The Body in the Zoomisphere

Though my primary role in the Remotely Kyōgen production has been to direct Earthbound, the fourth piece in the program, I’ve had the privilege to observe many Mango Yamabushi and Mask Confusion rehearsals, as well as the Sunday training sessions with Sennojō sensei. My entry into both directing and actor training has been western, shaped to an extent by notions of psychophysicality that we tend to associate with intercultural performance. This is why in rehearsal my attention kept getting drawn to the relationship between the physical and emotional in kyōgen, between body movement/gesture and reading sensation in the confined physical space that a Zoom window permits. 

Central to this relationship has been the education of the body and voice in terms of Kyōgen kata and the general reliance on whole body movement to convey meaning on stage. In the context of digital performance over Zoom, however, being able to see an actor’s whole body and footwork results generally in the lessening of performance effectiveness. A similar effect – actions becoming rather small and un- Kyōgen-like – is perceived when in a scene involving more than one character an actor looks away from the camera in order to interact with another character in virtual space. So, some of the solutions the team explored involved both a greater reliance on larger hand and arm movements, extremely close camera proximity, and vocal expression: having clear phrases and working with a greater pitch variation. Exaggeration and kata approximation went hand in hand.  

A good example of all three can be seen in Audrey Castaneda Walker’s (Martian Captain) performance in Earthbound, especially during the opening nanori (self-introduction) scene and when she appears on a video monitor, alarmed that the Martian flight crew are facing an emergency. During the nanori, we see Martian Captain only from the waist up; they (Martians have overcome gender binary thinking) achieve a more nuanced expressivity with very slight whole body turns from  stage right to stage left to indicate the ship’s projected flight and, later, to interact with Martian Tarō and Martian Jirō. The exaggerated “end of meeting” or “sign-off” shaka (hang tight here, the surf associations become clear at the play’s end) makes evocative use of both proximity to camera and screen corners. In the two scenes involving Martian Captain’s appearance on a monitor, camera proximity is exaggerated even further. We know they cannot hear their flight crews’ responses because what we see on the monitor is Martian Captain’s earlobe and the beautiful facial makeup designed by Hannah Schauer.

– Maggie Ivanova, Earthbound & MushZooms 2.0

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