As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I have broken up my coverage or review or whatever you want to call it of Saturday’s Kabuki symposium here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It is still pretty long, even in parts. I hope you will bear with me, especially as this second part has far fewer images.
The first panel consisting of Japanese scholars discussing kabuki in Japan, after lunch we switched to the more hands-on, practical, live demo portion of the program. This was then followed by talks from several American scholars on kabuki in the US.
Tanaka Toshimi started the afternoon session with a talk about creating or obtaining costumes for Portland State University productions, and about all the contrivances they came up with for tailoring kimono to fit their very tall actors, and just for creating costumes and wigs and everything to begin with. She brought with her a number of wigs and costumes, and ended up using one of my classmates as a model to show how corners were cut for financial reasons, without sacrificing the final appearance. To take just one example, rather than making or obtaining full multiple-layer kimono for all the actresses, they contrived collars (eri) and sleeves that could be attached or worn under the kimono to give the appearance of wearing multiple layers of full garments that were simply peeking out from underneath. For those more involved or interested in the practical side of actually making or obtaining costumes, this was surely of particular interest.
The event continued with my classmates and I performing demos of our voice practice and movement routines. I didn’t do much, just the big group warm-up; my friends did a fantastic job at the tachimawari swordfighting, danmari, and other scenes.
Much thanks to Matjaž Matošec for sharing these videos, and giving me permission to share them online here.
This sitting there, watching, knowing my part was done, that I wasn’t really involved, played a large role in pushing me to rethink not auditioning for the UH mainstage kabuki production of “The Vengeful Sword (Ise ondo koi no netaba)” which will be opening in April 2011. Though, auditions are this coming week already, and I have never auditioned for anything in my life. I wish there were some other way to audition for the smaller parts, to not have to go in with a full monologue and everything… especially a monologue from outside of kabuki, since I have at least been practicing a kabuki monologue as part of class, and have never memorized or performed something from any other genre ever. As much as the idea of spending so many hours rehearsing, and devoting so many evenings in April to actually performing, turns me off, at the same time, this may be my only opportunity to try to hone those skills that we’ve started acquiring in class, to feel not excluded as my friends continue on to rehearse and perform in this production, and my only opportunity to participate in and be part of a kabuki production. Years down the road, when I am teaching about kabuki, and demonstrating what little skills I have to my class, or even just as I continue to frequent the professional performances in Tokyo and elsewhere, I will want to have taken that opportunity, and to have not missed out on it.
… The program continued as James Brandon, quite probably the most eminent American scholar of kabuki alive today, gave a summary of the 87-year history of English-language kabuki here in Hawaii, which I will skip over for now, as my initial attempt to summarize his most interesting talk (most interesting particularly because of my newly acquired close personal connection to the tradition of Hawaii Kabuki) is quite long. I have made a separate blog post of it, which can be found here.
Above: A scene from the University of Wisconsin at Madison performance of Narukami, Feb/Mar 2010.
Professors Lawrence Kominz of Portland State, who is also a huge name in kabuki scholarship, and David Furumoto of UW Madison, spoke of the difficulties of putting on kabuki in Oregon and Wisconsin respectively. While I have never really thought of us at UH being particularly blessed with resources (kabuki only happens once every 5-7 years; we couldn’t afford this year to bring a professional kabuki actor to train us; my friends are always talking about how the dept doesn’t have enough funding; we kind of had to struggle to find shamisen players; and things just don’t feel that amazingly wonderfully blessed in general), it quickly came out that in comparison to places on the mainland, we absolutely do have it pretty good. Though Kominz is a huge name in kabuki scholarship, he has apparently been having much difficulty gaining access, permission, the ability to organize a production on the university theatre’s mainstage. Furumoto has had similar difficulties; in addition, he arrived at UWM knowing of the school’s reputation of having had an excellent kabuki program back in the ’70s or so, only to discover that all the kabuki materials had basically been thrown in a closet, ignored and neglected for years, and so he has had to start building the program up almost from scratch. … Both professors have been teaching courses on kabuki, its history, voice, and movement, and organizing workshop-style intensive programs in which students put on a small production after three or four weeks of training. But in the end, it would seem that no mainland institution (or at least not these two) have put on full, mainstage kabuki performance with any regularity any time recently, with both Kominz and Furumoto only putting on one or two big full mainstage kabuki performance in the time since they took their positions at their respective institutions. (Kominz organized a performance of Mishima’s “The Sardine Seller’s Net of Love” or Iwashi Uri Koi no Hikiami, this past spring, while Furumoto organized small (non-mainstage, as I understand) performances of scenes from Narukami and Migawari Zazen
The symposium ended with much talk about forming stronger connections between those in the US putting on kabuki performances (i.e. between UH, Kominz, Furumoto, and others) and between those in the US and those in Japan. Given the difficulties of funding and logistics, and the difficulties of getting administrations, theatre depts, and others at mainland universities to respect and encourage and support kabuki efforts, I am not sure this can happen any time soon, but we can hope. While Kominz and Furumoto both said there is no trouble drumming up an audience for the shows, it was clear that support from their universities, and interest among the students was sometimes lacking (such as when another concurrent production in the theatre dept draws students who otherwise would perform in the kabuki), something which does not so far as I know happen in Hawaii, where so many students come here explicitly for the opportunity to perform in kabuki.
After today’s symposium, and all the videos shown of students participating and everything, I really want to continue to be involved somehow. I had set my mind on not auditioning for the play, since I know I’m not really up to it in terms of my skills and such, either in voice or in movement, nor am I particularly motivated to go through hours and hours and hours of rehearsals. But, now I am once again thinking that this is an opportunity not to be missed, to actually participate in a performance. How will I feel come April if I am to go to just one performance, sit in the audience, and just be a regular audience member, totally divorced from being “one of them”, part of the cast? How will I feel years down the road, when I know I could have had the opportunity to be in a kabuki, and let it pass me by?
This post has gotten really really long, and there is so much more to say. But I will end here, by simply saying just how wonderful it was to attend these talks this weekend, to have such a kabuki-filled day. I truly love the kabuki, and today reminded me why, and just how much. It put a smile on my face, and calmed my heart in the way seeing actual kabuki on stage does, and makes me question once again whether I should or could become a kabuki scholar…