I have been working as musical director for TIP Youth for their 2016 – 2017 season. Tonight we had the final performance of My Son Pinocchio Jr. and tomorrow we will have two performances of Fame Jr. It’s been hard work, but I really enjoyed working with the talented cast and crew. I will miss them.. . .
I’ve a busy few months coming up. I’ve agreed to be assistant director for TIP’s May production of The Diary of Anne Frank. This is my first time as an assistant director and I’m enjoying the challenge. It is a heartbreaking play, but a story that is worth telling and feels horribly relevant at the minute.. . .
I’ve been trying to find a musical that I would like to direct. This is much harder than I expected. First I have to rule out all the musicals I’d actually like to sing, as I wouldn’t get to do that if I was directing. This isn’t that many musicals as I’m well aware that I can’t sing male roles or female roles that I’m too old for. People have suggested that I sing male roles but there are strict rules when you get the rights to the show and you can’t just decide to change the gender of a character. I was thrilled to read recently that Stephen Sondheim had agreed to change the gender of the lead character in Company.
Then there are all the musicals I can’t get the rights to do – anything really that’s currently on Broadway or the West End. Then you have to rule out the musicals that are currently playing in Tokyo, as I won’t get the rights to those – ruling out things like West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Rent, and Kinky Boots. And any musical that’s being done by a amateur group or smaller theatre in Japan as there are rules as to often a musical can be played in one region.
Then there all the musicals that are male dominant, as I’m not convinced I would find the cast. It seems that more women are auditioning for the roles in amateur theatre here. I also like female voices, so don’t know if I really want to put on a show like “Newsies” which has something like 24 male roles and only 2 female ones.
Then there is the problem with cast size. I really liked musicals like “Once” – not that the rights are available yet – but if the cast is too small it’s difficult to sell tickets. I really do hope I find inspiration soon.
I am planning on being involved in a production of “Songs for a New World” this year. But I still need to find a theatre and dates before I try to acquire the rights. It’s not easy to book a theatre in Tokyo, as many of them need booked more than a year in advance, but I’m hopeful that one of the smaller ones will be free in June.. . .
Yesterday, I attended a workshop taught by Keng-Sam Chane Chick Té. We worked on creating scenes, with a musician, that were entirely physical, using no speech. I found this quite difficult but I did enjoy how it helped to create connections between the players. It requires a lot of concentration on the other players if you need to work out what sort of scene you are creating together if you can’t talk about it. The incidental music that the pianist played also helped us find the emotional context of the scenes. It was quite different than the other musical improv that I have done, as I was not creating music. Some of it did end up like dance, and at one point I managed to bruise myself by colliding with another player I was performing with.
I started attended improv classes in the hope that it would improve my acting. Now I’m starting to attend them as I’m enjoying improv as an art form.. . .
Since it’s the start of another year I decided to update my “101 things in 1001 days” list. I have reduced the number of travel related goals, as I don’t enjoy travelling as much as I used to. I have removed everything to do with programming languages and tech conferences. I will admit that it feels strange not to be planning to attend YAPC, but I want to attend different things in 2017.
I’ve added lots of new goals involving music and theatre, and kept all my writing, reading, and organisation goals. At some point I really will tidy up all the cupboards in the apartment.
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I went to the the theatre three times when I was in London. The first play I saw was Much Ado About Nothing, put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at Haymarket Theatre. It was a beautiful version of the play directed by Christopher Luscombe, with a wonderful score composed by Nigel Hess. I wasn’t expecting the singing and dancing but it really added to the play and the feeling of joy at the end.
I saw The Bodyguard, with Beverly Knight in the lead role. It was a completely unsubtle spectacle with a minimal plot held together by as many Whitney Houston songs as they could fit in. I did enjoy it, but it’s not something I could watch twice. I loved the lighting. A large part of the show was set in Rachel Maron’s house, and they managed to make it look as if the rooms of the house were being flooded by natural light from large windows.
The final play I saw was The Dresser. The revolving set was stunning. I was so jealous of their ability to create an intimate back stage setting that could turn to become the stage to perform their play within a play. I was conflicted about the acting. Both Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith were excellent but I didn’t feel any emotional connection to the characters. It was a much funnier version of the play, than the one I had been involved with last year, but I felt that the constant use of humour detracted from the emotional content. It was strangely intense watching a play that I knew so well, but I did enjoy it.. . .
I decided to start my 2017 with a 5 day intensive training course. I had seen a couple of improvised musicals created on stage in Tokyo by Tokyo Comedy Store, and I was curious about the skills needed to do this. When I saw that Showstoppers, who are an award winning improv group, were teaching these skills in London I was really keen to go and try it.
This was a step-up in complexity compared to the improv classes I normally attend. We did create the plot, characters, dialogues, and scenes in the moment, but we also added song and dance. This course also involved long-form improv, which was new for me, as I have been learning short-form improv.
The goal of the course was to learn how to create a 30 minute musical on stage in front of an audience. Learning how to create improvised songs with choreography involved lots of listening to the pianist and your fellow players. When it works it looks like magic, when it doesn’t it can be very clumsy and awkward. But by the end of the week we had gotten very good at listening to each other and also at being clear in what we planned to do next.
The highlights of the week were creating lovely duets, creating my first improvised solo song, and getting to play Alice in Wonderland in a 30 minute musical.. . .
I forget that there are people who don’t enjoy reading books. I was given a book recommendation at a course with the comment, “If you only manage to read one book this year, make sure it is this one.” I read 132 books last year. It wasn’t as many as I had hoped to read, so I will try to be more disciplined this year. 30 of those were non-fiction, showing my clear preference for fiction. I’m hoping this year to increase the amount of non-fiction I read, helped by the large stack of non-fiction books I was bought for Christmas.
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I love traditional Christmas food. Tomorrow I’m going to roast a turkey, even though they are expensive and hard to find in Japan. Tonight I had mince pies and custard. I had to re-order our Christmas pudding from London as I couldn’t help but eat the one I had in the cupboard, which I ordered too far in advance. Thankfully the replacement has arrived in time for Christmas Day. I would make my own but the fruit is so expensive that it’s much cheaper to import a pudding than to attempt to make one.
I’m going to miss eating roasted parsnip but I did manage to find fresh brussel sprouts. We aren’t going to have ham, as it’s expensive and I’m not that keen on it. I also didn’t manage to find cranberries, so no cranberry sauce.
Japanese Christmas food is a little strange. There is a tradition of eating roast chicken from KFC, and we did do that one night this week. Our local supermarket is selling whole chickens, both fresh and roasted. I had never seen a whole roasted chicken in that shop before. They were rather small as Marty was able to eat a whole one himself for dinner, but it was really nice.
Christmas cakes aren’t fruit cakes, they are white sponges with strawberries and this year I saw quite a few chocolate versions. The little one I bought was lovely.
Merry Christmas!. . .
Yesterday afternoon we hired a car and went to one of the outlet malls outside Tokyo. We really liked the Mitsui Outlet Park, but were more excited by the drive. To get there we drove through the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line. It is a 15 kilometer long bridge-tunnel across Tokyo Bay that connects Kawasaki to Kisarazu. 9.6 km are under the bay, making it the fourth longest underwater tunnel in the world.
It is not cheap to use. As we used it on the weekend we were charged 800 円 (5.43 GBP) each way. During the week that would be closer to 3,000 円 (20 GBP) each way. We found it fascinating, and the part that is a bridge is beautiful as you just don’t expect to come out of tunnel on to a bridge that is out in the sea.. . .