Tag Archive: Yokohama Theatre Ensemble

Feb 08

Post Showcase Discussion

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).

 

The YT Ensemble performs a musical number being tested for the "Wall of Shame" show.

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.

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.

Jan 31

Fever Dreams

We’re four days from the Yokohama Theatre Ensemble’s first showcase. Yikes. I’ve got a million things to do: memorize lines, find the flashes for my socks, buy a few props, memorize a song, create content for the show’s programme, buy the snacks for post-show party, email people directly to remind them about the showcase, send out a reminder newsletter about it, and, hell, probably five or six other things I’ve temporarily forgotten about.

 

I think I’ve also picked up that flu that’s going around. I’ve been headachy and nauseous since noon. I think I may be running a slight fever, and my stomach and  joints ache.

 

One of the things that’s been on my list for weeks, however, is a new blog entry, so I’m going to get that done right now, since there’s so much to cover. (Don’t worry, I’ll be brief: I want to hit the hay.)

 

We’ve had two incredible rehearsals with Tania Coke, who will be teaching the Ytheatre Physical Theatre workshop in March (this may be a one-time only thing—sign up now!). She’s helped us develop that moving screens piece that Mari and I first experimented with in December into something that involves five members of the ensemble (and in it’s final version will involve all six). It’s amazing how much easier the rehearsal is when she’s there to be our outside eye, particularly on a piece like, where my expertise is rather limited.

 

I’ve arranged for more outside eyes this week to help rush us into being ready for the showcase (and another show that same evening at the Yokohama Honda Gekijou! Graig Russell will be joining us tomorrow, and Nerida Rand on Thursday.

 

Friday is going to be a frightening night of pulling everything together, starting the set up of the space, and trying to finish early enough that we’re able to crawl back in on Saturday morning at 9:00 in order to prep tech for 14:00.

 

More when I have the energy again—maybe next week.

Dec 06

Bonenkai at the GekiSalon

Went to the Gekisalon bonenkai tonight at the Yokohama (Sotetsu) Honda Gekijou.

 

Mari and Takahiko were there as well: Takahiko in his normal capacity as a volunteer staff member at the drinks table (and his less-normal capacity as Santa Claus), and Mari as my wingwoman.

 

I did less mingling than usual: I had nothing to promote this time. There is lots of big news about to break, like the launch of the school, the date of the group’s first showcase, and the launch of the new website, but the former two are delayed by the struggle to find a space, and the third by the lack of Japanese translations. So: nothing to talk about, really.

 

Tonight was the last gekisalon of 2011, so it cost 1000 Yen instead of 100 Yen, and there was lots of food—most of which I couldn’t eat because it had meat in it. However, I still managed to come away from the event comfortably full. We’ll disregard that a lot of that filling-up was done with bread and dessert.

 

All in all, an enjoyable event. I just hope I have something to pitch by the next one on January 23…

Dec 01

Back in K-S

That’s right, we were back in the space in Kanagawa-Shinmachi last night for our rehearsal.

 

I’ve been waffling on several things recently. Will we have some kind of showcase/presentation this calendar year? If we do, what will the content be? How much should that content be prepared and polished?

 

At the moment, I’m trying to figure out a way we can do a showcase for invited guests in the final few days of December. That means I’ve got to deal with venue and content.

 

For venue, we will probably rent the Kanagawa-Shinmachi space for the day.

 

For content, well, nothing’s ready just yet. The Elements piece is a no-go. For one thing, we haven’t had the whole group together for a long time now, and for another, the group needs a lot more training (probably guest training; I don’t really have the skills to train actors for physical Theatre) before that piece becomes do-able. We’ve started working on people’s personal stories, and have started running some improvs and Object Exercises in order to support them.In this rehearsal improv, Mari Kawamura enters her room to find it in a shambles.

 

I was doing the “Three Entrances” exercise with Mayu (just one entrance, though), to create the environment of her shared house in England—a location that features prominently into the story she wishes to tell.

 

Working on that showed me that, really, I need everyone in the group to do this exercise, so I’ll be assigning it one by one.

 

We then moved on to an improvisation in which Mari and Mayu dealt with the question of how to deal with a slob roommate.

