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.. . .
My last month was dominated by theatre. I spent a week in November helping out with Tokyo Theater for Children‘s production of The Stinky Cheese Man. It was a very funny show, which made it difficult to keep quiet backstage. But I mostly managed to do that.
I spent time learning and teaching the vocal score of “My Son Pinocchio Junior” and “Fame Junior”. I was surprised by the beauty and complexity of some of the songs in “Pinocchio”. It will be a challenge to teach, but so far I’m really enjoying working with the children. Both shows will take place in April next year.
At the start of December I performed at Body N Voice’s annual musical showcase. I had mixed feelings about the music, but it seemed to go all right on the night. I’m hoping that next year we can tackle a full musical, but I’m going to wait until the New Year to start working out just how much it will cost to produce that.
I’m still attending improv workshops and have been to 7 of those since I last blogged. One of them was 6 hours longs, which was incredibly difficult. Not sure if I am improving, but I am starting to understand the underlying principles.
I have no physical theatre training, so I agreed to attend a couple of corporeal mime classes. It is difficult. I have no formal dance training and my body does not want to get itself into some of the required positions, but I will continue to attend in the New Year.. . .
I’ve been trying to rehearse today, but I’m struggling with the lyrics of the song. Today does not feel like the day to sing songs about the American Revolution.
One more star, one more stripe
Til this bloodshed’s finally through
One more star, one more stripe
Til they come back home to you
One more star, one more stripe
When there’s nothing you can do
If they take all the things
That define what you were, and are,
One more star
— “The Flagmaker, 1775”, Jason Robert Brown. . .
Working for a volunteer organisation is exhilarating and a privilege. Working with volunteers is amazing. You get to work with talented, passionate people, who have the creativity to change the world in ways that you never imagined were possible.
Working for a volunteer organisation is tiring and debilitating. Working with volunteers is difficult. You get to work with talented, passionate people, who will fight vehemently for the things that they believe in, not matter what you think of their beliefs.
In order to run a volunteer organisation you need to have the ability to motivate people. To have the ability to praise, to treat people with respect, and to help people achieve their goals in the community. To do that I need to have passion, positivity, and humour. It’s not possible to feel those things all the time, but I need to feel them more often than I feel drained, negative, and suffering from a distinct lack of humour.
I had noticed that I was starting to feel more negative than positive and I do not want that for the community, or for myself. Making the decision to leave TPF was painful, but I believe it was the right thing to do. Working with the Perl community has been an important part of my life. I am, and will always be, grateful for the opportunities I was given. I am in awe of the people I worked with and I look forward to seeing what they will create in the future.. . .
We didn’t bother dressing up for Hallowe’en this year, but we did put a lot of effort into our costumes for the Danny Elfman concert we went to last weekend. I wasn’t sure what characters we should choose, but in the end I settled on “Beetlejuice” as Marty looks more like Beetlejuice than he looks like any of the characters that Jonny Depp has played. I was able to buy a costume for Marty, but I made my own. I ended up feeling like I was drowning in tulle. The 20 metres I bought isn’t really enough for anything other than a fake wedding dress, but it took over my apartment.
The concert was wonderful with music from many Tim Burton movies including “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “The Corpse Bride”. I love the music from “Edward Scissorhands” and it was great to hear it performed live by a choir and orchestra. Sandy Cameron, the violin soloist, was amazing. I didn’t know that Danny Elfman sang and was very impressed with him singing the role of “Jack Skeleton”. I also liked the multi-media presentation that was shown along with the music with many beautiful concept drawings of the various characters. It was a great night out.
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So much work goes into putting on any production. I was only involved in Macbeth for the past few weeks and it took over my life. For the production team who have been involved since the inception of this project I imagine it’s taken up a huge part of this year.
The show was visually beautiful with a stark, clean aesthetic. I worked with a team of sewers, lead by costume designer Sara Ben-Abdallah, and made some of the garments she created.
Fight scene between Macduff and Macbeth – image by John Matthews
The pleats, that I spent quite a bit of time stressing over, looked great in the final pieces.. . .