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Posts Tagged ‘university of hawaii at manoa’

Ack, did I really never post about the symposium at which I presented this past February? And the associated small exhibition I co-curated? I’m ever so sorry.

Here’s the story. Some time ago, the National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館, or Rekihaku for short) was planning to do an exhibition on processions and parades in Early Modern Japan, and decided they wanted to borrow a handscroll painting from the University of Hawaii collection to include in that exhibit. The University of Hawaii – and most especially Tokiko Bazzell, the Japan Specialist Librarian – decided to take advantage of the opportunity, to hold our own small exhibition, in conjunction with the return of that scroll painting from its being loaned to Rekihaku. I’m sure there were all kinds of behind-the-scenes considerations and negotiations, and then, completely unexpectedly, I found myself being invited to co-curate this small exhibition, alongside my MA advisor, Dr. John Szostak.

As I was graduating, I was not able to be on campus to work hands-on directly with the objects, or with the gallery, in order to help figure out what would fit where, or anything like that. But, having handled some of these objects before in person, and drawing upon my MA thesis research, I was able to contribute gallery labels, to suggest which sections of the scrolls to show, etc. It was an absolutely privilege and pleasure to get to have my curatorial debut be in Hawaii, and to be an Okinawa-related exhibit; and, of course, it was a privilege and pleasure to work with Tokiko-san and Prof. Szostak on this.

Long story short, the exhibit, entitled “Picturing the Ryukyus: Images of Okinawa in Japanese Artworks from the UH Sakamaki/Hawley Collection,” opened at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, and showed from February 7-22 this year. While the Rekihaku exhibit featured a wide variety of early modern processions and parades, from sankin kôtai daimyô processions and festival parades to Korean, Dutch, and Ryukyuan embassy processions, ours focused in on just Ryukyuan (i.e. Okinawan) subjects. The highlights of the exhibit were a 1671 handscroll painting depicting a Ryukyuan embassy procession in Edo in that year, the oldest such Ryukyu embassy procession scroll extant, and another scroll, this one sixty feet long, and in much brighter, bolder colors, depicting a 1710 procession. The 1710 procession is of particular significance as a mission which set new standards in dress, ceremonial, and form of the embassy, precedents which would stand, to a large extent, for the remainder of the early modern period. Plus, it’s simply a wonderfully beautiful object. Given its incredible length, however, we were only able to show a small section.

Here is me talking about the exhibition:

(Backup video link)

Other objects in the exhibition included a scroll painting depicting Chinese investiture ceremonies in Ryûkyû and related subjects, copied by the Japanese artist from a Chinese source; a set of colorful woodblock prints depicting a procession of the 1832 embassy, the year of a so-called “Ryûkyû boom” – 1/4 of all popular publications produced in the early modern period were produced in that year; and, finally, a Meiji period accordion book depicting “customs and folkways of Okinawa.” All beautiful objects, and all just wonderful to see on display like that. I’m sad that the exhibit is gone, existing now only in our memories, in installation photos we’ve taken, and in the various documents we produced in the planning and preparation. But, fortunately, all of the objects are still quite visible and accessible online, either at the Sakamaki-Hawley Collection Digital Archives webpage, or through the UH Library’s Treasures from the Libraries webpage.

You can see all my photos of the installation here.

The exhibition was accompanied by a set of public lectures, and a symposium, held in conjunction. Prof. Kurushima Hiroshi from Rekihaku, Prof. Szostak, and myself, presented on a panel alongside two of the truly top experts in Ryukyuan history, Prof. Yokoyama Manabu of Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama, and Prof. Gregory Smits of Penn State. It was kind of nerve-wracking to be up there along with such prominent scholars, but was really quite pleasant, and extremely informative, in the end. As they say in Japanese, taihen benkyô ni narimashita 大変勉強になりました.

I apologize to not summarize or comment upon the talks here, as I have been doing for the AAS talks I attended last month. But, many of the talks, associated PowerPoints, and even video of the presentations, are now available online, on a UHM Hamilton Library webpage. These will all eventually be added to the University of Hawaii University Repository, also known as ScholarSpace.


And, the full audio from my talk at the symposium can be found via the Samurai Archives Podcast. In the next episode of the podcast, I talk with C.E. West, Shogun of the Samurai Archives website, about the presentation, the symposium, and the exhibit. Now that the following third and final episode in the series is available, I’ve added the link to that here.

Meanwhile, you can also read about the Rekihaku exhibit here; I myself did not get to see the exhibit, which sounds like it was spectacular, but, at least I’ve managed to get my hands on the catalog, and a mighty beautiful catalog it is, for just 2000 yen.

