When I received the call from the Know Theatre offering me the role of a kubuki/ninja…or one of many other names the role has acquired over the past month, I jumped at the opportunity. Why, you may ask yourself? The opportunity to play this masked character would allow me to explore a theatrical device that is relatively uncommon to the Western World.
Kabuki Theatre is a classical Japanese dance drama that is characterized by elaborate costuming, make up and highly stylized performance tactics. The actual word “kabuki” derives from the word “kabuku” which means “to be out of the ordinary.” It is safe to say, therefore that kabuki could easily be described as avant-garde and strikingly theatrical. Western culture is not commonly exposed to such spectacle on the modern day stage. Save the knowledge I procured during my undergrad as well as the fortunate opportunity to sit audience to fellow peers’ exploration of the art form, I have very little exposure to the Eastern theatrical style.
The addition of my primary character in “Sideway Stories” can easily be tied to the world of kabuki. Dressed in all black from head to toe, the predominant role I play in the show is essentially that of a “kuroko;” or stage-hand in the kabuki realm. Unlike true kabuki form where these kuroko are revealed only to quickly retrieve or deliver a prop or set piece, I am visible at all times to the audience, but never to the characters on stage, and along with providing the “magic” of Wayside School, I, too, heighten the emotions of the scene, a thing kabuki kuroko do not contribute. This “invisibility” allows me to disappear into the set, allowing the audience to almost forget my existence. This is what absolutely fascinates me about this role. I am free to move about the entire expanse of not only the stage, but the entire theatre without disrupting the action on stage. I have never felt such carte blanche!
So what goes on under my mask? Do I sit audience to the audience? Allow myself to be emotionless to the action on stage? Not at all. I find my face to be as alive and invested in the rest of the show as the rest of my body. I often received the note during the rehearsal process that my face was too animated; that it distracted from the actions of my body which was the only thing that would be visible once in costume. I will be the first to admit that I am an especially facially animated actor, but I am also a firm believer that expression is directly related to body language…at least conscious body language. So, in the good nature of a critique, it just as that; an opinion. So as the audience sees, or does not, depending on how well I am doing my job at any given moment in the course of the performance, my face, though hidden, is full of life from beginning to end. I see this role as a dance that occurs within the context of a play; the two complementing each other in a constant harmony, completely dependent, yet seemingly independent, of one another. The visible with the invisible. The tangible with the intangible, if you will. For now I will leave you with a quote that, for me, envelops the meaning of my foremost character in “Sideway Stories” from Albert Einstein:
“Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.”