 

It was a good evening of rehearsal. We got back to what, to me, were basics, but to them were new ideas. It showed me more clearly that with group being small these days, maybe it’s these things that I should be working on. It will be good practice for me, too, since I hope to be teaching all this stuff in the new year.

Nov 24

Rehearsal Space Woes

I’m sitting in a tatami room at the Katakuracho Kumin center, waiting for Mari and Takahiko to show up. Hiraku is on sabbatical until the two shows he’s committed to are over (my suggestion, since he was starting to look like he was operating on no sleep); Mayu is on training for work this week; and Saori has started additional classes on top of her work schedule.

 

Mari is later than usual because she’s just taken on an extra contract job.2011-11-24 19.06.08

 

When I got to the space, I thought we had the whole room. I was rather surprised to find two obaasan fussing around inside it after I came back from the toilets. They were using the sliding doors in the space to section off a square part of the room.

Then one of them started asking me if our group was going to make loud noises and could we not, please, because they were doing yoga. Huh? I informed her that we would do our best, but that this was Theatre, and that we were rehearsing, and I couldn’t make any guarantees. I’d told her we’d try, but we would have to at least speak at normal conversational tones.

 

This once again serves to illustrate the problem with not having a proper venue. It’s not simply the cost of renting spaces that is the problem: it’s the inflexibility of said spaces, and their unsuitability for Theatre rehearsals.

 

I contacted the real estate agent managing the building at Kanagawa-Shinmachi that we’ve occasionally worked in, courtesy another Theatre group. I once asked one of the guys in that Theatre group how much it cost to rent per month, and he told me 180,000. I thought about it later and realized I must have misheard him. He must have said 80,000. The building is so decrepit, and it’s totally unoccupied except for that group, that the number couldn’t be right.

 

It was. The next smallest room, at 43 square meters, would have cost us 230,000. The agent, very kindly, offered to bring it down to 200,000. I told him that he could call me when the owner was serious about actually having tenants. The agent told me that we were unlikely to do better. He may be right, but we simply couldn’t afford that. Even with the Theatre school running at full tilt, 230,000 yen would be pushing it. It might be doable if we were in downtown Tokyo and could rent the space out to other groups the way my friends at the Our Space rehearsal lounge do. But not at some po-dunk station halfway between Kawasaki and Yokohama, and not in a building in that condition. This is evidenced by the fact that we appear to be the only Theatre company that sublets from the group already renting the space there and the fact that the small amount they charge us in no way covers their costs.

 

If anyone has any suggestions about where to look next, I’m all ears. Next week, I will be visiting the Yokohama Arts Council to see if they have space tucked away somewhere, but I’m not terribly hopeful. What I really need is a private landlord whose sense of pride isn’t so bloated that he’d rather make 0 Yen rather than 30,000 Yen while he holds out for bubble-era prices.

 

As for today… I expect either Takahiko or Mari to show up any minute. Maybe we’ll do some quiet voice exercises or something. I might take some time and force them to write their biographies for the web site. Hmm….

Nov 10

A Change of Plan and a Creepy School

I’m quickly rushing to type this off before heading to tonight’s  rehearsal.

 

Last night, we met at Nippa (新羽) station on the Yokohama Blue Line and proceeding to walk to our rehearsal space. This was another new one for us, and it was about a 7 minute walk through darkened streets.

 

When we arrived, we weren’t sure we had the right place. There was a sign, but it wasn’t lit. There was no lighting on the path leading up to what appeared to be the main lobby. There was only dim light coming out from inside the glass-enclosed lobby area.

 

Nonetheless, there appeared to be no other way in, so we approached. As we looked in from outside, we saw a man in a yellow vest vacuuming the floor. Were they closing at 18:45?! Mayu thought for a minute that maybe this was a hospital, and not a Kumin Centre.

 

We went in and it turns out everything was fine, although we had to complete about five minutes of paperwork to register YTG with the place. After that, the old man behind the desk led us through the darkened building, up a flight of stairs, through a library (!) and into the “playroom".

 

What a great space. The room was huge. Half of it was a waxed hardwood floor, and the other half was dojo-style tatami (sprung tatami, I guess you’d call it). On top of that, the rent was only 450 yen, making it the cheapest space we’ve worked in so far.

