Archive for the 'Life' Category

Year End

Sunday, December 27th, 2020

If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” Seamus Heaney

This has been quite a year. I miss many things. Amidst the sadness and frustration I had some achievements and learnt to appreciate some things I had taken for granted.

I have picked up my studies again and have started teaching online. I resisted this for months as Zoom is not the best format to teach singing. It means changing the exercises and front loading the work. It does seem to be working, though I will go back to in person teaching as soon as that is safe.

I had a number of firsts, my first radio play, first non-singing narration work, and my first time composing for a story book. I have been learning how to edit video and sound files, as so much of what I create is now online.

And whilst most of my theatre work was cancelled I got to finish the year singing traditional carols as part of Say Nothing’s production One Silent Night.

Still At Home

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

Although there is talk of vaccines and hope that things will be better next year, the show I was due to direct for a performance next spring has been cancelled. It was a difficult decision to make, but there were too many risks in trying to rehearse with a large cast through the winter. I spend most of my time inside and have been working on audio projects and teaching that can be carried out remotely.

Last month I recorded a Shakespeare monologue from my tiny garden, as part of Tokyo International Player’s Shakespeare at Home series.  

Autumn Colours

Friday, November 20th, 2020

Autumn has come to Tokyo. I have mostly been inside, so haven’t got to see the changing leaves, though I am aware that peak viewing season has arrived as such things are important in Japan.

The rise of coronavirus cases is constantly on the news. Things in Japan move slowly and the press are failing at coming up with innovative ways to describe inaction. We are on the highest level of alert, but no one seems quite sure what that means. There are no new restrictions and the government programs to “go eat” and “go travel” are still in place. And when government officials say “I feel a very strong sense of crisis” it gets confusing as to why this doesn’t also come with some sort of action.

But large buildings and bridges are being lit up red at night to remind us that we should be vigilant. Let’s hope that the government comes up with something more useful than a light show.

Getting to Rehearsal

Friday, October 9th, 2020

I was back in rehearsal this week for the first time since the end of March. There was thought put into how to make sure that the rehearsal was safe, so I was prepared for that, but I had forgotten how uncomfortable it is on the trains. I live too far from the rehearsal venue to walk and I planned to miss rush hour, but in Tokyo trains can get incredibly full at any time of the day. Everyone in the carriage was wearing a mask, and only two people were speaking. The windows were open but it still felt incredibly uncomfortable having so many people so close to me. Guidelines here still suggest two metres between people but it’s often impossible to do that on the trains, I was lucky if I had two inches space around me.

For my second rehearsal I found a different route, one that involved a lot more walking. It took longer to get to the venue but I felt more comfortable and less stressful. There must have been some issue on the train as an announcement was made in Japanese and English asking people to please remember to wear masks and to refrain from speaking. Japanese trains are always quieter than European ones, but now now they are eerie. No one speaks and it seems that no one interacts or smiles. Masks hide so many facial expressions.

We have so many masks. I am always wearing one if I leave the house and it seems that I have spare masks in every bag. There are masks at the front door, to put on if a parcel arrives. Then we get to do the dance of opening the door and waiting for the person who knocked it to move back by two meters while I pick up the parcel. Today I had to sign a piece of paper on delivery. This has been scrapped by most companies and I could see that the delivery person was embarrassed as he expected me to use his pen. (Since I am foreign he is not expecting me to use my own name stamp, though I do have one in the hall.)

Being heard, while wearing a mask, is difficult. And my understanding of Japanese declines when the sound isn’t as clear and I can’t see mouth shapes. Singing with a mask on means that my voice is a little raw today, mostly because I am over singing as I can’t tell if the person I’m singing to at the other end of a room can hear me. These things are not ideal, but if this is what we need to do so that we can continue performing, then we will do it.

Long Summer

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020

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

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

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.

Rainy Season

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

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

May Days

Monday, June 1st, 2020

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.

On Hold

Monday, March 30th, 2020

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.

Moderate Changes

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

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.