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The annual University of Hawaii Art department “grad show” exhibition opened a few weeks ago, displaying work by MFA students in glass, ceramics, textiles, painting, photography, and sculpture (am I missing anyone?). I was truly stunned, and blown away, by the skill and talent and sheer artistic creativity of my friends. … It is one thing to note that a work is skilled, masterfully made, impressive, but furthermore, a big part of what makes these works amazing is that they are not purely conceptual, but rather actually speak to their concepts – the ideas and concepts are evident in the works, or can be read into the works. They are not inscrutable, too abstract, nor too obscure, leaving the visitor genuinely capable of getting meaning out of the works, and having an emotional reaction as well.

I had seen some of the pieces, or at least the concepts, over the course of last term, as they began to germinate and develop, but in many cases the final project was honestly levels beyond what I’d imagined it to be.

The atmosphere, that is, the space, was great too. In a show like this, where each artist has one or two pieces, and you’re trying to show everyone equally, it can be really tempting (or just the most obvious option) to sort of section it off and make the whole gallery into corners and alcoves and tiny rooms, so that each artist can have their own space. But here, this year, they left much of the gallery wide open, allowing pieces to interact, creating a dialogue between the pieces, and also a more open, airy environment (a less claustrophobic one) in which the visitor can feel freer and lighter, and thus in a better frame of mind to enjoy the art.

Now, I’m only going to talk about a few of the artworks. I hope no one is offended if I leave them out; I love you, too, guys, and I love your work, I do.

Jessica Orfe is one of the few artists who did take/get her own alcove, and it was brilliant – absolutely necessary for the effect I assume she was seeking to achieve. A white rabbit painted directly onto the wall greets you as you approach her section of the gallery. Following the white rabbit, you are pulled into her world, her dream sequences. They melt and blend into one another, to create a dreamscape that still feels quite fresh and original, no matter what anyone may say about the core idea being tired or cliché. Jessica pulls it off in such a way that it doesn’t feel tired or cliché at all, but rather a nod to the classic amidst a very fresh, new work.

Ghostly figures, described only roughly, walk into a building that is itself not quite there. Shadows melt and flow, like puddles of ink on the ground.

A rectangular form serve, Escher-like, as both window and fridge.

And one sole burst of color, in sky blue, highlights a rope just about break. Is the unseen figure being dropped helplessly into dream? Or is she desperately trying to pull herself up and stay in this fantasy world, to avoid returning to the banal?

Against this monochrome background, it takes the eye a moment to realize that a string, a thread, connected to a sewing needle painted on the wall is itself three-dimension, emerging from the wall, an actual piece of black string that is not painted on.

This is work is just filled with the kinds of hidden touches and little things to find, each with their own meanings or clever tricks or amusing gimmicks to them, that I love. It means you’re not just taking in the work in one go, but you’re really examining it, really exploring it, venturing through the depicted environment along with the travelers depicted in it, like in a Chinese landscape painting, walking up the paths and into the mountains, towards the temple, with your eyes and in your mind.

—-

Gideon Gerlt has constructed a deer or antelope of some sort out of metal, rope, and other materials, which is meant to recall ideas of totems and animal spirits. He called it a “boli,” which I assumed was a reference to an African native traditional practice, a concept akin to the totem of the Pacific Northwest Native American tribes; but Googling it now, I am having trouble finding any such term.

The creature itself is cute, its form really kind of amazing in how well done it is – a form fully recognizable as an antelope, out of scrap metal, rope, and whatever else – and cute in how small it is: maybe, what?, one foot off the floor, two at most. Cute, yet dangerous, its sharp, pointy antlers of wrought iron twisting all around. It’s easy to imagine emotions or expressions on its face, as it gazes up in awe or amusement at Gideon’s other work in the show, entitled “A Classic Example of Self-Defeat.”

I really appreciate his gallery text for the work, which reads:

“Eagles may soar, but this thing would never get sucked into a jet engine.”
“It looks like something da Vinci would have invented… if he were a dolt.”
“It’s just sad, really…”

There’s something wonderfully amusing in the idea of an artist intentionally creating a failure, intentionally creating something he might consider “sad” or “made by a dolt.”

It’s an intentional failure, with a wonderful sense of whimsy. Does it have deeper meaning? Perhaps.



The simplicity and naturalness of the wood and rope combines with the clean and manmade but still very pre-industrial, for a nostalgic, romantic sort of aesthetic. Knowing that Gideon is from Alaska, and likes to draw upon the aesthetics or environment of that part of the world, we can sense the dense woods of the Pacific Northwest in this work, alongside the Renaissance Italian workshop. It is held down to the ground by a very raw section of tree, more tree really than “lumber” or “wood” as material, as media.

