Long Summer

Life continues to limp on in Tokyo. The extreme heat and humidity is causing death and putting an extra strain on the health system, already burdened by the increase in cases of Covid-19. This is the longest period of time I have spent in Japan and it does not look as if I will be going anywhere this year. At the minute we are not even meant to leave the city. Every day we hear that people should remain on heightened alert, as the situation in Tokyo is still extremely severe. But like everywhere we are becoming fatigued and we may need more than a polite request to stay home.

I have finished teaching summer workshops for TIP Youth. I still find remote teaching difficult as there are always technology issues to deal with. Some of these are caused by the students switching off their cameras or logging out, which is not something they would get away with so easily in an actual classroom. Trying to find ways to deal with how differently people interact via Zoom is tiring. As we continue to do this we will find it easier but at the minute it is still frustrating and draining. That being said the workshops were still fun and I am glad that we went ahead with them.

The show I was meant to be directing for a November performance has been cancelled. Aside from the risks of rehearsing and having people attend there is the issue of making a socially distanced show commercially viable. The theatre we were planning on using is suggesting that we sell 35 seats per performance in a space that was meant to hold around 100! How can anyone pay for a show with such a reduction on the number of tickets?

Renting theatre space in Tokyo is very expensive and many spaces need booked more than a year in advance. Cancelling shows is also problematic because of the lost deposits or even having to pay the full price for the space depending on the contract. One of the groups I work with has already cancelled their February 2021 show as they couldn’t risk waiting as the cancellation fees keep increasing as time passes.

I realise that I don’t sound overly cheerful, but the current situation is difficult.

. . .

Screaming Inside Your Heart

The new normal is not something I’m enjoying. We did manage to go away for a week when the restrictions on domestic travel were lifted. It was lovely to spend a week in the mountains though mask wearing, having our temperature checked frequently in the hotel, and the hotel being almost empty was strange.

I have mostly been at home, and losing track of time as each day seems the same. I will be teaching “Acting Through Song” at the weekend, and have been preparing materials. Teaching music online takes more time and more prep as I need recordings of everything to send as students can’t sing along while I play.

Last week I virtually attended the Broadway Teachers Workshop, which I really enjoyed. It made me miss my theatre work. I am not feeling confident that I will get to direct again this year. There has been a cluster connected to a performance in a theatre, that we have used in the past. It’s been on the news for a couple of days and making it less likely that any small production will have an audience in the near future.

Today I braved rush hour trains to do my first narration job that didn’t involve singing. I was nervous as it is surprisingly difficult to read at a measured pace for over an hour. And then there is my Belfast accent that needed to be soften and eradicated in places. But I did it, and the covid-19 era is causing me, like so many others, to make changes to their work.

And just like that I sum up nearly a month in a couple of paragraphs.

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July 15th, 2020
. . .

Rainy Season

It’s miserable outside. I like the cooler air, but the grey skies and endless rain are not my favourite thing. Like many people I have been spending my days inside and now every excursion outside seems more difficult than it used to be.

Things are far from normal in Japan, even though the state of emergency has been lifted. We are allowed to travel between prefectures again, which I am hoping to do soon. But we still need to be careful about crowded spaces and being in close contact with other people. Last week I went to a recording studio for work, and I’ll be doing the same this weekend. I am happy to have more work but I hate that it means that I can’t see my friends. Going into the studio means that I meet up with strangers. I don’t know what their health is like or where they have been, so I feel that I have to self-isolate between these jobs.

I still don’t know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the year. My studies are on-hold and while I do have plans to direct and go back in to rehearsal in September the final decision has not yet been made as to whether that show will be postponed until next year. I need to put together proposals for summer work but the constant changing of plans has left me lacking in motivation. I have signed up for a couple of online conferences, so hopefully those will inspire me. For now, I’ll just listen to the rain.

Japanese Hydrangea – flower of the rainy season

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June 22nd, 2020
. . .

May Days

May was a difficult month. Many of the things I had planned to be doing were cancelled or postponed. And some things ended up taking up far more time and effort that they should have because they had to be moved online.