 

The drawbacks: like all Yokohama city Kumin centres, they close at 21:00. And they are very anal about getting you out of the building BEFORE that (they start playing incessant music and making loud PA announcements from 20:45 on). We were out of the building at 20:59 by their own clock, and we still got scolded! Also, you can only book this room twice in any given month.

 

Enough about the space… what did we do?

 

Due to sickness and inflexible job schedules, we won’t have the whole group together again, so rather than work on any of the group elements pieces, we instead worked on a improv that we’d started on Monday as a joke: a re-enactment of trying to get a room that we’d paid for without the receipt. We focused on objectives and tactics work, and are now in the process of stripping the Tatemae off the characters without turning them into caricatures. That is the work that we’ll continue tonight.

 

Okay… off to rehearsal!

Nov 08

Back to the Grind

Last night was the first YT Ensemble Rehearsal for me in just over two weeks. I’d taken a break from rehearsals while my parents were visiting from Canada. It was also nice to give the group a chance to find a dynamic without me, as so far I’d been the only constant.

 

During my two weeks “off”, I was hardly idle, though. I was working on a new YTG website, as well as looking into a possible rehearsal space that we could rent by the month.

 

The group was also not idle. The first week they worked on their presentation for the monthly Gekisalon meeting, and in the second week, they continued work on our elements series.

 

Unfortunately, we had barely any working time last night. We were in a kumin (community) centre, and it closed at 21:00. I mean REALLY closed. Like we had to be packed up and out the door at 21:00. Also, Mayu (who had booked the space) had misplaced the receipt, which really put the staff’s noses out of joint. After thinking we’d solved the problem, they actually came and interrupted our rehearsal to make Takahiko do almost 20 minutes of paperwork!

 

We didn’t make a mess in the room, so we were planning to work right up until 20:50, and then change and exit. That plan also proved unworkable, because from 20:45 on, the centre kept playing loud end-of-day music and announcements over the P.A. system.

 

We’re back in that space tomorrow (Wednesday), but we’ll have the receipt this time, and I’ll try to be primed to make the best use of our time.

 

Our experiences at some of these Kumin centres simply serve to drive home the point that we really need our own space, ASAP.

Oct 17

What Happens When the Sun Comes Out

Sunday’s rehearsal started out as a bit of a disappointment. Due to some schedule adjustments to accommodate one member’s participation in another show, this was our last full-day rehearsal of 2011.

 

By the end of the day, two of the ensemble members had called in sick, one got stuck at work, and one showed up, only to run to another rehearsal after just an hour and forty-five minutes.

 

For the entire morning, there were only two of us (Mari and me). We ended up doing some voice work and started moving into some text work before lunch. (I need to remember to borrow some voice training books from YTG Voice for the Actor instructor Graig Russell… or even better, I need to borrow his brain.)

 

After lunch, Hiraku arrived and we moved into some movement work, although not the main exercises I had planned, since I need to save those for the whole group. Takahiko pulled in around 14:00, and then there were four of us. At this point, we finally had enough people to do what I consider the ultimate acting exercise: tag. I should probably write a whole post on tag and why it’s an incredible Theatre exercise someday, but that day is not today. For now, those of you not in the know shall have to scratch your head in puzzlement.

 

Hiruaku booked at 15:00, and I gave the remaining two members a few minutes break so I could sort out what to do with just the two of them.Mari and Takahiko practice their salsa.

 

I still had my list of exercises, and I chose several that didn’t require a large group, and we started again, this time on some physical Theatre exercises suggested to me by Utrecht School of the Arts grad and former YTG intern Jos Avezaat.

 

The last exercise we did was a breathing exercise, and it led to something that made the whole day worthwhile: our first spontaneously created scene since we started working together. I don’t want to say anything more, because I don’t want to ruin the scene’s effect when we eventually showcase it, but I will tell you that it involved Mari spending more than 40 minutes teaching and drilling some basic salsa steps to Takahiko.

 

So despite the rather iffy start to the day, and the difficulty shifting gears with people coming in and out, we accomplished something very important. The process we’re designing together allows for us to grab an idea or a promising tangent and run with it while it’s still hot in our minds, and today’s idea hints that although we’re still just feeling our way in the dark, maybe we’re on the right track.

