Noh plays about
By Tia Abell
Mark Patrick photo
Toyoshi Yoshihara, Heidi Specht, Daphne Marlatt and Richard Emmert are collaborating on a Noh drama set in Steveston.
little hamlet of Steveston is being accorded an unusual honour-its
post-war self is starring in a new Japanese-style play written by a
B.C. poet and choreographed by an American ex-pat Noh master.
The Gull: The Steveston Noh Project, it's likely the first
English-language Noh play about Richmond. The story centres on two
brothers who, in 1950, try to return to the fishing business once taken
away from their parents during wartime internment.
The project is
the brain child of Heidi Specht, artistic director of the Pangaea Arts
Society, a Vancouver theatre company that produces multi-cultural plays
such as last year's Butterfly Dream at Gateway Theatre.
"A lot of
Noh plays have ghosts and fishermen-and of course, this connects to
Steveston," she says of the traditional style of Japanese theatre.
The Richmond Review caught up with Specht, she had just finished
auditioning actors at the Gateway Theatre along with collaborators
Richard Emmert, Daphne Marlatt and Toyoshi Yoshihara.
hums with creative energy-something they'll need to bring this
ambitious project to the stage, as many of the performers will need
special Noh training.
Asked why she chose to create a Noh play,
Specht says she's been fascinated with the art form since she took
classes years ago from Emmert, the director of Theatre Noh Gaku in
"One woman I met who took the Noh workshop said Noh
changed the way she thought about theatre. It expands our potential for
experience of art and the world, and I think that's exactly what we
want to do," Specht says.
"The first time I saw Noh in Tokyo, I was
riveted. It was so slow, yet intense. I wondered how did they do it? I
had almost a visceral response to it, it just grabbed me."
intensity is the hallmark of Noh, says Emmert, The Gull's director and
an American who moved to Japan in 1973. Besides directing a company of
English-speaking Noh performers in Tokyo, he teaches Asian theatre and
music at Musashino University in Tokyo.
Emmert says there's
nothing quite like Noh in the Western tradition, as the Japanese art
form combines all the performing arts-dance, theatre, music and
"Dancers are not thought of as actors, we have them divided. In the East...they bring all these elements together."
Gull will also have Japanese musicians performing Noh music, as well
performances from the celebrated Japanese Noh actor Akita Matsui.
Although the play will be presented in English, Toyoshi Yoshihara (who
runs Maple Leaf Theatre) will translate Marlatt's Noh script for
Marlatt wasn't the writer who Specht initially
thought of when she first dreamt up the idea for The Gull. Instead, she
called the celebrated author Joy Kogawa. "But (Kogawa) said, 'Call
Daphne Marlatt,'" Specht says. "Noh is a very poetic form of writing
and she fit perfectly."
Marlatt, who was born in Australia and then
moved to Vancouver in 1970, is a writer, teacher and poet with a local
interest. One of her published, non-fiction works is Steveston
Recollected: a Japanese-Canadian History (1975).
to me about Noh is that it's different from the tradition of realism
which is so strong in the West," Marlatt says. "Noh works through
poetry and symbolism, it embraces nature."
Emmert agrees, noting the
art form is not overly concerned with plot-as opposed to Western
theatre. "Instead it's about being concerned with mood."
Typically, the first act in a Noh play involves a mysterious person, someone who is not easy to identify.
The Gull, two brothers experience meeting a different being at the same
time. One brother sees a gull, the other sees a female ghost. The
mystery slowly unravels through the play, revealing who the ghost is in
the second half of the production.
Marlatt says that Noh theatre is
psychological-that audiences must take a more active role in receiving
the story. "Noh requires you to think."
The story is about
Steveston, however, so the collaborators agree that the story will
generate local interest-although Emmert says an appreciation of Noh
"Noh is not such an easy art form. We're not just
offering straight entertainment; if you wanted to go to a movie, and
just any movie would do, this may not be the thing for you."
be very powerful, Yoshihara notes, particularly when expressing
emotional subjects-such as what happened to the Steveston Japanese
community during the Second World War internment.
"So many people
are so angry, but do not express it. Noh is the best way to express
quiet anger, which is why I am interested in this particular project.
The style and subject perfectly match," he says.
In the meantime,
Specht says The Gull's team will be focussing on training the local
artists appearing in the play. A staged reading at the Gulf of Georgia
Cannery is planned for April but no performance dates are scheduled,
"It's a very expensive project," she says. "And it's still in the early stages."
© Copyright 2004 Richmond Review