[From December Issue 2012]
Guy TOTARO, The Smile Ambassadors
After nearly 25 years in the entertainment business, Gaetano “Guy” TOTARO is a performing “jack of all trades.” A native of California, Guy graduated from San Francisco State University in 1989 with a BA in Acting and Theatre Arts. He continued his training with the award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe and at the world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College.
Then, in 1993, work opportunities brought Guy to Japan, where he spent five years building a reputation as one of the most versatile foreign tarento in Tokyo, performing as a variety entertainer, actor, narrator and model. After another seven years back in the States doing similar work, Guy was once again drawn to Japan – this time settling down in Tokyo to start a family.
“Since coming back to Japan in 2005, I’m very proud to have been Suntory’s ‘Mr. CC Lemon’ and have been fortunate to have had many other high-profile roles in commercials, educational and music videos, and as a voice actor,” Guy says. He is also kept busy with his educational workshops, and provides creative consulting for entertainers and theme parks. Arguably Guy’s most important role, however, came after the Great East Earthquakes in March 2011.
“In April 2011 I traveled north for the first of what would turn out to be many relief tours. I went to a shelter, a day care center, a church and a junior high school in Iwate Prefecture. I found kids big and small who hadn’t laughed or even smiled in over a month,” Guy says. “It was clear that my silly shows and circus workshops were an effective tool to combat PTSD issues and it was even clearer that I needed to return and continue.”
Shortly after getting back to Tokyo, Guy was contacted by the Tyler Foundation, an NPO that provides support for pediatric cancer patients and their families, with whom he had collaborated before.
“Together we created the ‘Shine On! Smile Ambassador Program.’ The Tyler Foundation provided the logistical and financial support and I created and facilitated the program content,” Guy explains. “From April 2011 to the end of March 2012, we visited more than 80 unique locations and I interacted with almost 8,000 kids. Without their help I could have never reached as many people as I did in that first year.”
That collaboration ended this past March, but Guy is now working to register Niko Niko Taishi (The Smile Ambassadors) as a new NPO. Guy uses the plural Ambassadors because he believes we can all work together to make a big impact on the people of Tohoku and beyond.
“The Smile Ambassadors’ goals are to continue to offer PTSD relief to the kids, teachers and communities we’ve reached previously; to train teachers, caregivers and parents how to recognize PTSD and facilitate care; to be ready to mobilize and act in the case of any future traumatic events; and to help other populations in need at orphanages, hospitals and women’s shelters,” Guy says.
Text: Thomas TYNAN