🇯🇵 Japan: Play Practice

January 17th, 2017

Luke and Haley have been asked to be a part of some sort of community theater production. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I got to go watch them practice.

It's 7:30pm on Tuesday night and we walk a couple hundred feet to a nearby building where play practice is held. We enter through a sliding door and leave our shoes on the stone tile entryway, before stepping up into the building proper. A hallway runs the length of the building perpendicular to the entrance. Sliding doors ahead of us are partially open, a few people mingling in the open room.

Sounds of feet pounding and children's voices come down from the ceiling. I follow Luke up the stairway which is immediately to our left. The stairs leads to a wide open room with tatami flooring. Sitting pillows are piled at one end of the room and at the far end is a small alcove with some audio video equipment and closet space to either side.

The ceiling is tallest in the center and steps down toward the walls. Three square lights hang along the middle of the tallest segment. Modern blinds cover the windows which take up half the length of the long walls.

I sit on the floor near a rolling white board toward the front and watch as the kids run around and slide on the floor. One of the adults has a remote and is getting a DVD started on the flat panel television.

He hits play and a recording of three people dancing in a mirror comes alive on the screen. Dancing Queen begins to play and the adults and children start to mimic the dance moves. When the song ends the man with the remote starts it again.

The song is two and a half minutes long. Over the course of the next few repeats the room fills with people. I count 20 children and 10 adults when it seems everyone has arrived.

For the next 45 minute to an hour they repeat the song, taking a break after every few repetitions. They all know their parts pretty well. They do a round with just the children dancing, then just the men, and finally just the women. The last practice is with everyone but the TV is turned off, so they need to rely entirely on memory. I'm fairly impressed with their coordination, though listening to Dancing Queen on repeat is straining.

Suddenly everyone is going downstairs. I grab my hat and follow to the room just inside the entrance on the main floor. I find a corner to sit and watch as they practice the play.

The play is very campy and very Japanese. Only two lines are in English, but watching the reactions tells me a lot about what is going on.

A handful of chairs in a row represents a noodle shop. A couple people come in and order noodles. From the laughter when one character says "konichiwa-aaa" I get the sense his pronunciation and actions may have some cultural significance. (Or are at least humorous.) The shop owner is laying near the back of the stage and rolls forward, popping up to greet his customers.

This action causes both the the customers to tumble to the floor in shock. It's a physical equivalent to the shocked reaction cut-aways found in nearly every Japanese cartoon show. Officially it's called a "face fault" the Japanese equivalent to a facepalm. After recovering they both get noodles and sit down to eat.

Haley and Luke enter and Haley asks, in English, if this place is a ramen restaurant. The owner asks her to repeat the question, and to show his minimal grasp of English, responds "Ramen, yes. Very famous."

"Two please," says my brother, also in English, as he holds up two fingers. His voice reminds me of Tobias Funke from Arrested Development. They sit and receive their ramen bowls. After taking a few bites Haley says something about how good the ramen is in flawless Japanese. This causes everyone in the restaurant to tumble off their chairs and fall to the floor in shock. They barely have time to get back up before Luke also says something in Japanese and they drop in shock again.

An old man comes in, his cane slipping, and he falls several times as the small audience of people not on stage laugh. (The man wasn't really old, just acting, and his "cane" was really a squeegee mop.) He orders food and is also seated.

Next three men come in together and take turns saying things as they walk around in a tight circle. Then they turn sideways, clasp their hands in front of them, Ganesha Mudra style, and begin to sing. They sing in a short round and are eventually interrupted by the old man who has stood up, stepped forward and says something which causes everyone in the room to drop to the ground. He grabs his butt with his free hand and says something else. Everyone drops to the ground again. The restaurant owner helps to usher him off stage left as the children howl with laughter.

A couple of children come and interrupt the singing men. I later am told that the men have some harebrained scheme to build some sort of hotel to attract Chinese Tourists. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details. The children start chanting and marching until one of the men cuts them off and that's when the music for Dancing Queen starts up.

They rehearse twice. I record the show from "backstage" because I want to get Luke and Haley's part. When they start the second time, everyone looks at me and Luke translates something that had just been said.

"They want to know if it would be better to record from the front."

Wide eyed I nod yes rapidly. I was trying to be discrete, since I wasn't sure if I was supposed to record or not, but I had been caught. Since I nod yes they made a space for me at the front so I could record the second run through with my phone. (At some point I hope to make a short edit of the two videos.)

When the practice is finished they asked me what I thought of the play. I give them a thumbs up and say "very good!" They laughed.