Since the production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella I was directing was postponed until next year we got permission to make an at-home style video of a few of the songs. I am aware that the internet is now full of these tiled videos of singers performing at home, but they are very time consuming to make. They also involve video editing skills that I had to learn, but in the end I was happy with what we were able to do. (The video will only be up for a couple of months, and then our license will expire.)

I work with a youth theatre and we had our final classes online for the season at the weekend. We were not able to put on a live performance, but we did try an online one. I wrote a little about my experiences doing that, but I can’t wait until we can make theatre in person again.

Not everything about the lock-down is negative. I have been watching the recordings made at the Spheres of Singing conference that has been taking place virtually. They made asynchronous tickets available allowing me to watch these recordings without having to time shift to UK time. They are available for a limited amount of time, but I set the time aside to watch them and so far I’m enjoying the conference.

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June 1st, 2020
. . .

Relaxing Restrictions

The state of emergency is being lifted for many parts of Japan. It will remain in place here in Tokyo, but it’s due to be lifted at the end of the month. I’m still not sure how I feel about how we are dealing with the coronavirus in Japan. We are testing at a much lower rate than many countries but the number of people dying is also much lower. Currently that number is 713. And that’s in total since the middle of January, not a daily rate which is what it sounds like when I am talking to my overseas family who are in places where hundreds of people are still dying each day.

Here the lockdown has been much softer than many places. The main focus has been on tracking down clusters – giving us the phrase cluster busters. And to avoid the “Three Cs”.

Explanation of the Three Cs

We have also been given guidelines on how to properly wash our hands, coughing manners, and how to wear masks correctly. Cloth masks are being sent out to every household. We have received our two masks, but not everyone I know has gotten these yet.

Government Guidance to Prevent Infectious Disease Spread

I do not like wearing masks. At the minute it’s 82F (28C) outside and I find it harder to breath with a mask on. The Japanese government is already sending out warnings about what it means to do things in hot weather wearing a mask. But when I look at how awful the situation is in other big cities, like New York, I’m going to put up with wearing a mask as it does seem to be helping to prevent the spread of the disease in Tokyo.

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May 15th, 2020
. . .

On Hold

The situation in Tokyo is strange. There is still no official lock down, but the governor of Tokyo is suggesting that we don’t go out to bars or nightclubs for another week or so. We were also asked to stay indoors this weekend, but with no legal force behind it many people still had to go out to work or they decided that their thing was essential.

The show I was directing, that was due to take place in May, has been postponed. It was getting much too difficult to hold rehearsals and there was no way to get the cast of 34 together in one room. Nearly every project I am involved with has been put on hold. It’s an odd feeling, but one that people all across the world are feeling.

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March 30th, 2020
. . .

Moderate Changes

Just over a month ago I wrote about the small changes that were being made to life in Tokyo. Today things are much more uncertain. The schools are closed, museums and theme parks are closed, many more people are working from home, and there are shortages on papers products and hand sanitizers.

I have had to suspend my studies as I have no students to teach in March. The Youth Theatre program I work for has cancelled classes, and I keep having to reschedule rehearsals. I am working on a show that has a cast of 35 people, but we can no longer have that number of people in our rehearsal space, and some of the bigger spaces are run by the local government and have been closing. My freelance work is greatly reduced and I only have one day of recording work this month.

We can still buy most things at the local supermarket, but there has been no toilet paper, tissues, masks, or hand sanitizer for quite a while now. There are also changes in how things are displayed. We used to have a bakery section where the bread rolls were displayed in a basket, and the cabinets were full of fresh pastries. Now every individual pastry is in a plastic bag.

I have been doing my best to avoid traveling on busy trains, but sometimes I still need to do this. I have been hearing that there are fewer people on the trains, but given how full Japanese trains get it’s not possible to stay a metre away from other people. And if I walk to places I still end up walking through crowds, and some evenings these are crowds of thousands of people as I need to walk through areas like Shinjuku.