I hadn’t realized that it spins. I don’t tend to touch artworks, especially if I’m nervous about breaking it or something. I need a sign that says “please touch me,” or even better, someone present in the gallery verbally telling me, encouraging me.

Gideon’s work plays well off of that of Chad Steve.

Chad has explicitly spoken of these ceramic constructions as reminiscent of Polynesian voyaging canoes. He fills them with unpainted, unglazed pieces in the form of Greek or Phoenician urns or amphorae or the like, calling to mind maritime trade and commerce, shipping these jars from the center of ceramics production to another city or another island, where they are to be painted. And in doing so, he evokes the voyaging aspect inherent in all our histories, connecting peoples and cultures across time and space.

The wooden scaffolds and ropes, like a drydock for the boats, somewhat plain, simple, and straightforward, play off of Gideon’s work quite nicely, reflecting some of the same aesthetics, and implying again a romantic pre-industrial past. The sentimentality for the homemade and artisanal nature of trade and life, society, back “then”, whenever and whereever that might be.

And then there was a piece by my good friend Katie Small.

Katie’s work (almost?) always deals with themes she encountered doing volunteer work in Kosovo. Her works can be kind of abstract sometimes, though the tar paper ground and other aspects do an excellent job of evoking the right emotions or atmosphere. The more you examine her works and really think about them, they can be quite dark and serious. They’re certainly not what one would expect from a smiling, bubbly, sunny girl like her… but then, these are very important messages and themes, and it’s obviously very meaningful and important to her to address them.

Here, she uses many of the same elements as other works of hers that I’ve seen – heavy black tar paper, torn and burned, recalling the damage and horrors of war and of genocide. But where her previous works portray somewhat abstract scenes of burnt-out cityscapes, here she reproduces something more concrete and lifesize, which one can easily imagine having actually existed, almost exactly as it is portrayed.

Coats, nearly all of them small enough to belong to children, hang on a wall, covered in orange, which drips like rust onto the wall below. Orange and black as though the coats have been chemically altered and merged into the wall by the extreme heat and flame of a dramatic bomb blast, or just by unnamed ravages of war, weathering, over time exposed to the elements after being abandoned, the shop window long ago smashed.

I gasped when I first saw this work, and was immediately reminded of the piles of shoes and suitcases at the Holocaust Museum in DC, and of photos of the storefronts of German cities after Kristallnacht.

The gallery label describes a storefront, but this could just as easily be a schoolroom. Where have the children gone? Are they safe, having fled? Or are they truly gone, these coats an eerie and terribly upsetting reminder of their lives, their existence, their great potential, so innocent, cut short by violence and evil?

….

I do apologize to end on such a note. I would like to congratulate and applaud all my friends in the show – Megan Bent, Abi Good, Shiori Abe, Kumi Nakajima, Mark Enfield, Gideon Gerlt, Jacob Guerin, Michael Hengler, Sheri Lyles, Noah Matteucci, Jessica Orfe, Katie Small, Chad Steve, and Jonathan Swanz – for their amazing technical skills and astonishing creativity and insights.

The Graduate Exhibition will continue to be up at the Art Building, here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, through.. whoa. Only February 4? I’m sorry. I really thought it was going to be open longer. I guess it takes a full 3 weeks to install The Reformer’s Brush, the modern Chinese calligraphy exhibit that opens on Feb 27 (and which I am super excited about!). Well. Come and see the Graduate Exhibition while you can!! Last days!!

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Speaking of Chinese contemporary art, Wang Qingsong came and spoke on campus today.

Epic thanks to Prof. Jaimey Hamilton and the Intersections program here at the University of Hawaii which brings a good number of contemporary artists here each term not just to speak and present their work, but also to visit student studios and classes, and interact and engage directly with students. It’s a really special opportunity, I would imagine, for the students; I don’t know how common this is at other schools, but it’s pretty awesome here. And thanks, too, of course, to the incredible sponsors, since Intersections is not funded by the Art Dept or anyone else regularly/permanently on campus.

I don’t quite have my finger on the pulse of Chinese contemporary art enough to say really quite how big he is, but putting that aside, what matters is, his art is absolutely incredible.

In “Can I Cooperate With You?” (2000), Wang references a classic Chinese painting depicting a Tang emperor receiving a foreign ambassador. Here, the foreigner and the Chinese switch places, with the foreigner surrounded with adulation, power, and wealth, and China, with its tiny flag, seeking, begging, for corporate collaboration.

