紙芝居 Kamishibai! Tokaido Road storytelling joins the journey…

Art into poetry….poetry into music….now Tokaido Road is now undergoing another transformation into an intimate theatrical story-telling version known as ‘Kamishibai’.

What is Kamishibai?

Kamishibai literally means ‘paper drama’. It is a form of story telling which originated in 12th century Japanese Buddhist temples when Monks used picture scrolls (emakimono) to tell stories with moral lessons to a mostly illiterate audience.

Whilst we don’t imagine our audiences to be in the least bit immoral or illiterate (!) we are delighted to bring to life our version of  this ancient form of communication  – another reincarnation of the Tokaido Road project. Kamishibai has long been a part of Japan’s culture, but experienced a new revival of interest in the 1920s -1950s. The kamishibai story-teller rode from village to village on a bicycle carrying a small box theatre. Inside the box are pictures, withdrawn one by one to illustrate the story.

Our Tokaido Road storyteller is mime artist and experienced Kamishibai presenter Tomoko Komura. Accompanied by live koto music performed by Okeanos’ Melissa Holding, our newest production re-tells the story of Hiroshige the artist and his travels on the Tokaido Road using large prints of Hiroshige’s own beautiful and iconic woodblock to set the scenes. Tomoko describes contemporary Kamishibai as ‘funny, highly communicative, full of pathos, empathy , sensitivity….friendly….a brilliant way to illustrate a story…’ Audiences described her inimitable story telling style as ‘wonderfully unique… imaginative…. surprisingly hilarious….lively…..one of the most exciting and moving experience…a tour-de-force of a performance’.

The premiere of Kamishibai: Tokaido Road took place at the magical WiseWords Festival garden on 6th September 2015. Next stop:  Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 30th October where we link up with their print exhibition of Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road (exhibition runs until 21st November) before touring to schools.

Tomoko Komura telling the story of Tokaido Road Kamishibai style!

Tomoko Komura at the WiseWords Festival telling the story of Tokaido Road Kamishibai style!

‘Meticulous…atmospheric…a triumph’..Another great review for Tokaido Road!

‘Staged at the Parabola Arts Centre, the first performance of Nicola LeFanu’s new music-theatre piece Tokaido Road was a festival highlight. Librettist Nancy Gaffield provided a text based on her own collection of poems. Incorporating narration, song and mime, the exquisite results were based on the life of the Japanese landscape artist Hiroshige’s woodblock print series 53 Stations of the Tokaido, and images of these pictures were screened above the live performance, adding another layer to the experience.

The principal protagonist is Hiroshige himself (baritone Jeremy Huw Williams), who appears as a young man, Hiro, making an epic journey and also as an old man recalling the trek. The women he encounters are Kikuyo, an apprentice geisha (soprano Raphaela Papadakis) and Mariko, a teahouse mistress (mezzo Caryl Hughes) and his memory is embodied by a mime artist (Tomoko Komura). At the end, the mime leaves as the old Hiroshige sings his own epitaph.

Written for the ensemble Okeanos, the instrumental accompaniment consisted of oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/bass clarinet, viola and cello, together with sho (Japanese mouth organ) and plucked koto. These forces, effectively blending western and Japanese instruments, were used sparingly, always adding point and colour, and sensitively conducted by Dominic Wheeler. The staging was meticulous and atmospheric, with director Caroline Clegg keeping the narrative flowing and allowing space for every character to communicate meaningfully. Tomoko Komura’s mime, combining grace and energy, was a particular delight. Tokaido Road was a true collaboration of several talents and a particular triumph for Nicola LeFanu, whose wisdom and experience illuminated this, her ninth score for the stage.’
Paul Conway – Musical Opinion

Private View at Beach Creative

Fabulous evening at Beach Creative in Herne Bay last night, at which Nancy Gaffield and Wynn White were In Conversation, talking about their individual as well as their collaborative processes on Tokaido Road.

Wynn’s photographs are currently being exhibited at Beach Creative as one of several events leading up to tomorrow’s performance at The Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury, and last night was the opportunity to get up close and personal with both Wynn and his images, as he took the assembled crowd through his creative process, interspersed with Nancy reading from her cycle of poems.

Thank you to Beach Creative for hosting Wynn’s exhibition, and for last night’s In Conversation; it all builds up to tomorrow night’s performance – see you there!

Exhibition of Wynn White’s photographs at Beach Creative

As the build-up to the performance of Tokaido Road at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury on Sat 23 May, we’re delighted that the satellite exhibition of Wynn White’s photographs is now open at Beach Creative in Herne Bay.

American-born now living in Japan, Wynn is a hands-on photographer using several historic printing techniques that are becoming increasingly rare; several of Wynn’s mesmerising photos are projected onto the stage during the opera; the exhibition at Beach Creative sets Wynn’s photos within the context of his work, and allows a wider appreciation of his creativity.

beach_creative_logoThe exhibition runs until 23 May; admission is free, find out more about Beach Creative here.


