Tag Archive: Graig Russell

Aug 09

Unexpected Begging

I’ve been gearing up to start a crowd-funding campaign for a while for YTG, but my plan was to fund some rehearsal set pieces that we desperately need, or even one of our upcoming shows! Instead, I’m raising money to save a shed! What happened?!

 

The damage done to the shed.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, some idiot rammed a vehicle into the Yokohama Theatre Group’s storage shed and damaged one of the outer walls (see photo). The YCAC, on whose property our shed is located, removed that outer wall for safety reasons before contacting me.

 

Sadly, with the wall removed, it’s impossible to verify how the damage occurred or to evaluate whether the whole side needed to come off. In any case, what’s done is done. The YCAC is not interested in investigating further, and since we are essentially guests on their properly, I must defer to their judgement on the matter. That’s left YTG (read: me) holding the bag, financially. If you’ve been following me, you might have an inkling that I’ve been covering a lot of YTG expenses out of pocket for a while now, and even if I wanted to, I just don’t have deep enough pockets for this.

 

Save Our Shed

So, I’m reaching out to readers of this blog, particularly those who know me personally or through my Theatre work (those here because of the Wall of Shame may be slightly less interested) to go to the Indiegogo site, watch the amusing video I recorded yesterday (by myself, in the 37 degree heat with the cicadas chirping like mad in the background), see if you can pinpoint the moment when two pigeons start going at it, and, most importantly, give some money to help fund the shed repair.

 

Any amount over $10 will get you a perk, which is great, but the real point is to get this shed repaired so YTG doesn’t lose all the stuff we store inside it.

 

If you’re poor as a church mouse, that’s okay, just pass along this blog entry, or just this link: http://igg.me/p/198024?a=488241 <—that’s the link to the campaign. Please go there now and watch the video, which represents the “sweat” part of this campaign. The “blood” and “tears” are coming soon, no doubt…

 

Thanks!

Feb 06

Showcase #1 and a Non-Working Gun

Well, here I am in the rehearsal room again. I’ve mopped the floor, put on some Leonard Cohen, and am typing this while I wait for the floor to dry and the others to arrive.

 

The showcase on Saturday was a great success, not in any sense of having put on a polished show (although it did come out much cleaner than I expected), but in the sense that had an audience, and we seemed to engage most of them.

 

The show itself clocked in at 60 minutes, which is astounding, because when we rehearsed, it felt much more like 20 minutes, AND we cut the Satsuki-tan’s Brain  scene. The most successful part for me, however, was the 30-minutes discussion with the audience. It was exactly what I hoped for in the sense of feedback.

 

Even better yet, Emmy Nagaoka was there with a video camera and later sent me a rough transcript so we’ll actually be able remember what was said. I had meant to tape the whole thing myself, but someone who I will not mention, but whose name begins with GRAIG RUSSELL, forgot to bring my video camera. We managed to capture bits and pieces of video with my still camera, but a few key moments (including the end) are missing, since Canon cameras are limited by the SD card’s limit of 4GB per file.

 

The missing video might be for the best, since this gave me the idea of actually make a project of shooting some of the segments as they exist now so that we have more video content on the YTG website.

 

I was really impressed by how the whole group stepped up to the challenge. What we need to start reinforcing amongst ourselves, however, is that we need this kind of commitment all the time, not just when we have a public showing. That’s kind of the whole point of the ensemble. I want us to keep a sustained level of energy going into our rehearsals so that we don’t need to go into crunch mode when a show comes up.

 

That “crunch time” is the main reason I wanted to stop doing Theatre the old way. Sure, there will always be a little extra pressure on the week of the show, some of it imposed by the fact that, in Japan, you’re lucky to afford to get into the Theatre more than 24 hours before the day of the performance, but if the performance itself is ready due to sustained efforts beforehand, then a lot of the usual stresses are removed.

 

The Yokohama Theatre Ensemble, minus Mayu, who was stood in for by the weird guy behind us.Speaking of “crunch”, we also had an evening performance at the Yokohama Honda Gekijou as part of a group show. We took a subset of our material and modified it. It didn’t feel as good as the afternoon performance (a prop gun failed to discharge four times in a row, which kind of took the ‘oomph’ out of it, although Saori handled it like a pro and shouted “パン!” each time the gun didn’t fire), but it was still a great way to end a crazy day.

 

I’d woken up with a migraine, and had been unable to even eat breakfast. The headache had subsided enough by our 14:00 showtime to allow me to do the strenuous bits required for the showcase without absolutely killing myself, and by the time we were talking to the audience at 15:00 it was pretty much gone. By the time the photo you see above was taken (at around 20:30, after our evening performance), I was not only headache free, but RAVENOUS. So our day ended with a “cast party”, if you can call it that, around a table at the local First Kitchen, with us all eating something disgusting and fatty.

