Scarlet Princess Of Edo was a Kabuki play concerning a head priest and a princess who fall in love. They are disgraced and each is cast out from their separate worlds. There is no happy ending, only a brutal decline in the outside world to tragic, separate demises.
Kabuki is the most popular and well-known of the Japanese Theatre arts, and English language versions were produced frequently by the U. of Hawaii’s Asian Theatre Department. Deep connections to the famous Nakamura Kabuki family, Professor James Brandon’s leadership, and the invaluable assistance of choreographer Onoe Kikunobu, made these shows into hugely successful productions.
Acting in this Kabuki gave me a singular gift.
The Kabuki acting style, much different from Noh and Kyogen with their contained physicallity, is very expressive physically, but is embodied, to me, in one particular move. A battle covering a whole stage might devolve into a single fight between a hero and a villain, drawing the audience’s eye to it, and the fight would end with the hero overcoming the villain. At that point, the hero would do what is called in kabuki a “mie.” The mie would start with, say, the hero placing his foot on his vanquished foe, then placing his arms, hands, and body, in a triumphant pose, and then he would do a circular movement with his head and neck that ends with a snap facing the audience, and in the great mies, the last movement would be one eye crossing to the bridge of his nose. The mie fascinated me.
Acting, I was learning at that early stage, was largely about focus, who had it, who needed it, when and how to take it, when and how to give it. What? Well, what I got from the mie was that focus was essentially about movement, and when and where the movement stopped. The mie is a focusing mechanism. The audience’s eye follows the movement of the mie on stage, from the leg to the arms, hands, and body, then to the head and neck, then to the crossing eye, and finally stops on the bridge of the nose, where that crossed eye is looking. The middle of the face is where the audience winds up looking. A close-up, if I ever saw one.
Once I understood that, my acting changed, I had a sense that I knew what I was doing onstage, getting and giving focus as needed or wanted. And what I did in between the getting and giving onstage was learning about the intricacies, and the craft, of acting. And later on, the mie, and my understanding of it, informed my directing. And it goes on today, in my acting and directing. The gift that keeps on giving.