This past Friday and Saturday was chock full of Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen activities, first going to the Shinkawa Contact Center with Tarō for a lecture on Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen and then rehearsal for myself and the group the following day.
I met Tarō at 8:30am for a trip to Ube on Friday the 19th, where he was scheduled to give a talk on Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen at a community center called the Ube Shinkawa Contact center. Tarō told me that none of the people had ever seen Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen before, not even the coordinator of the event. However, he met the coordinator at an unrelated gathering in Yamaguchi and she subsequently scheduled him to come and talk to at the community center.
The event had about 30 people in attendance and they were all senior citizens. There was a sign up sheet at the front of the room which made me think this was some kind of rotary club event in which they pay attention to who attends for some reason or another. At 10am the talk started, and Tarō stuck primarily to the story of Sagi kyōgen, rather than the more general conversation about kyōgen he sometimes does, making me think that this group was familiar with kyōgen as an art form.
After the history lesson, Tarō brought out costumes and props he had brought along and demonstrated some of the performance techniques of Sagi kyōgen, comparing what he did to noh for reference. He focused primarily on Kaki Yamabushi, since this play is an easy one to point out Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen’s unique qualities.
He also pointed out that, within the performance style of Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen, the differences between vocal techniques when playing a master, a daimyo, and a yamabushi. He demonstrated how a yamabushi have a voice similar to noh and need to chant. A daimyo’s voice sounds a lot like when a character is speaking dialogue in a noh and a master is the closest to speaking in a “regular” tone of voice.
The only question he received from the audience was about the costumes, which was in regards to how old they were- they’re basically new. However, in looking at the costumes Tarō brought I realized just how much they reflect Yamaguchi. In particular, one of the Tarō kaja kataginu (shoulder pads) has the design of a firefly on the back. Yamaguchi is renown for its fireflies (there’s actually a firefly festival coming up that unfortunately I am going to miss because I will be at a workshop in the US) and this the reason for the pattern. I am interested to learn more about these costumes, regardless of their age, and how they reflect Yamaguchi.
On the ride home, Tarō talked about how he hoped in doing this talk, the group might be able to perform in the future in Ube. It’s all about the hustle and, as I have said, Tarō is kind of a one man army in doing this. Every event is a potential audience for future events.
The outing ended with a trip to the Tsuchimura’s restaurant, Kurumi. Since Fumiaki had told me during my visit to his home that the Tsuchimura’s ramen is particularly good, I ordered that and was not disappointed. I am no connoisseur of ramen, though.
The following day, at 5pm, I headed over the the Denshō center to do my new weekly kyōgen classroom rehearsal. This time, along with the 4 others (though the college student was absent), the middle school student who practices now with the group also attended. I assume this is so she can have more practice and so the group can even out at 6 people (so we all can work in pairs on the two-person play, Shibiri).
Tarō was absent due to a work (day job) conflict, so rehearsal started with Fumiaki talking about kyōgen during the pre-war era and how it separated from noh. I think this is a really an interesting topic. As I understand it, in the post-war period kyōgen gained a life outside it’s partner noh, and started performing on its own. However, Sagi kyōgen, unlike the other schools, had to be on it’s own in the Meiji period when it stopped performing professionally. Moreover, there is a recorded lack of activity in kyōgen by both the Izumi and Ōkura schools from the Taishō period (1912-1926) until just before the war in the Shōwa era (1926-1989). Does this mean that Sagi kyōgen actually was more active than its pro counterparts because of its amateur status? Or is the history on what the kyōgen actors during this time were doing, as kyōgen actors, insufficiently recorded? Either way, I think it is an worthwhile avenue of inquiry.
I think this is interesting, also, because it is a period in which pro-kyōgen’s revival had to have some kind of community support to make it happen. The books I have read attribute its revival to contributors within the families, but, come on, there has to be some sort of desire within the community to make it happen. I guess what I am wondering is: Are the grass-roots activities that Tarō engages in on a daily basis similar to the process by which pro-kyōgen was revived?
Anyways, after the talk, we continued working the first 1/2 of Shibiri. I worked with the middle school girl, who also filled in for the absent college student in another pairing. Afterwards we were given a script, which was photocopied from the playbook the main group uses. I wonder if the participants can read the old Japanese? Now it’s time for me to do some memorizing. However, because I don’t know what part I am going to play, I have to memorize the whole thing!
The main rehearsal was short, as many actors were absent. I learned that another family is present in the preservation society, as two of the actors are brothers. I didn’t know this until today because the other brother only recently began attending rehearsal.
The group worked on Miyagino and I was pleased to see Shinbo was getting the hang of playing her role with less commentary from Fumiaki. The man playing the daimyo, Moriwaki, was really hamming it up by kyōgen standards, but Fumiaki seemed to approve of it. I wouldn’t say Moriwaki is not following the vocal patterns that make Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen unique, he is just adding more feeling into his playing than others might. Since Fumiaki has given the note to not be so “over-the-top” before, I wonder if this lack of notes today simply means Fumiaki is choosing to lose this particular battle- or is it that the note was given before because Fumiaki thought this would help the actor better grasp the necessary vocal patterns, which since the actor has now found it in his own way, makes the “over-the-top note” unnecessary? It would be interesting if it were the latter, but I suspect it might be the former.
After the rehearsal of Miyagino Professor Inada and Fumiaki got in a bit of a debate about where the kazura-oke should be placed on the stage when the daimyo sits on it. Inada’s argument was that it was too far down-stage, which made the final grabbing of the daimyo by the teahouse owner impossible because the two actors were shimmying around the bucket. Fumiaki seemed to agree and this did have an effect on how the blocking was ultimately re-arranged (or corrected).
Finally the group did Honekawa, since Jirō came. Since one brother was absent, the other brother filled in and there was a complete cast. Though they are still practicing via table read.