Five Questions: Kate Romano (producer)


1. What first attracted you to the idea of the Tokaido Road project?

I’ve been a founder member of Okeanos since 2000. I became more and more curious about our mix of Western and Japanese instruments and our collaborations with other art forms. What’s really happening when you put two cultures together, or a mix of art forms into the same space? When do such meetings become successful and meaningful (or not)? Do disparate elements amalgamate (ugh – that word ‘fusion’ which I don’t like) or can they retain their own identity and still add meaning to the whole?
I was looking for a project in which to explore these questions, but at that time (2012) I didn’t know we’d be creating an opera! Quite by chance, we came across Nancy Gaffield’s wonderful book of poems called Tokaido Road. I was excited by Hiroshige’s pictures (the ‘53 Stations of the Tokaido Road’) which inspired Nancy’s poems, the drama of the journey, the vibrancy of the Edo period. And I was captivated by this structural idea of art commenting on art commenting on art etc Maybe this was something we could translate into the concert hall? It started to feel less like a song cycle (the original plan!) and more like a drama, a narrative, a theatrical and musical journey. Paintings, poetry, music, photography, mime….all maintaining their own identity but pursuing one end – to tell the story of Hiroshige’s travels in their own language whilst ‘commenting on’ the other arts forms around them. I later found out that this process has a name – Tokaido Road is an exercise in ‘ekphrasis’ – one art form adding meaning to another. I’m incredibly proud of Tokaido Road – I think my team have told a wonderful timeless story and created a beautiful, elegant piece of music theatre out of my initial ponderings…

2. Tell us about your involvement in Tokaido Road.

I am the producer. Two years ago, I didn’t know what a producer did – or even that I was becoming one. I suspect that the definition of ‘producer’ is different for everyone who makes things happen, but I found it to be a (surprisingly) creative role and one I relished. Firstly, I had the challenge of wrapping up and summarising what we were setting out to do, then building the team to enable it all to happen. With Nancy as librettist, the next (obvious) choice was Nicola LeFanu as composer. I love her music and I felt she’d be the right person for this opera. We’ve got some incredible people working on Tokaido Road in every capacity – too many to list here – but they have all contributed so much. I organised all 8 touring performances, coordinated schedules, created the outreach projects, calculated the budget and then raised the money to make it all happen. It was a huge job, I won’t lie! It involved getting up at 4am for many months. It gave me many sleepless nights as well as moments of immense pride and pleasure. Oh, and I also perform in the opera – clarinet and bass clarinet. I am in the very strange position of being a producer who has never seen my opera live! Fortunately we’ve got a terrific film of it.
3. What excites you about contemporary arts?

Its an incredible time to be involved in making art. Last week I saw three breathtakingly good events: ENO ‘s Between Worlds, a children’s theatre production by Punchdrunk and Rioji Ikeda’s Supersymmetry. Each confirmed the staggering variety, imagination and quality of work being produced right now. And the 2015 Proms Programme… Wow! On the other hand, there are huge challenges facing everyone working in the arts. Its really tough and restrictive sometimes, but it certainly makes you think in very creative ways. Every penny has to work hard – producing the highest quality art, reaching as many people as possible in as as many ways as we can think of. I love highly engaging immersive theatre, I’m exploring more site-specific work and I really enjoy making education projects which usually involve a lot of home-made recycled props. I am constantly inspired by innovative museum and exhibition curators- especially those who bring everyday things into question. I love being part of an industry which is so responsive to the times we live in – we can make art anywhere out of anything. We can engage people in a hundred different ways. I don’t think art is there just to please everyone. I think art should enable you to ask questions and see the world in different ways.

4. What has the project taught you / shown you / made you aware of?

Where to start? It has taught me how to produce an opera – the practical and the personal matters. I have a far keener awareness of the challenges facing the arts industry. It has taught me more about myself – my motivation, my ambitions, my determination. It has enabled me to think in new ways about collaborative arts which I will take forwards. It has made me realise how much I love to tell a story and create worlds of wonder and curiosity. I’m like a big kid really – I just enjoy making stuff. It has resulted in friendships with extraordinarily talented people that will last a lifetime.

5. What relevance, for you, does the project have to today’s cultural environment?

Collaborative work is everywhere today. And there are fascinating groups who bring together more than one culture. I think that one of the most relevant and significant aspects of the opera was its ambition to ask how multiple art forms and cultures relate to each other in the same space. We thought long and hard about these relationships – ours with Japan, and those between the art forms. Regarding Japan, ultimately I have realised that we enjoy Japan like the ‘tourists’ we are: equally thrilled and fascinated by both similarities and differences. I think that in Tokaido Road we have created a new place – not Western, not Eastern, but somewhere unique to the story. I was very pleased that our Japanese audiences enjoyed Tokaido Road so much. On some ways, the artistic relationships were harder. There are moments in the opera where I think ‘oh, that was magical, we got that just right’ and others where the relationship between image, music and mime took much longer to balance and establish and we went round in circles before deciding on the final version. It was also vital to create a work which was malleable, portable and tourable. Like many projects today, we didn’t have the luxury of a run in a fixed venue so the opera had to be something that could adapt to all sorts of spaces. It has gone into theatres, a tiny church, the vast Great Hall in the British Museum. Its a model I’ll use again – flexible and simple stage design can still look incredibly beautiful. Finally, our outreach programme which is all starting this year aims to address all the different elements of the opera – story telling, travelling, music, poetry, Japan, music, mime…something for everyone!

Can I answer the question you didn’t ask? Would I do it all again? Yes – without a moment’s hesitation!