A photographer, Wang choreographs amazingly elaborate and artificial scenes, with bold, colorful costumes, props, and backgrounds, the artificiality being part of the appealing aesthetic. His works speak to a great many subjects, questioning the benefits of commercialism and criticizing the impacts of Westernization. He seems particularly interested, or should I say frustrated, with the idea that China is such a major economic powerhouse, but in fact has no big name brands overseas (or even domestically? I wonder. I don’t know.) – when Chinese companies merge with foreign companies, yes, they benefit, and the nation benefits, but in the end, you still see Nike, McDonalds, and Sony everywhere in China, and no big name Chinese brand names in the rest of the world (there may be big major exceptions that are just slipping my mind at the moment… but anyway, that’s his argument).

There are basically two things, well, four, that really impress me about his work. One, the effort and materials put into each work is amazingly impressive. One would assume that he could do a lot in post, so to speak, that is, in digital editing. It’s obvious he must edit his photos considerably anyway, dialing up the color and smoothing out the roughness of reality. Yet, from costumes to props to backdrops, he does so much to actually create the scenes he photographs. One of his newest works, which hasn’t even been debuted yet, is a 42-meter-long piece, like a huge long frieze running along the ceiling of a building, in which a great many figures are seen in various poses and costumes meant to recreate various famous statues and monuments throughout history (mainly Chinese history). All is made to look like stone relief. But while I am sure there are plenty of ways he could have done this digitally, he actually built a giant wall with styrofoam impressions, covered entirely in mud, into which his models, also covered in mud, stepped, so that it would look like they were carved in relief from the stone.

Left: “The Thinker” (1998) obviously speaks to spirituality and religion in these modern times. A man irrevocably imprinted with the cultural impact of McDonald’s attempts to meditate, to practice religion or seek spirituality, atop a cabbage leaf (symbolic, I am told, of the Chinese nation, or national pride), while the busy busy busy-ness of the city rushes past behind (or all around) him.

Secondly, his artwork functions on just about precisely the level I like and appreciate and enjoy in contemporary art. They are not abstract forms – they are very clearly images of people in certain costumes, in certain settings and situations, and very often the title gives a further hint as to the meaning of a work. I love works where you don’t need to struggle or get frustrated to figure out what it is. It’s very clear what his works are, what they depict. Whether it’s a crowd of people all crowded around a few naked women dancing, the crowd all pointing huge cameras at the women, or whether it is a professor sitting at a desk in front of a massive giant blackboard covered completely in English and Chinese words and Western corporate logos, you can tell immediately upon looking at it what it is. This frees you up to then get to the meat of the matter – what it all means. And while the meanings may be somewhat obvious – in one piece, he shows men in camo fatigues struggling up a hill as if towards battle, with a McDonald’s sign rising high above, obviously something belonging to the enemy – the aesthetic beauty of the works, the incredible detail (and I mean really incredible detail, every single word on that blackboard being legible at high enough magnification, and having relevance), and just some intangible quality about his work makes you want to look longer, look closer, and really think about it. There’s meaning right there, clear as day in front of you, that makes you laugh or nod, his social criticism obvious, saving you from the frustration most associate with modern art, but then, he makes you look deeper.

Third, these works are simply beautiful. They are appealing and attractive. Who says art has to be ugly? That is has to be disturbing? In a way, it’s kind of ironic, since historically it’s the Chinese painting critics, far moreso than anyone in the West so far as I know prior to the 20th century, who always said that color and realism were cheap tricks, that making a painting attractive and appealing in such a surface manner cheapened it, and that the best paintings were those that were not blatantly appealing on the surface, but which needed to be appreciated on a deeper level.

Wang Qingsong’s works absolutely work on a deeper level, I believe. But they are beautiful as well. Very clear, clean forms, like “airbrushed” magazine cover models, and bright colors, like an idealized version of reality, though the actual content of the scenes is more dream or fantasy, highly symbolic and extremely staged, hardly realistic at all.

And fourth, he does do a number of works that very directly reference classic Chinese artworks. And you know I love that.

When his “Night Revels of Luo Li” came on the screen, I nearly leapt out of my seat. (Click image to embiggen.) I am not sure that I can really articulate the meanings and implications of this image – the social criticisms embedded in it – but the way in which he has reproduced the overall composition of the exceedingly famous “Night Revels of Han Xizai” (Gu Hongzhong, c. 970 CE) while replacing each element with something contemporary, and often something outlandishly colorful and gaudy, and for lack of a better word, slutty and crass, is really just incredible.

(I’m genuinely sorry that none of these are big enough to see here properly. Please do click to embiggenate.)

