Learning traditional Asian theatre is incredibly humbling. While at UH, I’ve gotten the incredible opportunity to work with master artists. These people have spent their entire lives learning the technique and art form, sometimes even starting their training as young as 3 or 4 years old. In the fall of 2019, I was learning traditional Balinese dance and movement and was often reminded by my teacher to just keep practicing daily. My teacher at the time, Pak Tut, said he still practices–the movements he was teaching me–daily. I don’t think I have lifelong training in any artform. Yet, there I was, learning Balinese dance from a master who humbly reminded me just to keep practicing. Inhale, exhale. So, my approach to kyōgen has been to remain open and just keep practicing. However, the one thing that contributed to making learning kyōgen difficult is that we are doing it remotely. The dynamic of working with a partner, who in pre-pandemic times, I’d be able to see, hear, and feel the energy of, now was very far removed. Remotely Kyōgen means that I am alone in my space listening to my scene partner on my Bluetooth earphones, with my virtual background, staring off into a specific direction and speaking to no one, or no real person. The community feeling of theatre has left the physical space but lives very clearly and presently in my head, or my ears. From Sunday to Friday, I stand alone in Kennedy Theatre and perform for my 13-inch computer screen while 4-5 voices are in my ear directing, correcting, encouraging, rehearsing, singing, and laughing with me as we all find our way to doing kyōgen, remotely. How do we do it? We adjust everything (traditional or contemporary, Asian or Western) to fit the platform. We take smaller steps, cheat out towards the camera, use a green screen, listen for an earlier cue (instead of the actual line cue) to avoid the dreaded Zoom lag, provide more time for rehearsing movement because of course it is so much harder to learn through a computer screen, give each other grace since we are all figuring it out together, and most importantly, I practice daily. Inhale, Exhale. Am I doing this voice thing right? How’s my timing? Can you show/repeat it for me one more time? Did my mic peak again?
Remotely Kyōgen is complicated and sometimes it feels impossible. But honestly, it’s difficult not to laugh and enjoy myself when I spend half of my rehearsals squawking like a chicken. It’s stressful because I want to honor the tradition while learning how to do it on a new platform. Thankfully, kyōgen grounds and humbles me through comedy.
– Christine Chang, Mango Yamabushi and Mask Confusion