Week 2 Toga 2015

Sep 09, 2015

Toga 2015 #2

This is by now out of date, but I thought I’d just post it for those interested.  It doesn’t accomplish what I’d hoped, and doesn’t  have a central idea, but maybe works as a kind of reflection from the heat of the moment.  I’ll try to write something as the festival finishes and the master class continues ….

I’ve received notes from many to write again since my last post. My partner Marianne says whatever the experience that may not be for public consumption, at least I can give a sense of the day to day, what to expect of training, how it works, the terrain, anything to help those who might be considering making the journey themselves.  She’s right of course. And I can say that the experience of a person who comes for the brief training program is very different from the experience of the company in rehearsals and performance.  But I am trying. 

There are bugs here the size of your open hand – some terrifying 8 legged ones, and then the breathtakingly beautiful ones such as the lunar moths that often accompany the actors on the outdoor stage. It’s a beautiful show.  This year there are lots of snakes for some reason.  There is the bigger brown one which we are told is harmless, and then the little electric green ones that, if they bite you, maybe you should hurry to the office and tell someone. Think The Little Prince. I’ve twisted my neck and turned my ankle more than once already surprised by them and jumping like a startled cat (you’ve seen that video on youtube). There is something in the trees just outside my window that shrieks like a peacock being eaten, and something else that sounds like a human sized bullfrog that has a persistent grunting song that is not unmelodious, but not calming either.  I’ve seen many rodent like things in the beam of my flashlight at night that look like a rabbit only with smaller ears and long tail.  I know you are thinking, That’s a rat you idiot! But honestly they call it a kind of rabbit …. And the list goes on. We coexist in this isolated mountain habitat – a floating island of misfits, flora, fauna, and humans. Really it seems like this sometimes.  There is nothing here that is not extreme — neither the work, nor the schedule, the flora nor the fauna, the brutal pace nor the size of the laughter that can spring out suddenly. 

I know everyone thinks, Oh you must be so happy eating sushi and sashimi every meal ….  No.  We’ve had sashimi 2 or 3 times now at very special occasions, and certainly no sushi, but for the most part it is lots of salad greens, pickles, “strange mountain vegetables” as they like to put it, lots of pumpkin and squash which is famous here, curry is popular, deep fried pork or potato pancakes, and rice.  Tubers, shoots, roots and leaves. After downing a piled plate last night before the movie that I’ll tell you about, Ellen said to me, “I have no idea what I just ate.” And I reminded her that she ate it without a moment’s hesitation or even notice.  Sometimes you don’t know you’re hungry until the chopsticks are in your mouth.

The sky just brightened and the rain puddles are reflecting the clouds.  This is the first I’ve seen this in many many days. It’s been as rainy as I can ever remember it – virtually every day in the last month.  What is true is that the season has changed.  The light is different; the nights are cool; the wind patterns have shifted; and the rice stalks are beginning to tip their tassels. The fields will turn a gentle golden brown in a couple of days. I’ve seen glimpses of computer screens in the Volcano where we eat and sit for wifi that clearly glow with the pages of Amazon showing various sweat and rain gear — definite sign that it isn’t summer any more.

We’re through the second week of the festival and after a bit of a break yesterday, slowly beginning to reaccelerate toward weekend #3. It’s a bit like race cars slowing into the curve and accelerating out of it. As much needed as an overdue day off is, it can also be nerve wracking. The body needs it, but doesn’t want to get seduced and let go too much, knowing what is just around the corner – or not knowing as the case may be.  One needs to stay in form. So while the body releases a little, the mind keeps going, vigilant, awake, nervous.

It was a wild, gnarly, and exhilarating weekend. Some friends came from the US, namely David Eppel and Carol Ockman from Williams College, our own Wendell Beavers who is still here for another week, and though I cannot call her “friend” now it feels like it a little, Julie Taymor.  So there were several special receptions and after parties – lots of chestnut rice (love it), filleted whole iwana (the local trout – yum), cheese (craving it!), and plenty of fruit (body says thank you). Ms. Taymor as a special guest was invited to the tradition of breaking open the keg of sake with a large wooden mallet on stage after the performance of Hatekon – Greetings from the Edges of the World. That’s good local sake but really dangerous. Yes, I dipped in a little.

