Last night’s rehearsal, our first since the showcase, was disappointing in some ways, and great in others. Disappointing because most of us weren’t there. Great, because Takahiko, Mayu, and I had a really great follow-up conversation about what we discussed with the audience on Saturday after the show.
I learned more about Takahiko in that 90 minutes than I had in the last six months of working together. I found out that he’d seen Seven Streams of the River Ota (my favourite show ever) when it was in Japan, and that he also like the same Kurosawa films that I’m in love with (Ikiru and Jigoku to Tengoku in particular).
Mostly, though, as I said, we reviewed the 30-minute discussion we had with the audience after our showcase this past Saturday. During that discussion, I asked the audience what they thought about two scenes in particular.
Both scenes were based on Rosie DiManno’s Toronto Star article entitled No Escape Valve for So Much Grief.
The first scene, which we called No Escape Valve, consisted of an underplayed scene playing out the events of the scene described by DiManno prior to her self-insertion into the narrative. A cub reporter for a Japanese radio station, assigned to her first story, speaks self-consciously into her IC recorder, setting up the time and place of the scene: March 19th, 2011, outside a sports stadium in Miyagi-ken. The stadium is serving as a holding facility for recovered bodies. The other characters in the scene include a woman who is looking for a relative, a stadium employee working as a guide to those coming for the first time, and the family described by DiManno’s article.
The rest of the scene is played out almost sub-vocally, with overlapping dialogue. We’re very conscious of not wanting to put big speeches in the mouths of victims, so the speech is improvised and not at normal performance level. As the scene begins, a man (that was me) sits at a desk, reading to himself.
About halfway through, as the scene in Miyagi continues to play out, the man at the desk tells the audience that he’s reading the article by DiManno and starts to read excerpts aloud to them. Initially, he distances himself from the article, but in the last few lines, he throws on a scarf and becomes the writer herself, gradually moving to a histrionic falsetto that matches the tone and character of the article. His loud voice easily overpowers the scene, and as he reads the last few lines, the other actors become aware of him and turn to look at him, puzzlement playing over their features.
The second scene consisted of me dressed in a headscarf and african-style wrap skirt to complete the out-of-touch hippie look, playing guitar and singing a song entitled I Will Make the Japanese Cry while various Japanese stereotypes unenthusiastically performed a broadway-style dance number behind me.
What I wanted to know from the audience was what their feelings were about us covering this topic. Not so much the bad journalism aspect (I think we’re all agreed on that), but about actually representing tsunami victims in the scene itself, as we did in the No Escape Valve scene.
Interestingly, the opinion was divided, with Japanese members of the audience feeling uncomfortable with the scene, and expats not being put off by it. There was a little more nuance to the conversation than that, but that was the general gist. On the other hand, no one was offended by the musical number (unless they were simply offended by my terrible singing and simply refrained from telling me so).
Since we didn’t have anyone in the audience who was actually from the affected areas in Tohoku, we were getting feedback by people who had friends or relatives there. The way people worded their concerns about the scene was interesting and mirrored what I’ve heard from others when I’ve asked them about it and what Mayu said when we first started rehearsing No Escape Valve. To wit: “we’re worried that people from the Tohoku region will be offended by this.”
While I sympathize with the feeling, I wonder if it’s worth worrying about. We plan to approach the scenes like this carefully, as we did with this one. The applicable section of No Escape Valve was done in what one audience member called a “documentary” style. If it’s okay to go up to Tohoku and point cameras at things and people, then my feeling is that we’re okay recreating a similar effect on stage. As I wrote earlier, we don’t plan to put any big long speeches into the mouths of tsunami victim characters or try make their lives into entertainment. (That’s not what the Wall of Shame show is about, anyway.) However, to explore the topic seriously and honestly, we certainly can’t shy away from scenes like this.
We still have more discussion to do within the whole group itself before we resolve this, but I wanted to post my feelings on this while they’re still fresh.