Deeper Into the Wonder

Theatre Nohgaku 2012 Costume Workshop participant John Oglevee.

Contributed by John Oglevee.

Keeping a blog filled with useful, entertaining and educational information is tricky. Writing in such a way that manages to balance casual “blog-like” musings without being too glib, with informational considerations without being too academic is a challenge. We’ll do our best.

On that note, I wanted to point out that the recent workshop, while a tremendous educational success was at the same time woven (pun intended) with some wonderful shared meals discussing and digesting (pun this time somewhat coincidental) all that we had observed. In hindsight, I couldn’t be happier with the workshop. My only regret is not having been able to share it with more people. Anyone involved in either textile or costume design would certainly have enjoyed it.

John Oglevee observing the weaving at the Sasaki workshop.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I have always had respect for the costumes, but now with a solid introductory immersion into the fabrics, appliqué, gold leaf, Jaquard weaving techniques, embroidery, ordering, designing, folding/sewing into and getting out of these complex, ambulatory sculptures, I have fallen down another rabbit hole taking me deeper into the wonder of the art of nohgaku.

Osada-san dressing John Oglevee.

In the world of noh, the participants are by and large certified professionals in their respective fields. Consequently, the question of whether a performance was “good” or not is not really an issue. Whether one was moved by a performance is certainly an individual feeling, but there is never anyone on stage that has not earned the right to be there. They are representatives of not only the art, but their school, and ultimately their family. In addition, if one takes into consideration all the numbers of noh schools and the permutations of ways to present a performance, there are 3600 different combinations possible. Therefore, any performance is in many ways an event. Like most events, there follows a celebration. What show in Western Theatre would be complete without an opening night party? The noh world is not an exception. In fact, there are often small parties to thank the performers after the one and only rehearsal as well as parties following the performance. As with many things from Japan, these parties both extend and reflect respect.

I can now say the Kita-ryu Oshima Noh Family is very, very well respected as well as being respectful! In other words, they can throw a party. Of course I am saying “they” but the engine of the Oshima noh machine is in many ways the matriarch, Mrs. Oshima. Certainly the family has been blessed with some incredibly talented shite-kata (rigorous training didn’t’ hurt) in the form of Masanobu, Kinue and Teruhisa, but Mrs. Oshima’s business acumen, not to mention her culinary skills are the kind of behind-the-scenes workings that can easily be overlooked if one focuses on the art onstage. That being said, just as the weavers of cloth go unnoticed and remain anonymous, so too do those printing, folding, bowing, greeting, and thanking everyone in and around the event. While it is no different really in the West, I did want to take this opportunity to acknowledge how much was done for TN above and beyond what was requested before the workshop. They were amazing hosts and I thank them.

I also can’t leave Fukuyama without mentioning the hilarious staff at the Benefit hotel where we all stayed. They really tried hard to make our stay pleasant, with not too much obsequious gesturing.

So let me again send a big mahalo gozaimashita to the organizers on TN’s side Tom, Joyce and Rick, as well Monica Bethe, costume teaching team Osada-sensei, Akira-sensei and our Fukuyama hosts the Oshimas (Masanobu, Yasuko, Kinue, Teruhisa, Fumie, Norie).

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About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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