There are various stories behind the Han Xizai painting. One states that the emperor wished to grant Han Xizai a ministerial post, but had heard rumor of depraved and debauched activity in Han Xizai’s mansions, so he sent two painters to act as spies, who produced this work depicting an inappropriate mixing of social classes at a most raucous and immoral party. Another interpretation says that the previous story was created, along with the painting, in order to sully the reputations of both Han Xizai and that emperor, as dynastic change leads to such negative portrayals of the previous regime.

In any case, Wang Qingsong says his work is meant to speak to the situation of intellectuals in China today. What does that mean? Perhaps that the powers that be seek to portray intellectuals as debased, raucous, and immoral; that today, as during the Cultural Revolution, and in accord with Communist ideology overall, intellectuals are seen as the elite, as the bourgeois enemy of the good, hardworking proletariat worker or peasant. Or maybe I’m misreading it – Chinese ideology isn’t exactly my strong suit. But, in any case, the size of the work and the details allow for it to be very engaging and involving. Notice how the biwa player has been replaced by a woman with blue hair and a wonderfully blue guitar, while figures sit or stand opposite her in just about exactly the places and positions people sit or stand in the original work.

Note the very traditional elements of the setting – particularly the furniture, and the fans a few girls hold – but then, the very modern Sprite bottles, not to mention the very modern, and in some cases outlandish, clothing. Notice also the repetition of figures or characters. Starting from the right – as traditional Chinese paintings are traditionally read – the tall furniture element behind the girl with the guitar serves as a sort of narrative break, marking a break between scenes. On the other side, we see the same figures over again, doing something different. This is not one single scene, one giant panoramic party, but rather a series of sequences, a narrative over time, as in a traditional handscroll.

So much more can be said… I could run through all the pieces he spoke of and showed tonight. But I think I need to leave it there. His work is surprisingly easy to find online – just Google his name: there is tons out there.

A show of Wang Qingsong’s work, entitled “When Worlds Collide“, opens next Friday (Jan 21) at the International Center of Photography in New York, and runs through May 18. I look very much forward to seeing it myself when I am in New York for the College Art Association conference next month.

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As I likely have mentioned, I have been taking Voice & Movement classes this past term (i.e. since September) in preparation for an upcoming Kabuki performance which will take place here at the University of Hawaii in April.

I have been blogging about my progress, my thoughts, my frustrations, throughout the process, on my private personal LiveJournal. I thought it a bit too personal, too private, to put up here. Not personal and private in the sense that there are things I don’t want to put out there, but personal and private in the sense that perhaps this is not the place for posting about my own personal life, my own frustrations and emotions and such, when I’m trying to keep a blog that’s just a tad more scholarly or detached or whatever than a personal daily diary. Perhaps you all aren’t interested; I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t. In this age of Twitter and Facebook and blogging, it has been alleged in numerous magazine articles and elsewhere that perhaps we are becoming too obsessed with our own thoughts and emotions and with writing about them, and that in truth no one else cares about half the things we Tweet about. …. So, perhaps my thoughts on my progress are really just for my own benefit, like a physical diary I write to and keep in my drawer. Certainly, they haven’t gotten many comments at all over on LiveJournal.

But, inspired by a friend who has been posting about her progress, her thoughts, I am now wondering if perhaps I ought to take those LiveJournal posts from the last four months, and post them up here. Here’s my first one, from the very beginning of the semester:

August 30, 2010

As I’ve likely mentioned before, the Theatre dept here at UH is staging a Kabuki play in the spring, and I just couldn’t let this go without being involved in some fashion. So, I signed up for the percussion class.

I’ve barely any acting experience whatsoever, and I’m super nervous about acting, dancing, moving, chanting, appearing on stage… so I thought this percussion class would be a good compromise, sort of. Granted, I have basically no music experience either, but, playing a drum offstage, how hard could it be?

Except, as nervous as I am, as terrified as I am of appearing onstage, as afraid I am of just being so hopeless and dragging down the Voice and Movement classes filled with MFA students with years of experience singing and dancing and acting and all that, I can’t help but feel that if I don’t take this chance, I might regret it… after all, sure, if I’m lucky I might happen upon small workshops here and there over the course of the rest of my life/career, but really, if I don’t do this now, when will I ever get the experience of learning to chant the right way, learning to move the right way? Even if I don’t perform in the spring, it’ll enhance my experience and insider-ness as a theatregoer, and my ability to display for others what it’s like, e.g. if/when I myself teach a History of Traditional Japanese Drama class or the like.

