A few weeks ago, I was invited out to woods of Yakumo-cho, a mountainous district in southern Matsue, to watch a dress rehearsal of a short play performed by Ashibue called “Nijuniya Machi“, taking place in Shiinomi Theatre, an intimate little performance space surrounded by trees. It is a story that takes place in the late Heian era in a rural village where they observe the classically recorded phases of the moon, but their activities at the temple are interupted by a ruff outlaw, and whether the hero is a good man or just an idiot is up for humorous interpretation. As much as I love theater, even the most amateur of productions, there are big differences between people taking part for fun, and people taking part for art.

One look at the stage and the level of detail in the costumes, and I could tell there were very capable people involved. Once the actors hopped on stage and started speaking, I could tell they were far more than simply amateur. After watching the production and making comments, I learned that many of the people involved were not locals, and had come out to San’in region specifically to work on this piece which will be showing at the 5th Yakumo International Theatre Festival.

The festival takes place every three years, and this year there are productions performed by theater groups from Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Canada, Argentina, and South Africa. The languages differ, but the groups involved know that there will be linguistic varience among their audience, and have tailored performances to reach beyond words. There will be productions for adults and children to enjoy together in Japanese or various native languages, multi-lingual performances, or performances with no words at all. It seems a lot of people are really looking forward to the wordless performance of “Sheep”, in which the actors–all dressed as sheep–will be performing outdoors should the weather permit.

I was invited to watch and comment on Ashibue’s performance to critique their use of English (see a couple photos on the Asashi Shimbun article here). A few weeks beforehand, the actors had suddenly been told that they were adding English lines to the script to make it more understandable to an international audience. Shocked though they were, they all learned them quite well, and many of the suggestions I made were only because I was listening very critically. The English lines blended well among the Japanese lines, saying what is necessary while matching the flow and mood of the scene, similar to a completely bilingual rakugo performance I was very impressed by when I first moved here. The actors, both from elsewhere and locals–very practiced at their craft–as well as the professionals brought in to oversee the production were all very easy to work with, as they all striving for perfection in what was already a very enjoyable play. Please take a look at Ashibue’s website to get a feel for the style and Shiinomi theater’s charms.

And lucky me… I’ll get to watch the final product at the opening night! It will take place on the larger stage so not everyone will be able to see the costume details quite as well, so even luckier for me, and I already got to see that version.

(But unlucky for you, my photos in no way do it any justice:)


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The really hard part right now is choosing which performances I’m going to watch, because there are so many to choose from. I was originally thinking I’d just go for one day, but now I really think I need to be there all four days of performances! After all, there will be food from the represented countries to try as well!

This year’s event is offically October 30 to November 3 (a holiday) with performances open to the public starting on October 31. The next festival will be in 2017, so international theater groups that would like to participate should start looking into it now.

I better get tickets fast if I don’t want to miss anything!

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