Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Debut Performance of the West Cascade Puppet Brigade

First I would like to thank everyone who has helped me with the difficult task of coming up with a name, especially Joan King, Rob D’Arc, Wes Thompson, Mylinda Sneed and Frank Reinart. We have picked our name…one of the most difficult and time consuming thing I’ve ever done in Puppetry. It is “West Cascade Puppet Brigade” and the consensus of everyone I’ve told it to that it is a good name. It’s pretty much unanimous, actually—if you can believe that. I’m so glad to have it behind me. It bothered me to have a decision just hanging out there.
The decision was made just in time for the performance at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. It was a fun performance, and very interesting to the group. Visiting the shrine was something they had never done before.
The Stage ready to go
We got an early start and made it up there in good time. We actually got to see the Shrine’s morning ceremony. I tried to keep up with the Japanese chant…it was quite a vocal exercise. We were very pleased to discover that we would be setting up on an Aikido mat, which was soft enough that we didn’t need our knee protection.
The people helping at the shrine were pretty jazzed about the whole thing. We got the standard comment that we all look like ninja in our black clothes…the standard uniform of a puppeteer. Since I’d made us all black Japanese peasant shirts, it probably helped the notion. Barrish-sensei told me that the original look of the fictional ninja, which popular culture likes so much, came from a comic book where the ninja character was a puppeteer and wore the standard stagehand all-black uniform seen on both Bunraku, and Kabuki stages. The Wikipedia page confirms that it is a stagehand uniform, although that article is really messy. So I guess we are in a ninja uniform—sort of…it seems to me that stagehands and puppeteers were using it first.
The Puppet Brigade was included in the ceremony and I once again had to offer the branch to the Okami (I hope I did it right). I wished for a good performance as I did it.
Everyone then was directed to bow and clap with me. That’s a nice feeling.
The show itself started out rocky as most shows do when the performers are overly excited. We knocked a prop off the playboard and…the baby fell out of the Peach. But it snapped into place after that and I can’t think of anything that went obviously wrong from the peach opening to the end.
There were some puppet causalities—Blue Oni will definitely needs some repairs and soon. He has a nasty crack in both pinky fingers. I’m thinking that perhaps his hands will need to be totally redone.
After the show, we could and did receive from Barrish-Sensei and Chika-san gifts from the Shrine for our performance. It was special Tsubaki sake, green tea packets and a protective charm for our arts and crafts activities. Barrish-Sensei later posted this to his Yahoo Group:
“This years special treat for all present was the WEST CASCADE PUPPET BRIGADE under direction of Ms. Elly Leverton presentation of their wonderful puppet show of Momotaro and the Island of Oni...it was really great!!!!”
Here’s a great shot of him posing with our little court noble/toady/Sumo referee Oni:
Sensei with the Gold Oni and Mandy

Once I found out that a Sumo referee wears a similar hat and robe to modern Shinto Priests, I once asked Barrish sensei for a close look at his hat and garb. That was before I found a fabulous Japanese dress from actual museums picture book at the bookstore. There I learned that the hat comes from the court noble dress—which just made it that more perfect for Gold Oni to wear. By the way, what modern Shinto priest wear today looks a lot easier to move in than what the court nobles had to wear. It almost made me wish I’d done Momotaro in Marionettes just for the long shuffling hakama and the hilarious possibilities of a fight in such garb.

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