Living in a Mushroom World

MushZooms 2.0 is a modern piece based on the traditional kyōgen play, Kusabira. The author and director of MushZooms 2.0, Jane Traynor, has re-imagined a story that is traditionally set on a stage to be performed through online platforms. I have been lucky enough to be a part of this work as one of the few actors in the piece. In the end, it is the virtual mushrooms that are the stars of the show along with Traynorʻs witty dialogue. 

Working with this text, I quickly realized that Traynor seamlessly connects Japanese  kyōgen humor with modern Western references. Although much of it had been developed by Traynor pre-rehearsal, there were many additions to the text and physical actions that were developed in rehearsal. Traynor provided a space for the actors and creative team to explore the piece and experiment with different takes and deliveries of the words and motions. It was a process that was both very structured and left space for creative interpretation.

Kata structures come from the more traditional models of Japanese theatre. In order to connect this piece with traditional kyōgen, we worked on katas that had to fit within the borders of a Zoom screen and represent actions that related to modern objects such as USBs and nametags. These were some of the more challenging and wonderful moments in the piece for me. It was the marrying of different styles and techniques. I got to play with a variety of props to represent the actions and the tactics I would use as the I.T. guy.

My acting partner Catherine Restivo-Romito kept me on my toes and added a variety of approaches to the material that allowed us to engage more easily in the scenes. In a Zoom world, it is difficult for the actors to really feel a sense of connection, but I felt that we were able to find many points of contact through our screens. This had to do with sightlines and feeling the rhythm of our partner. Much of that rhythm is from listening and also anticipating the lag that happens online. I hope that this translates well on the streaming performance.

Another challenge in this piece is relating to the virtual mushrooms that appear on screen. Traynor carefully directed our focus to find ways for us to react and relate to these mushroom characters, giving them active roles in the Zoom room. Hopefully, our work has made this mushroom world believable on your virtual screens. In the very last moment of the play, I have a unique interaction with a mushroom that called for a very specific what I will call an “eye kata”. Onstage the movement of the eyes are not going to be seen with such focus, so this closeup opportunity allows the actor to use the most subtle of movements to tell a story.

– Robert Torigoe, Mango Yamabushi & MushZooms 2.0

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