Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Japanese Language in Action: Summer Theater Workshop For High Schoolers

SPAC's Medea, performed at Japan Society in 2011. Photo by Takuma Uchida.

When we think theater we think of bright costumes and big sets, flashy musical numbers, tear-jerking soliloquys, black box realness or broad, bawdy comedy. On Broadway alone right now, it's spider men spinning impossible spectacle, invisible family-binding bunnies, all that jazz, music of the night and much more. But when you get down to it, theater is fundamentally story, which can be told through many different languages: movement, character, plot, design. And sometimes, in the best theater, the story unfolds simply in language itself (think Shakespeare).

This year’s Japan Society summer high school workshop teaches the most fundamental tool for storytelling, language (specifically Japanese) through theater and performance techniques. Although participants may be of any proficiency level, the program is recommended for beginner to intermediate level speakers.

Led by Mami Fujisaki, a high school Japanese teacher at Horace Mann School and a recipient of the Bellet Award for Teaching Excellence (2004), participants split their days between basic Japanese courses and purely theatrical workshops. In the morning Fujisaki teaches students dialogue and conversational skills. In the afternoon, guest instructors present an array of mini-workshops focusing on storytelling through acting, movement, and even traditional non-theater techniques and pop music, among other topics. Guest instructors include Jun Kim, Sonoko Kawahara and Kanako Hiyama, who participate as actors, directors or dancers in New York Japan-based theatre troupes; Alex York, a veteran Japan Society language student and New York based Japanese pop-rock singer; and Tara McGowan, a traditional storyteller and practitioner of kamishibai (storytelling through illustrated picture cards).

Over the course of the workshop, students learn two plays--Issun Boushi and John Manjiro--which they perform on the final day of the workshop, August 18. Though they will have a hand in creating costumes, set, and lighting, their primary focus will be bringing characters to life and understanding them from the mind of the author as well as the actor. Having polished performance skills, learned basic Japanese, and mastered lines and delivery, they will demonstrate a deeper understanding of the language, and ultimately connecting to people through storytelling.

--Sarah Anderson

Each summer Japan Society’s Education Program offers workshops for high school students aiming to help them connect with a particular facet of Japanese culture. In previous years, students have discovered tops topics such as anime, fashion and cooking. For more information on the Society’s education programming, visit http://www.japansociety.org/page/programs/education_family.

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