The building I live in has closed most of its communal areas, and the gym is closed. There are signs in the lift showing good coughing etiquette and how to properly wear a mask. There is an alcohol spray at the doors and signs about keeping your hands clean

COVID-19 does not appear to be spreading as fast in Japan as it has in South Korea, but then the two countries have very different testing criteria. By the 10th March Japan had only carried out 9,600 tests, compared to South Korea which had carried out nearly 200,000 tests. (I tried to link to the Japanese website that listed the figures, but they have been overwriting the page with new reports, and the new charts no longer show number of tests, just the number of positive results.) The government tell us everything is improving and that the Olympics will go ahead, but the cases of COVID-19 still increase and I’m starting to see articles about hospitals being under pressure and not easily able to deal with the outbreak. We are expecting to hear more from the government on the 19th March, and it will be interesting to see if the current restrictions are lifted or if we start to fall in line with the rest of the world.

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March 17th, 2020
. . .

Small Changes

I have been asked if coronavirus is having an impact on life in Tokyo.

Some things have changed for tourists, such as enhanced quarantine procedures at airports and ports. Japan is no longer allowing foreign nationals who live in Hubei province or have have visited the province recently to enter the country. As of this morning there are 61 confirmed cases of the virus on a cruise ship that is in quarantine in Yokohama.

There is no doubt that coronavirus is a topic of conversation and mentioned in every news broadcast. It’s become difficult to buy masks or any sort of hand sanitizer as people have been panic buying. On Sunday we tried to buy an alcohol sanitizer for rehearsal, but gave up after trying multiple drugstores. As masks have become scarcer it is noticeable that fewer people are wearing them when walking around outside, but that nearly everyone of the train is wearing them. I assume that, like me, people are keeping them to wear when they are in places that are overcrowded. I am aware that wearing masks can’t stop the spread of a virus, but it does offer some protection and in a city like Tokyo people expect you to wear them in overcrowded places.

My hands are becoming dry as I have been washing them more often, as now I make sure to wash them every time I change location. I always washed them when coming home, but now I do this when I arrive at any venue.

I have started to buy more food. It’s normal for me to go to the grocery store every day, but recently I started to stock up on rice, pasta, and canned foods. I’m not buying loads of food, but I realised that I usually keep very little extra food in the house, because going out and buying what I need is really convenient. Now I’m starting to think about what I would do if the government introduced social distancing measures in the city.

At the minute I would not describe us as being overly concerned about an epidemic, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the virus is spreading through Asia and that we live in a city where we can come in to contact with thousands of people in a day. I live within 15 minutes of the busiest train station in the world, which is used by around 3.5 million people a day. For now we will continue to pay attention to the situation.

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February 7th, 2020
. . .

Year’s End

The years do seem to move faster, now that I’m older, and I am still coming to terms with the fact that it’s nearly Christmas. 2019 has been a very full year.

I started the year visiting family in Northern Ireland. I made it back a few times this year, and it’s always an adventure catching up with friends and family. This year I also managed to go on two holidays, one with a friend and one with M. I absolutely loved Canada. It was so beautiful.

Athabasca Glacier

I’m finally at the stage where I tell new people I meet that I work in theatre. This year I performed and was part of the production team of a professional show, I taught youth theatre, and I directed community theatre. I spend most of my weekends and evenings working on some sort of theatre production. I’ve also been in enough recording studios that I can say that I sing professionally.

Cast & Crew of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I continue to study and I hopefully by next summer I will have finished my vocal qualification. The oddest thing I learnt to do this year was rock scream. This is not something I plan to do a lot, but it was interesting to find out how this can be done without destroying my voice.

2020 is looking like it will be a busy year, but I’m hopeful that it will be a good one.

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December 22nd, 2019
. . .

End of Year Work

The year will end soon and it seems that this causes companies in Japan to go mad and to try to get as much work finished as possible before New Year. So suddenly I find myself recording more songs in a week than I recorded in the last few months. Being asked to record musical theatre songs makes sense, but I never expected to be singing backing vocals for a karaoke track of Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke”.

I’m also busy casting Cinderella for Tokyo International Players. The first rehearsal is this Saturday, so that part of the work is nearly completed. It’s going to be an exciting show. I’ll be blogging about it on my other website.

I have 10,000 words to write for my current module, but I’m struggling with getting started. I much prefer doing the research and the practical work, to the writing it all up part. But I will start soon. I’m looking forward to April, when this course will be completed.

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December 12th, 2019
. . .