The “Jo-Ha-Kyū” of a Kyōgen Zoom Production

As we begin the seventh week of this semester, there have been many moments in our weekly rehearsals, and our weekly Sunday workshop sessions with Sennojō Sensei, that have sparked ideas in me and challenged me. Jo-Ha-Kyū in Japanese means “Beginning-Break-Rapid” and refers to the characterization of performances and movement applied to kyōgen performance. The slow beginning and coming together as a cast to work on this online zoom production of Earthbound happened very steadily, much like the Jo concept of kyōgen.

Getting situated with performing on screen, without a live audience or other actors nearby meant getting comfortable with myself. kyōgen often requires large, exaggerated body movement, and I quickly discovered that on a computer screen, the viewer’s eye picks up movement very quickly-I had to learn to be even clearer with my gestures and body language. Even a small gesture such as the turn of the head needs to be clear and direct. During the first few Sunday workshop sessions, Julie taught us the technique of turning and walking in kyōgen. Kamae is the name of the “ready” stance, where your head is in line with your body, knees are turned out slightly, and hands are placed slightly below the hips with the elbows pointing outwards. The challenge I found in walking and turning was maintaining the kamae body position, and making everything flow without sudden movement changes.

A woman in a white tanktop and black leggings stands against a blurred background with straight posture, elbows out and hands resting in front of her hips with her knees bent slightly outward.

Kamae position

Kyōgen movement is definitely something you have to become attuned to. Another challenge with movement I discovered was timing the movement to end at the same time as my vocalization. Practicing this required adept awareness of rhythm and coordination. In our production of Earthbound, the michiyuki, or “travel sequence,” occurs at the same time as my dialogue, and therefore I had to internalize the timing of my movement with my speaking. 

In the past few rehearsals, internalizing movement timing has become easier with practice, and is almost second-nature. Right now, the Ha element of our rehearsal process, or Break, has been working on refining detail and figuring out where movement can be developed. This is an exciting process, because as actors we get to be creative and brainstorm ways in which our body can communicate emotion in a kyōgen style. I look forward to continuing our rehearsals and developing the play further!

– Iana Weingrad, Earthbound

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