Prepping in Hiroshima: Day 1

DAY 1: Saturday 18th April

If this project has any chance of happening we have to overcome 2 big blocks – and we meet these blocks today.

Block 1 – is the question if anyone is in the slightest bit interested in this project – will anyone turn up ? We were told in Tokyo on our last visit, the Japanese people are shy, they won’t come and the Hiroshima story has been re-visited many times. People may have had enough of it.
Block 2 is, if anyone turns up will they like this way of making theatre – or rather will this way of making theatre even work. If everyone is shy, and polite and reserved we may have too much ice in the room for even our best ice breakers.

At the planning meeting last night we were told there might be 8 people, 6 children and 2 adults. But the children probably won’t be able to come in the week. Well look on the bright side there are 5 of us theatre makers, and then there’s Ogasawara San, and Kaz – who have found us people and a place to rehearse, so if the worst comes to the worst we can all pitch in.

At 10.30 I find myself opening proceedings with a circle of 19 volunteers, plus 5 theatre makers – Marigold our leader, Yorie who will direct the piece with me, Yasuko the designer, and Mitsaki our writer and myself. All of them are bi-lingual except me. Yasuko and Yorie are fluent in both languages – they have hard work to do translating. The room has a bamboo mat floor, sliding screens, everyone has their shoes off, and we’re ready to roll.

Talk to the person next to you, then you will introduce them, and they you. People speak, slightly nervously, everything takes twice as long due to the requirements of translation. I am sitting between Maila (one of the twins I met on my last visit) and Keyshu – a small boy of 10 or so.
Keyshu helps me get the bucket to throw our names into. We take turns to speak our names on to an imaginary piece of paper, screw it into an imaginary ball, and throw it into the imaginary bucket. The second time we add sound and style. And of course people start to invent, to play.

We put the bucket away. And Mitsaki leads a game she calls Torpedoes. You make eye contact with a person across the circle and walk towards them, they engage another in eye contact and walk towards them thus leaving a space for the first torpedo to move into. It works. Marigold introduces Zip, Zap, Boing – complete with hip movements and leading to serious competition. More people have arrived now. It’s going ok. Let’s explore how playful we can get – so 1,2, 3 – replaced by gestures, a simple silly game – counting, like paper balls and buckets, will travel. And then an important moment, I try to count in Japanese and little Keyshu counts back to me in English – helping me and joshing me.

I introduce sculpting. This allows for serious silliness, you sculpt your partner into a shape, say ‘go’ and the sculpture moves as their body takes them. You find yourself spinning or capering, becoming a robot or a dancing teapot. The ice has melted.

Plan A had been to look at testimony next, but let’s stick to the Boal manual. Back in the circle I ask the group to turn outwards and use their body to make an image that represents Hiroshima today. We turn in and show. Then we look for people who are similar to ourselves – in emotion or shape and get into groups. Each group is then asked to make a sculpture entitled ‘What Hiroshima means to the world’. The contradictory outcome is similar to the dynamic range found in our foraging thus far. One statue is joyous and entitled ‘Peace’. A second shows two dying girls at the feet of a soldier. The third shows a ring of hand-holding women and reminds me of Picasso’s painting with the women of Avignon dancing.

A brief discussion then let’s get on to the texts. We divide into four new groups. Each if given a short extract from the interviews. I ask them to read it and create a frozen image. Then a second image. Then to decide who will read the text as the image changes. The objective is simply to start sharing the stories amongst the participants.

The final extract is from an interview with Teruko Hachiman. She is here at the session. I do not put her in the group who are working on her story in order that she can watch and the group is free to make their own interpretation of her story. It’s a strong fragment. A memory of her mother gathering her children together under a futon like a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wing. The mother says “Everyone will die ! Everyone together !” The girl, sheltering with her father and mother, siblings and grandmother realises that she is happy. And she analysis her thoughts ‘We’re going to die, but I’m happy that we’ll die together’.

The groups show their work, give each other feedback. The work is thoughtful and clear. When we see the futon bird I watch Teruko. Her face gives nothing away. She smiles approvingly as she has smiled at all the other extracts.
In the afternoon, Yorie takes over the reins. We warm up, and find our centre of gravity. We walk across the room and a partner observes how we walk, then models it. Maila demonstrates my heavy stride.

Two tables are put end to end and Yorie produces a pair of tiny wooden shoes. We are to manipulate the shoes to show the walk.

Then there is a second pair of shoes. We show a meeting of two people. Then she produces two neutral puppets – one larger than the other. These require three people to operate them. One does the feet. One the waist and left arm. One the head and right arm.

I am not sure about puppets in theatre. Sometimes I feel the puppet becomes more important than the story – it imposes a rhythm on the story, people watch the skill of the manipulator rather than the narrative. Not unlike us watching the skills of a dancer rather than what they are trying to convey.

But I get to have a go. And it’s soothing, it requires concentration and co-ordination. ‘Listen to the puppet’ is Yorie’s advice. Her mantra almost. And listening to the puppet – communing with the puppet – takes a weight away from my own body. I feel calm. But I am doing exactly what I see when I watch puppeteers, going into some strange zone, and sometimes the watcher is excluded.

But watching this puppet – calico, faceless, languid in movement – there is a vulnerability and it generates an attentiveness, that feels right for the project. Perhaps we can use this tomorrow.

That’s if anyone comes back.

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