I’m totally on the fence about this. It’s a lot of credits (that means $$ out of my pocket), and a lot of hours a week (roughly 3 hrs/wk for Voice, and another 3 for Movement, as compared to just one for percussion). I really need to sit down with the professor, and/or with my Theatre friends, and discuss this and figure this out.

I wish there were some way to do this more lightly, like if there were a secondary track, fewer credits and fewer hours a week, for those who are not seriously and intensively preparing for playing the major roles in the play… for people like me who really want the experience, but for whom this is not their primary thing that they’re doing this year (i.e. I have other classes, including a 600-level seminar and an independent study…).

Would you like to see more? Is this of interest?

I am also debating back-dating all of these, so that they’ll appear on this blog under the dates I originally wrote them, rather than being stacked up here in December. What do you think?

I really would appreciate your opinion on this. Cheers.

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It turns out my fears were unwarranted. I do not wish to be so arrogant as to presume that anything would have been changed on account of my comments/complaints on Facebook (which, I had forgotten, the AD can see), but, as the new draft of the script we read in the readthrough today reveals, I actually have a larger part than I thought. And precisely just large enough.

I actually have one solo line, one or two lines said together with a bunch of other people, and(!) a fight and death scene! woo! I get to fight with a broom, get the broom cut/broken in half by a sword, and then killed.

What!? How did this happen? I get to apply my voice talents, and get to do a little swordfighting. How awesome is this?

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Well, today the results of the auditions were posted. I had been aiming to be a hawker, mainly because I was eager for the opportunity to re-enact various scenes from the play, playing around with them, and essentially getting to play all kinds of roles and do all kinds of actions (dialogue, swordplay, exits and entrances, mie, etc) without having to really do them right like a true, full actor in a proper role would be expected to. Also, because I didn’t think myself really capable of any proper onstage speaking role.

But, interestingly, I find myself cast as a taiko mochi, which, embarrassingly, I must admit, I had to google to find out it’s a male geisha. Neat. Well, I trust Julie to have cast me where she thinks I’ll do best, and after seeing who was cast as hawkers, and knowing the kind of energy and presence they have, I understood that I might not have been the best hawker after all – I’m not so good at improv, and just don’t necessarily have the kind of energy and presence, the big personalities, that these guys have.

And now that I’m looking at the script, I realize I have no lines at all, and barely any movement. I walk in with a tray, serve saké, and then (I’m not sure which) either exit or sit down in the background for the rest of the scene before exiting.

I don’t mean to complain – I understand that there are only so many roles, and there will always be positives and negatives, and I should just be happy with what I got, because there is no other role that’s really perfect… I know that I’m not up to the task of playing a real major role, but then, at the same time, to have practiced voice for so long to get a non-speaking role.. plus, I wanted so badly to do some swordfighting.

Basically, while I know I don’t have the energy to rev up the crowd, or the improv ability to really be the best hawker ever, nor necessarily the breath support to be properly loud enough, I was just really looking forward to putting everything I’d practiced to use. Now, I won’t be using voice, or sword skills, or anything, really, except behind closed doors, as a sort of inside joke with my friends, and even then, not necessarily much or at all.

I wonder if maybe I can be a hawker too, also.

There were some pretty shocking surprises in the final casting – one friend was, I think, worried/nervous that she wasn’t asked to read at all last night at auditions. A number of people were asked to read scenes together, quite obviously to be tested out as for how they played against each other, etc… She was not selected to read at all. And then, today, she was given the main romantic lead. After scattered comments about how poor an actor she is, and about how she never gets cast as anything but a little boy.

There was one casting decision which created extreme drama… I’d like to acknowledge it here so as to not seem to be ignoring it entirely. I want to be supportive by acknowledging it did happen, but at the same time I think it best if I not say anything more about it…

Most other people I spoke to seemed quite happy with the roles they were given, and for my part, based on my judgments of who I think will do well with certain roles, I think most if not all of the choices made were made quite well, and I very much look forward to the process, and to the final performances. (Well, that is, I look forward to seeing them. Not necessarily to being in them….)

First “rehearsal” – just a read-through – tomorrow.

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Well, the big day, auditions finally happened today.

Let me back up. As I may have mentioned, Julie, our professor for voice, who is all-around in charge of the production – director, translator, etc. – lost her mother a week or two ago. She’s been, quite understandably, away from school for some time. Auditions were rescheduled, more or less last minute, for today. And finals, which we had heard nothing about, and which I kind of assumed were going to be canceled, on account of her being so busy with everything else,etc etc, are happening yesterday and tomorrow.

