2003 MELBOURNE BLOOMSDAY IN KOBE, JAPAN
Kobe College Students discover Joyce
Nausicaa gets a yukata makeover
Kerstan Cohen as narrator and Blazes Boylan
Performing Dubliners and Ulysses in Japan
KOBE COLLEGE DOES BLOOMSDAY
Frances Devlin-Glass wrote from Kobe College, Nishinomiya, Japan about being invited to mount a Bloomsday with students at the College.
Mounting Bloomsday with Japanese speakers of English, for whom it is a second language, was a huge challenge. First, there was the issue of making Joyce’s language comprehensible to the actors, and after them the audience. Secondly, there is practically no Joyce cultural baggage to rely on (‘who’s he when he’s at home?’), and an anticipated student audience. As well, there is my lack of Japanese and not knowing where to go for costume hire (my students and I could not easily locate such shops in Kobe or Osaka), or specialist film, or any one of a number of other things (paint for props, the right quality paper for posters etc.)
Fortunately, I had excellent support in the persons of Kerstan Cohen, and the students at Kobe College, to a person, are amazingly reliable: they need to be told only once, and providing they understand the request, it is as good as done. It took me a while to realize how general a virtue this was! But I was immensely grateful for their thoughtful and cooperative responsiveness. They are also great learners, and many students who had no direct interest in Joyce, or literary studies, got into the action, simply for the learning experience it represented for them. Such hunger for experience and education is again amazing to experience. Because of the meticulous attitude to direction, not a single entrance or exit was fluffed, and delivery of lines was always timely, if at times rather more tentative than in rehearsal.
Working with exclusively women students in a Christian Women’s University (Kobe College, Nishinomiya), it seemed to make sense to work with Gerty and Molly, and to use Joyce’s attitudes to the commodification of romance and marriage as unifying themes. We were also able to draw on some male staff, so it was strategic to include Doran and Blazes. Bloom, unhappily, dropped out of view, except as a vital figure in Molly’s memories. This had as much to do with shortage of male personnel as wanting to use as many students as possible.
At first, I devised scripts that were far too long, and the dejected faces at the first rehearsal sent me to the cutting room. Another challenge was the maidenly modesty of Kobe College students: they are not used to being larger than life, to being outrageous and melodramatic. Such behaviours are, of course, generally speaking anathema to Japanese people. The way around was found by one of the staff here, Kerstan Cohen, who suggested that Gerty (Naomi Kure) become a kind of puppet, responsive to the promptings of the voices in her head derived from advertising, romance and gossip, and that these be externalized by a puppeteer-like narrator. So, a very comic routine was worked out whereby she was jerked into action by particular cues and overdid the gamut of her emotions: vanity, self-pity, erotic desires.
The epiphany of Blazes conning the flower-girl (from Wandering Rocks) served as both a bridge to the Molly monologue and a highlight because Blazes (played by Kerstan Cohen, an American faculty member) was intentionally a figure of fun in nikopoka pants (Japanese workman’s trousers, as comical in appearance as they sound) with flash belt, blue glasses, shaved head and yakusa (Japanese mafia) tie, red and white on black, on a black shirt), and with tan shoes, of course. His body language was that of lair, and he wasespecially funny doing a cakewalk routine in the flowershop in tune to ‘Those Girls, Those Girls, Those Lovely Seaside Girls’ (Blazes’ vaudeville-style signature tune). Again our maidenly flower-shop-girl (Naomi Iwaguchi) was a model of controlled hysteria. It’s not easy to ask a student in this culture to work closely and as equals with a faculty member, and it is to each of their credit that it was done so professionally. Even when a line was dropped, they each coped brilliantly -not easy sometimes for professionals.
The fourth gig was a dramatization of the ending of the Molly monologue (a must for every new audience for Joyce!), and one that was a deliberate selection of romantic tropes, in order to end on a more upbeat note. This monologue was delivered by a young undergraduate (Rie Tsuchino) who had had more acting experience than most of her peers, and her delivery was very fine, though it was difficult for her to remember certain diphthong combinations because they don’t occur in Japanese. She was not 100% satisfied with her performance, but I thought it excellent. She understood deeply what she was saying, and had been asked to do something inherently difficult, and the emotional range the monologue required was huge. Her phrasing and intonation was very skilful indeed. Her embodied counterpart (Hiroe Monguchi, a Ph. D. candidate), dressed in red silk, occupied a very hard and rudimentary bed (our only stage furniture) which consisted of a huge lecture podium (it was indeed a low-budget production). Realism was abandoned so that the actor could use a red rose for the final climactic moments of the monologue.