A Noh performance does not officially begin at the moment when the first performers—the musicians, or hayashikata–appear on the stage. Nor does it begin when the first actor, known as the waki, comes down the bridgeway and introduces himself to the audience. It begins when the principal actor, known as the shite, and the hayashikata enter the mirror-room, the invisible chamber in which the actor dons his mask and is transformed from a living person into a god, a revenant, or some other unearthly being.
For the audience assembled in the theater—or outdoors, in the case of a torchlight Noh performance—the first inkling that the magic has begun is the oshirabe, or warm-up music, played by the hayashikata in the mirror room. It might sound something like this:
At the NOHspace, several weeks remain before we open our doors for the 2011-12 main-stage season of the Theatre of Yugen, but for those of us close enough to be aware of comings and goings around the theater, the first stirrings of the upcoming season are unmistakable:
- On September 1, Artistic Director Jubilith Moore will return from a summer of touring in Asia and teaching at the Noh Training Project in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
- Senior ensemble member Lluis Valls is already in rehearsal for To Bury a Cat, an ARTburst! production to be presented at the NOHspace on October 14-16.
- Actress and Development staff member Sheila Berotti has announced plans for the annual gathering of Theatre of Yugen ensemble members, associates, board members, and volunteers.
- Theater Manager Heather Gallagher continues to book rentals and ensure that we have the technical personnel we need, whether for our own productions or for others in our space.
- Marketing Associate Charline Formenty is in the California desert at Burning Man but will return in mid-September to resume work on a redesign of the Theatre of Yugen website.
- And Managing Director David Himmelreich, while attending to the financial affairs of the theater, is also busily assembling press releases, making website updates, initiating marketing campaigns, setting up ticketing for upcoming events, maintaining a social media presence for the theater on Facebook and Twitter, answering phones, and handling daily crises, for all the world as if he had cloned himself, in secret, into multiple discrete avatars that, whenever another person enters the space, coalesce into one slightly harried-seeming, self-deprecating fellow.
My thoughts travel back to the evening of May 16, 2010, when Theatre of Yugen founder Yuriko Doi, Artistic Director Jubilith Moore, and a few other members of the ensemble joined a troupe of eleven Noh performers from Japan in a thrilling outdoor performance of the classic Noh play Hagoromo and the classic kyogen play The Melon Thief at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. As several hundred spectators waited in suspense for the promised arrival of the fisherman and the celestial maiden, Jubilith stood at the microphone and, in her soft voice, prepared the audience for the experience to come. Sharing her appreciation of Noh as an art form in which poetry, music, costumes, and dance are combined to striking theatrical effect, she told in English the story we would see enacted in Japanese and explained the vocabulary of gestures used by Noh performers. Then suddenly her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she drew our attention to the spectral sound of the oshirabe. “The performance has begun. I am interrupting it!” And soon she stood aside, allowing the music to transport us all from a hillside above the Silicon Valley to the lonely Mihonoura shore.
I am privileged, as a longtime devotee of the Theatre of Yugen, to welcome you into this graceful world at a time when, for all of us involved in preparations for the new season, the sounds of the oshirabe are already audible and deeply exciting.