When Takayuki Kako, the stage manager of Babylon Theatre Tokyo asked us what our preferred procedure would be if there was an earthquake during one of The Llanarth Group’s performances, I knew I was a long way from Ceredigion.
‘Told by the wind’ get-in
Our safety was his priority, he told us, but tremors were frequent. Would it be best if he stopped the show if he thought any potential quake was dangerous, to lead us and the audience to safety? Yes please, I said, explaining that although I was running the show, I had limited experience of earthquakes and so might not be the best person to lead an evacuation, especially as I don’t speak Japanese.
Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland leading a session in T’ai chi
We are here in Tokyo on a cultural exchange with Ami Theatre, sharing a repertoire of work at Babylon Theatre and exchanging approaches to training and performance work. It has been a week of intense exchanges – workshops with Ami and students of Sophia University, the get-in, dress rehearsal, and the Tokyo premiere of ‘Told by the Wind’. Throughout, we have been dealing with jet lag, never quite getting into the local timezone as our work has been in the evening.
Structured improvisation led by Phillip Zarrilli, Theatre Babylon Tokyo
At night when I fall into bed, my tiredness dissipates into a whirling brain matching the speed of the spin driers in the 24 hour laundry room directly below me. For some inexplicable reason the opening lines of Elvis Costello’s ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’ – which I haven’t heard for twenty years – plays on loop in my head.
The sky fell over cheap Korean monster-movie scenery
And spilled into the mezzanine of the crushed capsule hotel
Between the Disney abattoir and the chemical refinery
I knew I was in trouble but I thought I was in hell
So you look around the tiny room and you wonder where the hell you are
Joanna and O’Reilly backstage at Babylon Theatre Tokyo
I’m happy to say my own experience has been infinitely better than that in Costello’s lyrics. We aren’t in the centre of the metropolis, but in a quiet neighbourhood in the north of the city, passing the Shinto shrines and the temple on our daily journey between our capsule hotel and Theatre Babylon.
Temple close to Theatre Babylon Tokyo
Yesterday, on a short break before the dress rehearsal, I wandered down to the temple and stood in the calm, breathing, marvelling that such peace could be found in such a large city. Around the small back lanes people glided by on bicycles and a company of fat, contented cats lazed in the sudden sunshine. I marvelled also about the people we are working with – the staff at Babylon and Theatre Ami are so generous, kind, and talented. We all feel immensely fortunate to be here in this collaboration.
Wall in cafe near to theatre
It has been great working so closely with scholar and translator Mari Boyd here in Japan. She was an artistic advisor on ‘Told’ in its final rehearsals and was with us for the premiere in Chapter arts centre in Cardiff in 2010. Bringing us here was at her instigation, as she felt this piece, with its influences of Noh theatre and Quietude, would be fascinating to present here – for us from outside the culture, and for audiences and academics within.
The responses to the work have been extraordinary, the audiences attentive and appreciative, but that will be content for a different blog.
Mari Boyd and Jo Shapland in the auditorium during tech rehearsal
And then suddenly the horrendous typhoon devastated the Philippines – and the weather warnings went up, as the storm seemed to be heading our way. After two successful performances in one day, we headed for bed and the threat of torrential rain and 100mph winds the next day. The Elvis Costello song on loop didn’t seem to be so funny now.
Then at 7.38am I’m lifted from my bed and deposited quite gently onto the floor. I sprawl, feeling everything move beneath me in a calm circling motion. It is not unpleasant – similar, I imagine, to a bird riding a thermal – and just as I am beginning to question whether the earth really should be moving like this, and the building swaying quite so seductively – it stops.
Not one of the technical team mentioned anything about the quake when we went in for the matinee, but the Japanese Meteorological Society put the tremor at 3-4 on the richter scale, so it was not insignificant. But like our hosts, we just continued, Jo and Phillip performing, me calling the lighting and sound cues, and the audience attending, despite threats of typhoons and possible aftershocks, or any other form of storm warning.
The Llanarth Group are in Japan thanks to Wales Arts International and the Daiwa Foundation.
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