because I’m not thinking about trying to get the next job. It’ll come when it comes.”

Sora did not initially intend to become a professional actor. He tried his hand at acting in high school but never took his stage work seriously. Entering college, he knew only that he wanted to pursue writing in some capacity. While living in Burton-Judson Hall during his first two years at the University of Chicago, Sora performed in the dormitory’s then-annual musical “for fun.” He played oboe in the pit for the dormitory’s production of Sweet Charity as a first-year, later performing as a baseball player in Damn Yankees as a second-year.

It wasn’t until after Sora graduated from UChicago with a degree in East Asian languages and civilizations that he really got into acting. He was invited to perform in an amateur production with Scrap Mettle SOUL, a community outreach and performance project, while volunteering with the Japanese American Citizens League of Chicago post-graduation. An audience member involved with the Stockyards Theatre Project invited Sora to audition for the company’s play The Rape of Nanking citing their difficulty finding Asian-American actors. Sora is Japanese and Korean American.

Despite having no résumé, headshot, or professional monologue, Sora auditioned with an excerpt from the Scrap Mettle SOUL production. He got the role he desired and began performing in his first professional production in 2002.

While he was in The Rape of Nanking, Sora connected with many of the production’s other Asian-American cast members, whom he credits with launching his career.

“That was my cheat,” he joked. “I didn’t go to any drama program. I never went to conservatory. I basically stole all this information from people who had done it already.”

Although Sora now acts primarily in Chicago’s storefront theaters—local theaters known for their intimate size and connection to the surrounding community—he has also done commercial, voice-over, and film work, including a small role in a 2012 remake of the action film Red Dawn.

Sora’s acting career at times overlaps with his practice of aikido, a Japanese martial art he began learning while studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo as an undergraduate. In addition to performing as an onstage fighter in a Lyric Opera of Chicago production, Sora has served as a fight choreographer for productions at Porchlight Music Theatre and Mercury Theater Chicago.

Sora said that aikido is a “healthy distraction” from his acting work and that it helps keep him grounded. He is currently an instructor at the Chicago Aikido Club, where he has been promoted to a third-degree black belt.

Recently, Sora has been cast in the indie short feature “Searching for Woo,” which began filming in June.

He expressed hope that At the Vanishing Point would strike a chord with audience members who, like him, found solace in revisiting old memories during the pandemic.

“Hopefully [watching this play] is part of resuming that sense of connection with other people—exchanging stories and memories,” he said. “Even though this play wasn’t designed for a post-pandemic year, it’s oddly appropriate.”

At the Vanishing Point played at The Gift Theatre May 1–22, 2022.