A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to work on the final couple of performances (to date) of Hanamichi*: the brainchild of Tristan Jacobs of Masidlale Productions which was the product of months of devising and creating with a very talented student cast. The production itself is an interesting creature because of the way it evolved – masks being updated, puppets recreated, different actors slotting into the roles. Inspired by The Thought Fox, a poem by Ted Hughes, Hanamichi was a glorious thing of beauty.
I had 5 days to learn the role of Kitsune, the fox, and I was incredibly excited and nervous to take on the challenge.
I woke up one night in a cold sweat from a nightmare in which I had forgotten all my lines, which was problematic in itself since I had no lines and performed in mask.
It was important to me to honour the work that had been done before I joined the cast, some of whom had been involved since its inception and had been practicing the Suzuki actor training method for much longer than I had even known about the method.
Developed by Japanese director, Tadashi Suzuki, the method is a physical technique intended to build discipline, strength and focus. If you’ve ever had to fight the urge to wipe away a bead of sweat trickling down your nose while holding a tableau, you will know that these skills are essential in theatre.
I feel that this production and the rehearsal process that followed has informed my practice as an actor – I find solace in structure and routine, which the Suzuki method offers, and the practice of finding the performative quality of stillness and the focus that goes with it has served me well in subsequent projects.
There are two impulses in theatre: to be frivolous or to make rules – Tadashi Suzuki
*Fun fact: In Kabuki, the hanamichi (“flower path”) is a walkway which extends into the audience on which performers make dramatic entrances and exits.