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How Watsonville Taiko Group developed a performance with 200 people about the drought

Posted by on August 27, 2014

As part of our ongoing Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence Program (PPAIR), Joyce Smith of Watsonville Taiko Group writes about their experience developing a co-creative Taiko performance for our 3rd Friday: Games & Folklore event. Check out pictures here.

In May our business manager, Taeko, told us about a grant from the MAH for a family event, August 3rd Friday’s Games and Folklore. We knew there needed to be audience participation in the performance, but more so than our usual community performances that involve a performance followed by an opportunity for kids and adults to try out the drums and learn a simple song.  Each of our members will be actively participating with the audience in the creation of this performance at the MAH.

playingWe knew there would be a number of meetings with the museum staff to develop the program, that there would be workshops and then a performance. Our first job? Come up with a basic theme or story for the event.

Ikuyo chose Tolstoy’s story, “The Big Dipper.” The girl’s kindness and compassion, the magical elements, and the story revolving around a drought all make this the perfect starting place. Ikuyo asked me to take the short translated story and play with it.

Ikuyo, Taeko and I met up with MAH staff members, Emily and Stacey. What a fun meeting! Ikuyo shared comments/goals, which lined up perfectly with the vision of the museum staff. We shared the basic story line, discussed possible workshops, and the schedule for the day, etc. Ideas flew between the five of us. Thunder tubes … fish crafts … sandpaper makes a nice dry brittle sound … How much should Watsonville Taiko (WTG) drum … Taiko history … a very productive first meeting. I went home and started working on a rewrite of the story.

I have been working on a California version of the story, connecting Tolstoy’s themes and plot into a California setting. WTG will drum a song that Ikuyo wrote called Takinobori. This song is based on a Japanese legend about a fish fighting its way upstream and over waterfalls. I want to incorporate this song because it can represent our local Salmon as well as the carp of Japan. Salmon, coyotes, and horses became part of the tale.

Emails went back and forth with Ikuyo and Taeko… clarifications from Ikuyo of her artistic vision … revisions… editing … more emails and more changes … watching a YouTube version of the Big Dipper … visualizing the emotions and sounds Ikuyo hoped to create. Over the next few days the story started coming together. I sent off another version and another. By our next meeting with the MAH, we have a working script. At class that night we share the script with our drummers, their first real introduction to the project.

In July we gathered at the museum, and worked on refining details.  We looked at the number of people it would take to man the workshop tables, choreograph our young fish and stars, and teach the music and rhythms to our audience performers. Adjustments are made, activities refined.

After a quick dinner break it was off to Watsonville for Friday classes. We learn that we will be working with the script with the community performers on Saturday.

booksWe practiced drumming for an hour, then started looking at all the percussion instruments– cymbals, rain sticks, bowls with pebbles in them, chimes, bells, all colors and shapes. As a group we start signing up for different activities and workshops. We plotted it all out, discussed, laughed, and experimented. Bonnie’s summer kids workshop could possibly drum the sound of the horses.  Sandy has learned a wonderful way for people to create rain sounds with their hands and bodies.  Suzie is a dancer, Kay a primary school teacher. They will choreograph the stars and the fish.  Hiroshi will lead the origami workshop.  On and on it went. Such a great community feeling!

After an hour of class time, we practiced songs for the Church Street Fair, which was coming up in 2 days.  Then at 9:00, when the drums must go silent, we worked on the MAH project.  Shifting of assignments, more instruments passed out, and a very rough run through of the story. We were joined by several GreyBear drummers as well as Kathie’s granddaughter.

Taeko tried out teaching folks to play Twinkle Twinkle with the colored bells, and we all had fun becoming happy coyotes.

Bonnie’s kids had their first class the previous Sunday, and were finding their way around the practice drums.

peopleIn early August, I prepared for a meeting at 2pm with the museum staff. Looking around my computer room I saw scripts, “cast” lists, and instruments– so many instruments. The event was one week away.  Will we be ready? Will it go smoothly? Only time will tell, but it has been a wonderful experience so far.

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