 

All in all, a very satisfying day that gave us a lot of information on how to move forward from this point.

Oct 03

The Education of an Ensemble

Yesterday was the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble’s first all-day rehearsal (10:00 – 18:00). I had convinced ESL Theatre Project’s Lei Sadakari and voice instructor Graig Russell to come in and run some sessions for us.

 

Lei’s morning session consisted of a movement workshop, using group yoga poses and exercises to get us moving our bodies in new ways. Lei is constantly training overseas to learn new skills, so it was great to have her come in and share those with us. I am constantly surprised, however, about how I seem to be in better shape than the other ensemble members, despite being significantly older (and fatter) than most of them. Maybe they’re just pretending to be out of breath to make me feel better?

 

The afternoon session, run by Graig, was a voice class. He took the ensemble (and Lei, who stayed to participate) through the basics of making noise. I’ve been working with Graig on and off for a couple of years now. He was my assistant director on William Shakespeare’s R3, and helped with voice training on that show as well. Since then he’s come in to help out on other projects, and taught the first Ytheatre Voice workshop earlier this year, and he’s always done great work. It was amazing seeing him fly through yesterday’s training session, though. He’s really evolved his teaching style into something natural and engaging. I think he’s finally found the headspace of being a teacher; something that I have yet to master.

 

One problem we continue to have is tardiness and absence. There are still a few of us with commitments that predate the creation of the ensemble, but even these are sometimes communicated at the very last minute, and thus, we need to come up with a solution together to try to curb the absentee/lateness problem.

 

The kind of work we’re doing requires that we’re all present and ready-to-go, so it’s much more important to us than a normal group of performers working on a show. We’ll discuss this the next time we all meet, and I’m sure we’ll come up with a solution together.

May 16

A Class Act, Er, Acting Class

In real life, I run a 111 year-old Theatre company called YTG, which I am in the process of registering as an NPO here in Japan.The Beggar's Opera as performed by The Yokohama Theatre Group

 

The first half of the mandate of the company is to bring contemporary Theatre to people in Yokohama and Japan. To fulfill this mandate, we obviously mount shows, but we’re also trying to get a Theatre school off the ground. There are several reasons why the school is an important part of what we do.

 

Firstly, with our limited resources, shows can only happen a couple of times per year for the time being. This gap between productions causes YTG to drop out of public awareness for months at a time. Running workshops gives us something to publicize all year long.

 

Secondly, good training will empower and inspire students to go off and do their own projects, which will mean more Theatre buzz. I strongly believe that art begets art in a positive feedback loop. A city that has lots of active artists has lots of demand for art because everyone is aware of it. That is true for all the arts, but especially performance-oriented arts like dance and Theatre.

 

Thirdly, there is a dearth right now of Theatre artists who have both the need to create contemporary work and the technical skills to do so. The YTG classes are being designed to develop both of these requirements in the hopes generating future YTG company members.

 

We’ve had some problems finding suitable rehearsal spaces for these classes, so we’ve just got one coming up: Voice for the Actor. Voice_For_The_Actor_Spring_2011_Graphic_and_TitleBut what a class to start with. My friend and Theatre colleague Graig Russell has been working his butt off to write the curriculum for the class, and it’s going to be eight weeks of intense voice work. It’s not all the time I get to work with someone like Graig whose philosophy toward Theatre is so much like mine that it’s uncanny. Although voice work will always involve technical elements, what’s great about this course is that it doesn’t concentrate on technique to the exclusion of all else. Graig has really built a workshop that emphasizes the idea of the individual voice, so that each student will learn not something that’s standardized, but something that’s unique to his or her own body.

 

(And I’m not talking sight unseen here; Graig was my vocal coach on William Shakespeare’s R3 two years ago, and did some wonderful work with a number of my actors.)

 

Because we’ve had trouble booking space at YTG’s usual Yokohama haunts, this workshop will take place in Tokyo at the OUR SPACE rehearsal lounge. I’m so lucky that the management at that space are also good friends

 

So my job now is to sign up seven students to take this course. I’ve printed flyers and we’re sending them out to Universities; I’ve sent out the YTG newsletter announcing the class; I’ve notified a Yokohama English-through-Theatre school; I’ve sent email to my international school contacts; I’ve updated the YTG facebook page; I’ve tweeted it; etc., ad nauseum… Publicity is definitely the part of the job that I’m worst at.  I know that there are people out there interested in this course… the question is simply: how do I reach them?

 

Oh well, I’ll find the magic formula one day. In the meantime, I just need to keep plugging away. I really do believe that if I build something based on good, solid, ideas and ideals, that it will eventually generate interest. Art begets art and all that.