Style and Intention in Kyōgen Voice

I am currently in rehearsal for Mango Yamabushi, an upcoming kyogen-based performance, as part of Remotely Kyōgen at The University of Hawaii at Mānoa. I will be playing the role of the farmer. Although the movement style and the kata that embody the piece are challenging and essential, I have found the most wonder and development in the vocal performance of the piece. 

The director of the piece, Professor Julie Iezzi, has guided us on how to deliver the lines. In Western stage rehearsal, line delivery might be considered an ineffective tool for directing a theatrical piece. We value the actorʻs interpretation of the lines, character, and most importantly, action they are taking onstage. This action will drive the delivery of the line; how it is delivered. 

Because I do not speak Japanese and have minimal experience with kyōgen, this kind of line coaching is necessary for me to develop a cadence that holds some similarity to kyōgen acting. By cadence, I mean that the voice may rise and fall in a particular way or accent words or pitches to emphasize a thought. I believed this was very different from my Western biases in the way I say and deliver lines. Still, I am finding there is a profound connection for me in how I approach acting. Although the cadence may differ, I have learned from Professor Iezzi that the intention I have in saying the line, the catalyst if you will, ultimately determines the tone, style, volume, color, or inflection of the line. For example, if I were to say, “It certainly is quiet in here,” I might say it very quietly and nonchalantly in a scene as if making small talk, but if I have the intention of making sure someone hears me say that, I may deliver it with a stronger tone. I may want the other character in the scene to think that I do not know they are hiding somewhere in the room. So, I will say it with the intention that I have no clue that someone else is listening. This would not differ from the Western perspective. Having an intention ignites the delivery of a line which determines the qualities of this delivery. Pairing this idea with the training Iezzi is imparting has helped keep the performance more authentic to my own abilities and artistry.

I am in awe of the professional kyōgen actors. They yield their vocal instrument in varied pitch from very high and piercing to low and gravelly. There is an intensity and humor that resonates throughout the performance space. I have heard a kind of rumbling of voice as well as a virtuosic song-like delivery. Because I do not have that skill set, I rely on my own previous vocal training and experiences on stage. Iezzi encourages me to maintain a more chant-like tone and to use a kind of arc in pitch, as I say a line. Then, she points me back to what I think I am saying in the line. Eureeka! Iʻve made a more authentic delivery. I feel connected to what I am saying and less concerned if I hit the exact arc. This kind of practice is inching me closer to having a kyōgen performance that can both honor a very long tradition of practice while still leaving space for my own authenticity.

– Robert Torigoe, Mango Yamabushi and MushZooms 2.0

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