Last night Mr. Suzuki had us all – this acting company of about 40 people, Lithuanian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American, German – watch a movie in the studio.  This is the circular building in which I’ve seen many productions and even ran lights with Leon for our own GOING GOING GONE.  Now it is a screening center furnished with a collection of exotic chairs from around the world (reminds one a little of Robert Wilson).  It is clean and spare and bright. To one side of the open space is the archive and final office of Ikuko Saito, his right hand and general secretary of the company for so many years who passed on in 2012  – a blow to all of us but especially to Mr. Suzuki.  On the other side is the room that now houses her remains.  It is an elegant resting place with pictures of her with Bob Wilson, Heiner Muller, Yuri Lyubimov, and so many others.  There is a shrine of food and flowers and vases. Inside the casket is a beautiful ceramic pot that he opened for me and Ellen containing Ms. Saito’s ashes and bones ….  One of those moments you never imagine coming, and then it does, and the heart swells, and the years coming rushing back in, and the overwhelming sense of gratitude and hope, and the very real presence of Time quickly and suddenly passing. And quiet. In a moment such as that one realizes Time doesn’t even really pass.  There is this and then there is that. Nothing passed, yet everything is different.  Thank you for your care and attention Saito – san. One of the special people who came this weekend is our own Akiko Aizawa. She was a member of this company and hasn’t been back in 22 years.  She summoned the courage and saw the entire weekend of shows. I don’t forget that she has a hand in the making of some of them. She moved about with her hat pulled down over her eyes and not making any scene nor waves.  Gracious as always, subtle, and supportive. It is not easy for a former member to come back. It is not acknowledged except in whispers among the SCOT company to me and to Ellen: “Aizawa is come?!”, “Ai-chan is here?!”, “How is Aizawa?” “Is Aizawa in SITI company now?” Etc.  But what I wanted to share more than that is that after a coffee with Ellen and some much needed chit chat and sharing, I walked with Akiko out of the housing as she made her way to the theater where Cinderella is showing.  A few steps on and we were passing the studio where Ms. Saito’s remains rest. Akiko left my side with a gentle, “Okay I will go and pray” as I kept walking.  I stopped (sorry Akiko to invade your privacy) behind a tree a few steps on and watched her walk up the steps to the locked door of the studio, pause, put her hands together, and drop her eyes.  I held still and breathless for only a moment or two before continuing on out of respect with a tight stomach and wet eyes.  What a big gesture I just saw. My friend working up the courage to be alone there right in the center of things to pay respects. We had only just been laughing (not too loudly for her sake) about how absolutely strange it was that she and I were walking on this old road together after all these  years , as she said, as if we both had gone mad and were at the same time having the exact same dream! Again, no time passed. There was 22 years ago. And then there was now. And then my friend showed her big, true side.

A lot of my own experience here has been something like that – as I expressed in my writing about Ellen and now this. 

So, last night Suzuki called everyone to the studio (now screening room with Ms. Saito just over there to the left) to watch the film An Eye for an Eye, the French film about a doctor in Algiers and the revenge an Arab man takes upon him for … well you should watch. Earlier in the summer we watched King Arthur especially for the Lear cast as Mr. Suzuki wants us to get a sense of the martial attitude of the body he wants for the play. Tonight we’ll see The Battle for Algiers Italian with Japanese subtitles about the French occupation of Algiers.  Mr. Suzuki is really pushing this conversation about racism, immigration, apartheid, nationalism, and empire.  He references Russia and the Ukraine and Tchechnia, Israel and Palestine, and the recent flood of refugees streaming toward Europe.  He points out that the resistance is the same in every country and is called terrorism by the regime in charge. Torture is the same and has only become more sophisticated since the 60 or so years since the battle for Algiers. Hatekon – the demise of an empire, Trojan Women – the destruction of an entire culture, Electra – the self destruction of a royal house, Lear – the self inflicted death of an aristocratic family, Karatachhi Nikki – the descent into madness of a cast off woman after a royal affair …. It’s a dark picture wrapped in kitch popular music, western symbols, absurdism, Beckett, and many many wheelchairs.  All the worlds’s a hospital and maybe the doctors and the nurses are the sickest of all.