 

I’m looking forward to having the whole group together again on Tuesday to pursue this new scene.

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.

Sep 27

The River is Wide

So the YTheatre Ensemble has started working on our first project. The first official project will still be Wall of Shame: The Musical, but we’re going to start doing a series of mini-projects to get us in the right headspace.

 

The first project is to expand the world that I and a bunch of high school students created for our 2009 Kanto Plains Drama Festival piece The Tribe of Dirt.

 

At the end of that piece, the tribe is led off by their new shaman to find a new life, and maybe a new element to base their culture on. I’ve given the ensemble the task of expanding on this, so we’ve started exploring the journey of the new shaman as he searches for the tribe’s new home and purpose.

 

Last night, we started working on the element of water, and thus did a lot of rolling around on the floor.

 

I find that I’m still having to do a lot of kickstarting of ideas with the group, since they’re used to being “just actors”. I will continue to work to make them part of the creative process. Last night’s stalling over some points of mythology and the archetypal quest have also convinced me that I may have to create a reading list for them.

 

Finally, here are some photos from last Tuesday’s “Opening Ceremony”, as I called it. After rehearsal, we convened at my house to drink some sake. I gave each of the “First Five”, including myself, a little packet of gold leaf that I’d bought last year in Kanazawa, and we sprinkled it into our cups to symbolize our collective wish for good fortune in our Theatrical pursuit.

 

Sep 11

YT Ensemble, Assemble!

The Ytheatre ensemble after our first rehearsal.

Left to right:
Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, Takahiko Arai, Andrew Woolner (holding the camera)

The Yokohama Theatre Ensemble met for the first time as a unit this past Friday at the Kanagawa Earth Plaza (or Global Citizens Plaza, or whatever it’s called).

 

In addition to myself, the ensemble includes four brave souls: Hiraku Kawakami, Mari Kawamura, Mayu Cho, and Takahiko Arai. I say brave because we’re doing something different than every single one of us is used to while working on Theatre.

 

Normally when a group of strangers comes together in the name of Theatre here in Japan, we know a few things going in:

  • what show we are going to do
  • what the show will be like (style, content, etc.)
  • what the rehearsal process will be
  • when the show will be going up
  • what part(s) each person is going to play

The YT Ensemble knows none of these things. Well, we do know that our first show will be called Wall of Shame: The Musical, and that we hope to perform it for the first time sometime near the end of this calendar year. I’ve set that as the first show, because, firstly, I believe that it’s an important show to do, and secondly, I think that it’s important to have a first project in the pipe in order to prime our creative processes. In the future, we will be developing the shows together, as a group.

 

But other than the name of the show and the vague theme of journalism and the 3/11 earthquake, we know nothing. Not what the form of the show will be, not what the content will be, not even a running time. And that’s kind of the point.

 

So, that’s kind of scary. We’re creating Theatre without so many of the safety nets that we’re all used to. The worst safety net to work without (at least for me) is that of enforced relationships. With a scripted show, or a devised piece developed with a proper ‘director’, there are excuses to break social taboos. For instance, the script or the director will frequently dictate to you your in-show relationship with another character. If that relationship is intimate or hurtful, certain behaviours on your part are appropriate within the context of the rehearsal room. With people who have worked together for a long time, this becomes less of an issue, of course, but the five ensemble members have never worked with each other before. Moreover, we didn’t even know each other before forming the ensemble. I predict that we’re going to spend a lot of time, if I may switch metaphors, just breaking the walls we’ve all put up around ourselves. More time than usual for a cast.

 

I will post further as things develop, but I think the intimacy of the ensemble will be a recurring theme for the first little while as we try to figure out ways to break down the social walls between us. That in itself might make a good show someday…

Sep 08

The Dream I Stole From Sam

(mumble mumble) years ago, I was sitting in an apartment in Toronto, watching the real actors smoke, including Sam Rosenthal, now Artistic Director and General Manager of the Vaughn City Playhouse. This was a party of some sort (my memory is vague), possibly even the closing night party of The Diary of Anne Frank, my first semi-professional show and my first real show unconnected to an educational institution I was studying in.