Yesterday, I was literally shaking, quivering, with nervousness. And possibly with cold, as the A/C is on way too strong in that room. But I think I really gave it my best – I think my actual performance of the monologue and other things I needed to do were accurately representative of my best effort. Was it because we were in the room, sitting quietly and just waiting (and waiting and waiting) our turn that I was so nervous? It’s a strong possibility, though there was also the opposite effect, the supportive and calming factor of having everyone there, supporting one another, like a big communal ‘let’s get through this together’ kabuki kumbayah circle.

Today, there was no such nervousness. We had to do our monologues individually, with all our friends/classmates waiting outside. So the atmosphere inside the room was amped up a bit, I guess. But rather than sitting there worrying about trying to sit still, and waiting for our name to be called, today we got to hang out outside, really hang out, well, and practice and prepare. But I knew ahead of time where I was in the order, and…

Anyway, getting on with it. I was finally called in for my monologue. I performed a short bit from the Marx Bros’ Night at the Opera – since I was auditioning to be a hawker, a barker, I thought a “Ladies and Gentlemen! This is the beginning of a new opera season!” sort of “pre-show speech” monologue would be good. Somehow I had not yet really fully memorized it by the time I went in there. It was like 95%, but I had to pause and think about what the next line was, and I’m not sure the emotion or the “acting” was really there.

In any case, I did the best job I could, and then that was it. I guess I was surprised and disappointed that I didn’t have to do my other monologue, or get called back to read from the script, and that I didn’t get to show off how much I’d been practicing my swordfighting (stage combat) the last few days. It totally makes sense on a logical level, that since I am no competition for any of the major speaking parts, and since time was short, they really needed to focus on those people who they wanted to cast for major roles, and to see how they read together and all that.

My friends were amazing. Really amazing. I heard them reading together, all different roles, mostly bits they had not seen before, so far as I am aware…

.. But, somehow, while I should have been happy to just get through it, and to get through it having done a good job of it, a few hours later I found myself (briefly) quite depressed. I reassure myself that they still may very well cast me in whatever role (hawker or otherwise) based on how well they know I can do or whatever, based on how well I have done in class, and that there is a perfectly logical reason why they didn’t call me back. In fact, if anything, I should be happy to have not had to go through a longer, more nerve-wracking, ordeal. And even if they don’t cast me, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Hardly. It would free me up to not have a ridiculously stressful and busy semester.

But, I was sad about something. What? I don’t know. Sad, I guess, for my friends who won’t be getting the parts they wanted. Sad for having put so much effort and positive energy into preparing myself for auditions, both psychologically and in terms of actual memorization and practice, only to have it be essentially nothing. Why did I even go in today? Sad that, as much progress as I’ve made or whatever, I am really nowhere near the level that all my friends are at. … Seeing who did and did not get called back to read certain parts and not other parts – a strong indication of which parts they are and are not considering you for – only contributed to this. I mean, I think most people got called back to read for the parts they most want. … But at least one friend did not get called back for that at all. Does this mean they already know her abilities and how she plays off of certain other actors, and that they therefore don’t have to see it? Or that they don’t have to see it because they’re not considering her for any major roles?

Well, we shall find out tomorrow who got cast in what roles. And, guaranteed, there will be people who are upset. I guess that’s the part I’m most sad about, if anything. I love all these people, and I don’t want to see any of them have their wishes or dreams dashed. … It’s just a terrible shame that we can’t all be winners, and I know that I won’t know how to be properly comforting and such… I guess, at least, they all have experience with this kind of stuff – auditioning, rejections…

We shall see tomorrow.

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Oh, good. I just realized today that if/when I end up in the kabuki performance, I can’t wear my glasses on stage. I’m going to need to get contacts, for the first time ever, and learn how to wear them.

I really want to do this, want to be involved, but it seems like there’s just one thing after another working against me…

It’ll probably be good for me in the end to learn to wear contacts. It’ll let me move away from the nerd look finally, a bit more, and will open up better Halloween costume possibilities at the very least.

But then there’s also AAS. I don’t know what the rehearsal schedule is like, but with the show opening the very next weekend after AAS, well, I just dearly dearly hope that there will be some way to do both. I don’t want to miss the conference – especially if it means missing every single day of the conference – for this show, if there’s the possibility of doing both.

I am really surprised that Julie would not have factored that in. She knows AAS is happening, she knows when it’s happening, and she certainly ought to want to go. So, why are we not performing in March instead of in April? Or starting in mid-April, rather than so immediately after the conference? If the opening performances were just two weeks earlier or later, the “hell week(s)” immediately before opening would not coincide with AAS…

But I guess we shall just have to see.

