Aug. 22, 2006: Kumagaya City

The Big Event of the day was a performance in Japan by Act!vated Story Theatre. No, we’re not kidding. Yukari, at our request, arranged for us to present a story to a group of her English students and some of their parents, an audience of about 40 people in all. We were limited, of course, to what trappings we could bring with us on the plane. Hauling along our trademark set – – a six-foot “book” we use as a backdrop – – was utterly out of the question. Nor did we pack any costumes with us, and we only had room for the smallest and most essential props, especially since we weren’t even sure when we left that the performance was a go.

So this morning we found ourselves scrambling to gather some makeshift props, including a pot from the kitchen and a flashlight to serve as a lantern. The real rub, however, was the tennis racquet. Anyone who’s ever seen one of our shows is familiar with Kimberly’s signature stunt of squeezing through a (stringless) tennis racquet – – which represents a cave, a tiny door, a hole in the wall, etc. – – with much feigned difficulty, supposedly after getting stuck in it. We first used this bit in a story about 8 years ago, and it was such a hit that we decided to make it a recurring gag. Nowadays, whenever our perennial fans see us whip out the racquet, they immediately start chuckling because they know what’s coming.

Trouble is, we considered the racquet too unwieldy to lug along (and how would you ever explain it to airport security), and we figured we could just pick up another one over here. We bought our last one at a Goodwill for a measly buck. But alas, there seem to be no thrift stores as we know them in these parts at all. There are a few secondhand stores, but they sell mostly clothing; the used racquet racket has yet to make a racket. And we certainly didn’t want to spring for a new one, especially since we’d have to ruin it in order to use it.

Thus, as we so often do, we were pondering alternatives. After scouring the house in vain (Yukari even dug into her storage closet to retrieve a couple of objects that seemed promising but didn’t pan out.), Dennis went shopping for something else to use, escorted by his “Japanese daughter”, Ayaka. Amazingly, they found a good prospect immediately in the first store they went into: a butterfly/fish net for a mere 105 yen. (There is no sales tax here, by the way, at least not that we’ve seen.)

The net was the largest of three sizes available, but even so it was snugger than the racquet. Kimberly tried it on for size (after the netting had been removed to leave just the frame) and did indeed manage to squeeze through, aided and abetted by her two accomplices. She commented, however, that for once she wasn’t just acting when she appeared to be stuck.

The next step was to examine the script to see how we could make it clearer to someone with limited English skills. We were to perform a Japanese folk tale that we’d been doing for over a year, and we hoped that the audience already would be familiar with it in one version or another. Our highly physical style also should help, we figured. (We presented this story in our own reinvention of traditional Japanese theatrical styles.) And to make ourselves even better understood, we selected a few key Japanese words to inject into the dialogue. Additionally, we looked at how we could eliminate or simplify some of the English words and phrases.

With all of these adjustments, it was vital that we have a run-through, especially since we perform this particular story to musical accompaniment, and timing is crucial. So we dragged a reluctant Zephyr away from his vacation and put him to work for a few minutes. A couple of days ago, Yukari told him that Ayaka had a friend who wanted to meet him, but cautioned that she was a bit shy, so he should “try not to surprise her too much.” We pointed out that she was asking a lot there, and she seemed perfectly aware of it. Well, today the girl and her brother came over, and all the kids have been having a great time together.

The CD of our music for the story was one essential that we did bring over, but we only brought one copy of it. And wouldn’t you know it, halfway through our rehearsal, it began to skip like a stone across a pond. Even after repeated cleaning, it still acted up. So we resigned ourselves to doing the tale without music for the first time ever – – which not only would affect our timing, but also cause the story to lose some of its interest for those having difficulty following the dialogue. But just before curtain, the CD decided to start functioning properly again, so we were back to being as close to normal as we could be under the circumstances.

The refreshments were set out, the kids came, and the shoes were lined up in the foyer like soldiers. And so, feeling a bit jittery for the first time in ages, we launched into our first ever international performance.

All in all, the show went quite well. The kids certainly didn’t understand every word we said, but we never expected they would. We just hoped they’d get the gist of it, and we feel confident they did. It was quite hot, and Kimberly perspired so much that she REALLY had a struggle getting through the hoop, but she still managed to make it on cue.


At the conclusion of the story, we also gave the kids an introduction to sign language, which they seemed rather intrigued by. And then Yukari got up and spoke to them a bit, and we heard her mention that Kimberly was in “Independence Day”, whereupon the kids all responded with amazement. But the embarrassment was only beginning; Keisuke dragged out a DVD of the film (dubbed in Japanese, of course), popped into the player, and the kids eagerly huddled around the TV as he fast-forwarded to her scenes.




*****

The weather has been rather strange lately, being mostly hot, but having occasional thunderstorms (and, of course, the typhoon). The TV showed footage of the city of Osaka flooded by at least two feet of water in some places.

*****

Kimberly was doing some stretches in the living room in the evening when Toshihide came in and joined her. Although we’d already discussed with him his history as a gymnast back in high school, we never suspected that he still was athletically inclined. But he demonstrated beyond a doubt that he still can strut his stuff. He and Kimberly got into a veritable duel, challenging each other with various stunts – – he can walk on his hands with the best of them – – while the rest of us laughed and cheered them on.