Today was the opening night of A Kabuki Christmas Carol, and also my birthday. I celebrated in the morning by shaving my eyebrows. Then my chest. Today I saw bits of me that I have not seen since I was fourteen.
Why did I do these things, you may ask? In kabuki, actors often have their eyebrows drawn in on a higher level than their natural brows. To achieve this effect, their own eyebrows have to be obscured. This is done by melting the end of a block of wax and pressing it firmly into the eyebrows, then painting them over with liquid makeup. Kabuki makeup, however, has never had to contend with shaggy gaijin eyebrows, and mine are particularly shaggy and gaijinny. The one time the lovely makeup people from Yamano College of Aesthetics were actually able to cover my eyebrows, as soon as I made any facial expression, they cracked open and revealed the dark colour underneath. I just looked like I had four eyebrows.
So I took it upon myself to make it easier on the makeup students. I’ll probably have to sketch in some shading when I go back to work on Monday. I still give myself a shock every time I look in a mirror or pass a piece of reflective glass.
As for the chest: we all wear kimono. The longer one wears a kimono, the more likely it is to open at the chest. When this occurs, one cannot look like one is attempting to smuggle a shag carpet across the border. Thus, some dainty work with the razor was required. It's a good thing I can at least see clearly in the shower now. Nipples are tricky things indeed.
Today we put the finishing touches on the set and lights, and I arrived around 3:00 to help props man extraordinaire Troy Fisher-Harper carve a hole through the wall for a trick involving the ghost of Mahrei, Sukejiro’s former partner. The opening night was the first time we tried it for real. It involved no small amount of duct tape.
The Curtain Goes Up... or To the Side
I don’t get nervous in front of an audience. I never did, even in high school, and years of teaching kids and training adults have innured me to the possibility. However, having an audience did present the difficulty of having to adjust my sight lines, while having to wait for reactions altered my timing in ways I had not anticipated. I stuttered over my second line. But this, of course, is all the fun of live theater.
When I went to close the door at my second exit, it just fell off in my hand. I kept going as if nothing had happened, assured that the stagehands (or kurogo, as they are called in kabuki) would handle it. They did, and they continued to do yeoman's work all through the show.
Even opening night, there were still many traffic issues to work out. Our fourteen-member cast all have a million little props and costume changes, sharing both among us. I spend half my time backstage running around looking for my shoes and my bento box—my shoes because a kurogo always takes them away after I remove them, and my bento because another actor uses it. I also have one of the largest, most awkward props in Christendom, and we still haven’t figured out exactly when and how it gets offstage at the end of its scene. Tonight I ended up stranded at the side of the stage while everyone else had toddled off, and finally just left the prop in place, not sure whether that was what we’d decided or whether that was just the way it was going to have to be. In the dress rehearsal, I singlehandedly prevented the next scene from beginning because I blocked off all of stage left when I tried to carry the hulking thing off in my arms.
Tonight I had the rare joy of covering for confusion, something I normally only cause. I ended up killing time outside a door when a scene started backward, then at the end I covered a line for another actor, something I’ve never done before. I even felt just a bit like a “seasoned” actor. I could have thought of better things to do while stranded at the door, but that will just inform me for next time. I’m almost disappointed that it’s sure to be smoother tomorrow.
The audience really seemed to enjoy the play—at least, judging by their lengthy applause at curtain call, which I must say is one of the classiest curtain calls we’ve ever put together. We are, in fact, sold out for every single show. I only with we’d managed to pull off such a feat for Metamorphosis. It must be a wonderful feather in the cap for writer Gary Perlman, for whom this is a world premiere presentation. It makes me want to get my own play sorted out… (And has—I'm actually working on it on the train!)
We have four more performances, but none of them happen on my birthday, so they're not nearly as important...
Here's a sneak peek at some production photos from the show. Many more can be seen at my Flickr site.