Edit/Update: In the end, it turns out that we are not only fully aware of AAS, but actually have some kind of demo or presentation that some of us will be presenting on the first(?) night of the conference, as part of an Asian Theatre Night. Of course, rehearsals and all that will still be really heavy, I am sure, during that weekend. But, at least it’s not that anyone had failed to acknowledge or recognize the conflict, or to have it in consideration – 1/17/11

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Julie – our voice teacher, and the translator and director of the kabuki play we’ll be performing next spring – lost her mother yesterday.

Knowing how it is to go through that, my heart really goes out to her. I nearly cried on Saturday when I first heard her mother was sick, and that Julie would be rushing home to Ohio, canceling class and postponing auditions. I think I mentioned some of this in a previous post. I did end up sending her an email, in the end. Awkward though the teacher-student relationship might make it, and I’m certainly not as close with her as some of the other students, but I know how meaningful such expressions of support and love were when I lost my mother… And hopefully we will be putting something together collectively as a class, or just as a group, five or ten of us, to which I can chip in, or sign my name or whatever.

Classes are now canceled through next week as well, and auditions are vaguely scheduled for sometime before the end of term.

It’s all very emotional and upsetting, and I just really feel for her at this moment. Thinking about how Thanksgiving will never be the same for her and her family again, and how, I’m sure, looking back at this kabuki production will be bittersweet and with mixed feelings…

….

Upsetting as it is, truly unfortunate and terrible development that it is, one cannot deny that having auditions postponed and classes canceled for X number of days is a huge load off everyone’s back (shoulders? what’s the expression?).

Movement class was still on this week, though next week we’re apparently switching to a sort of voluntary, show up if you feel like it, workshop style format. Of course, if this means more one-on-one attention, to really work on what I need to get better at, that’d be absolutely wonderful. I’ve been wanting more one-on-one time, and more time working on these moves rather than those moves, if you follow what I’m saying. I want to practice X, not Y. And I want to practice them more before being expected to be good at them, goddammit!

But, at the same time, I think it a real shame that we’re essentially ending 2-3 weeks early, and just as I had really started to get into thinking I was doing a good enough job, just as I had totally done away with any nervousness or stress I had about the whole thing. I could absolutely go another two weeks of real, genuine, class sessions now, going over again and polishing all the things I didn’t really get earlier.

But, oh well. At least there’s, apparently, no final! News to me. Plus, we’re apparently allowed to pick our own movement stuff for the auditions. Which is a little nerve-wracking, because it means I have to choreograph my own piece – which is basically just going to be a string of sword moves, probably, I guess. I’m certainly not doing any kind of dance. I almost wish they would just choose for us what we have to learn for the audition, and I’d do it. Or, hell, if they didn’t tell us, I wouldn’t have to prepare, and could just go in, do my best at whatever they throw at me, and come out of it knowing I did my best.

..

So, that’s about it, I guess. Term is wrapping up faster than expected. I need to remind myself to keep practicing voice and movement, try to stay on top of it, and try to get better at the monologue for auditions. But, other than that, I have just one paper to write, and that’s it for the term. Lots of work to do over break, though, as I’m preparing for my comps, and for presenting at that conference in NY in February.

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Kabuki has been a lot better the last few weeks, as the class has taken on more of a workshop sort of feel to it. We’re having a big symposium this coming Saturday, including demonstrations of some of the voice and movement stuff we’ve been doing, and I have not been selected to take part in most of the demos (I’ll only be participating in the stuff everyone is, as a group). I was sad about this at first, but I realize now that it’ll allow me to focus better on just listening to the scholars’ talks and enjoying watching my friends’ performances.

With everyone working hard right now to polish their demo performances for the symposium, it leaves the rest of us free to more or less sit back. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be practicing and such still, but the feel of class today was definitely very much one of, let’s devote time to those who need to practice for Saturday, and then afterwards everyone else can just sort of give it a try.

Using real swords for the first time – not sharpened ones, but still, metal blades and scabbards – it was good to get a feel for how to draw them, and the weight and such. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually had a sword at my side, while wearing kimono, so that was pretty cool. And drawing them out of a scabbard is actually easier in a way than trying to draw the whole bokken out of the obi. But, even with them not sharpened, they’re still kind of dangerous, and I didn’t feel comfortable trying any complex or special sort of moves.

After the symposium is over, I think I’m going to ask sensei if we can meet up after class some time and take some time to really help me polish my tachimawari. I would rather come out of this class being pretty good at tachimawari than just sloppy at everything. Now if only I had a sword to practice with. Umbrella works okay, as does a fan, but ideally one should want to be able to practice drawing out of a scabbard, and practicing with something of the right length and weight.

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