IMG_1399-Edit

My eyes weren’t blinded: I knew that this show, in a grotty little Theatre called, appropriately enough, The Annex, was not a high budget affair. And though they seemed seasoned and wise to me then, the creative forces behind the show (the aforementioned Sam Rosenthal and his partner-in-crime Eli Lukawitz) were young and just starting out into the world of making Theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this at the time, but I also felt inspired by their energy to create Theatre and so I spent most of my time hanging on their every word. They were really doing it; they were making it happen.

 

Eli and Sam were very influential on me just at the right time, much more than most of my university professors, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me by casting me in that show, and letting me see how a semi-pro company should be run (i.e. as much as possible like a professional company). I’ve held every group I’ve worked with since up to the standards that those two set for me, including my own casts and crews. But beyond that, something that Sam said that night at the party has stayed with me ever since.

 

He talked about how his dream was to run a rep company. Simple as that. Back then, I still pretty much wanted to be “just” an actor, although at that point, I think I’d at least narrowed it down to wanting to be a stage actor (i.e. I’d realized that I found film shoots intensely boring), so I probably nodded sagely, even though he was talking to someone else (Walter Young, I think1).

 

(In case you don’t know what a repertory company is, at its most basic it is a cast and crew that stay together for an entire season (at least) and perform several different plays together. If you want more detail, go look it up.)

 

In any case, at the time, a rep Theatre didn’t sound so great to me. Not bad, mind you, just not particularly special. But for some reason, I carried the idea with me over the years, and by 2001 or so, I’d basically stolen it and made it my dream. However, I ran into the problem that when you’re not paying them, actors don’t want to commit to more than one show at a time. Who’d have thought it? Well, Sam, obviously, which is why he’d been smart enough not to try it.

 

I realize now that part of the problem was that I was trying to do very conventional Theatre. Although my company was emphasizing original works and new interpretations of classical works, my approach to Theatre was still, in many ways, very conservative. With no money on offer, and able to get very little attention from critics, what did I have to offer actors? Basically, my Theatre company was one of the places to go to get something on your resume until a better job came along. Why would anyone commit for the long haul?

 

I closed up my Theatre to move to Japan, and when I started working with the Yokohama Theatre Group, I put the idea of a rep company aside. With the way that expats come and go here, a rep company was unthinkable.

 

And then I made The Tribe of Dirt with a bunch of high school students in about four hours one Saturday afternoon as part of the annual drama festival put on by some of the Kanto-area international schools. If you look that the video on the other side of that link, it’s rough, sure, but there’s something that happened that day that caused the penny to start dropping. Working on that show caused me to want to work on developing something wholly my own, in rehearsal, which led to my show 39, developed over three months of rehearsal with Kimberly Tierney. Doing 39, and the summer Fringe tour to Canada that went with it inspired me further, and by the time I got back, I was eager to develop more… which got me into trouble as I worked that ambition into the Tartuffe project I’d committed to the year before.

 

It’s now been nearly ten months since Tartuffe ended, and after much experimentation and farting about, I hit upon a possible answer to the question of “why would an actor commit to more than one show?”. The answer I hit upon was: an actor won’t.

 

Okay, but why would I? I would because I’ve come a long way since that night at the party, and I no longer think of myself as an actor: I think of myself as a Theatre Maker, as utterly pretentious as that sounds. What it means is that I want to be involved in the whole process of making new Theatre. I’ve known for years now that I want to do more than just interpret a playwright’s words in the way that a director wants me to: I have ideas that are too big to fit only into that niche. Which means I’ve been doing writing and directing. But what I’ve yearned for, and what Sam Rosenthal’s stolen dream has turned into is that I want to work with a group of people who want the same thing. Maybe they will want it in a more limited way than I do, I don’t know, but I want to find out.

 

The reason I’ve always loved Theatre so much is that I love collaborating with other people, and now that I’ve realized that the way I want to do that is much less conservative and more hippy-dippy than I had initially thought (owing more to the 1970s collective Theatre movement than to the rep companies of mid-20th century England), I think I may have found a way, if I’m really lucky and things go my way, to fulfil that dream I swiped from Sam.

 

1 No link there, by the way; he doesn’t come up on Google, and on Google images, searching [“Walter Young” toronto actor] brings up unrelated photos including Pennywise the Clown and Hitler.