August 9th

Scroogin’ aroun’ 

 

Ain’t got no money, babe 

Ahm jesscrooginaroun’… 

 

(Victorian blues – it made the Top Ten in the London broadsheets) 

 

One great difficulty of being a small, impoverished theatre group is that you have to find places to rehearse that cost next to nothing, and if possible nothing. This might mean trying to find a cheap karaoke place – but this, we discovered in Shibuya where we have been meeting recently, is impossible in the evening (during the day it is possible – years ago we rehearsed much of ‘Kiss of the Spiderwoman’ at a karaoke parlour on weekday afternoons). What to do? Since we were at the foot of Tokyo’s Mons Veneris, its neon-studded nipple, its little tumescent tumulus (that is to say, Dogenzaka, with its sex-shops and love-hotels), we did briefly consider booking a room at a love hotel for a two-hour session, but decided that a trio of foreign men of different ages, including two blonds (one strawberry), might be too much even for the lax morals of Dogenzaka… Where to go?  

 

So the other night, we ended up once again at The Dubliners – I am pretty sure that a pub is not in the end all that much cheaper than a karaoke room or a love-hotel, since you have to buy drinks, and if you buy in rounds when there are three of you that’s at least three rounds, which comes to around the cost of a karaoke room and perhaps of a room at one of the cheaper love-hotels. But the beauty of doing things this way is that the institution known as Black Stripe Theatre or Theater DOES NOT HAVE TO PAY! Which it would have to do had some rehearsal space been booked… but drinks, no. So Black Stripe Theatre (or Theater) can sit back scroogily and soberly, satisfied that it won’t have to fork up, while the unfortunates who constitute it swill away, enjoy the rehearsal too much, and deceive themselves that since no rent is being paid for a rehearsal space, what they are doing is somehow saving money…  

 

Pubs, or coffee-shops (Chris’s favourite for some reason), are not – for me at least – the best places to rehearse, since the people at the neighbouring tables tend to get shirty, or at least surprised by these garrulous gaijin. With a previous play, Justin and I tried rehearsing our scenes together in the arm-chairs that many Japanese department stores thoughtfully provide outside the lavatories on each floor, but even that is a problem because the decorous and well-dressed patrons are shocked, as they walk by to relieve themselves, at the sound and spectacle of two gaijin having a ding-dong in such a place, and the many people who come to doze in these armchairs, lulled by the constant gentle sound of distant flushing, the soughing of the hand-drying machines and the twitter of the announcements, begin to wake and glower. 

 

But the evening at the Dubliners wasn’t too embarrassing to us or annoying to others, as we were not so much rehearsing as getting the script into final shape. This seemed to tire Chris in particular, and we, or rather Chris, decided, with one beer each inside us (nota bene), that we had done enough, at least in the way of broaching the play. But there were other things to broach. ’Right,’ said Justin, ‘I know a place just round the corner. We’ll have another drink there.’ So round the corner we went (I falling heavily on the way and pulling a muscle in my groin, having failed to notice a single treacherous step – I had had ONLY ONE BEER and hadn’t got near the Cocalero yet). Justin led us directly towards an establishment with a violent orange noren, the colour of Donald Trump’s hair, with two hands painted on it that were thrusting away anything that wasn’t male and above the age of 18. I began to be alarmed. But Justin turned at the last minute and led us next door, to what seemed perhaps an even more nefarious place – a large bar with a large circular cage within which a patron was trying, for a fee, to beat up a member of the staff who wore protectors on his arms. On the far side of this was a large concrete space in which various lusty lads were laying into punching bags and various nubile lasses were stretching themselves in interesting ways. Justin informed us in excited tones that they gave pole-dance lessons there… Had he taken any himself, I wondered to myself? Perhaps he might use his skills in the play? Would pole-dancing suit ‘A Christmas Carol’? Perhaps Scrooge, after his reformation, might take up pole-dancing…  

 

But these artistic meditations were rudely interrupted as I looked upwards for inspiration only to see above us a large screen on which a succession of thugs in circular cages battered each other, hugged each other, fell to the floor, and crawled and slobbered over each other in ways that seemed more suitable to a Dogenzaka love-hotel than to a martial art…  

 

I needed a drink! There on the menu was beer with Cocalero. What on earth was Cocalero? The bright young woman in charge brought out a large bottle filled with a liquid as green as sin, I was allowed to savour its smell (violently alcoholic and suffused with succulent, subtle, suggestive and surreptitious Brazilian odours), I could not resist… 

 

So Black Stripe Theatre (or Theater) may have scrooged around, but, by God, we didn’t! (But I did get home safely, and chastely, and certainly not too drunk or too late.) 

July 25th

A very amusing and productive rehearsal this evening at The Dubliner’s in Shibuya, a good stomping ground for hammy acting  – expect no less of my Dickens – and a few ciders.

Without Walter – now in America – and without a space at TUJ – now on vacation – we had little choice than to rehearse in a pub as cafes are too intimate and you attract too much attention.  We couldn’t really do anything other than read and discuss, which was probably sensible with the deadline for the costume list looming. Walter’s friend in the States has a fancy dress shop where we can rent costumes at a reasonable price for long periods and he requested the list by July 31st, so tonight after reading scene one we skimmed the text and compiled our list. Minimalism is the concept behind costume (and everything else) and costume items which can be reused in different scenes are preferred.  We’re going for a Victorian ‘feel’ so we’ll need a few tailed-jackets. I jotted down that 8 characters have top hats – hopefully we can get away with just 2. Keeping our budget low is a priority and having Tim in the cast really helps.  He already has several period pieces in his wardrobe including: a Viking belt for the Ghost of Christmas Present, a 17th century knee length shirt and long johns for Scrooge’s nightclothes, and a vast collection of caps, scarves, handkerchiefs, shawls and fingerless gloves.

After discussing why Marley unravels the bandages on his head in scene 2 and what Walter might wear, Tim recounted a story of a funeral he attended in Kyushu where a very old guest kept picking up his fallen jaw before opening his mouth to speak.  Tim reckons the man had leprosy.  Pity Walter wasn’t here for the character note.

We cleared up a couple of minor character issues.  In the jolly Fezziwig bit of scene 4 we are going have two Miss Fezziwigs rather than three. And the idea to merge Walter’s part of the Husband (scene 1) with the Neighbour (scene 4) has been dropped as we realized the former owes Scrooge a huge debt whereas the latter calls Scrooge an ‘old friend’. Clearly they are different characters – but a different colored cap should do the trick.

By the end of the rehearsal and two large ‘birthday’ ciders, I felt rather light-headed, but not as sleepy as the lad at the adjacent table who, to his date’s dismay, had his head flat on the table.  I hope we don’t have this effect on our audience.

July 20th

Rehearsal 3

Tonight’s rehearsal for A Christmas Carol was light, fun, and very productive.

The rehearsal began 20 minutes late when birthday boy Chris (39) going on 50 burst into the rehearsal space with his freshly trimmed strawberry blond hair and a Shakespearean strut.

Walter had secured us a nice room at Temple University. The room has a classroom feel to it with an empty gas canister and a replica M16 sprawled along one of the tables. It’s our second time rehearsing at TUJ.

A Christmas Carol is a short novel about a bitter miser called Scrooge. (Played by Tim, who is nothing like Scrooge…cough) With the help of three ghosts, Scrooge changes dramatically, and becomes kind and generous by the end of the story.

Trying to condense A Christmas Carol into a sixty minute play was very challenging as a writer. Charles Dickens often wrote with a fluid, epic and film like style, with locations changing constantly and dozens of theatrical and flamboyant characters. However, I hope I’ve managed to honor the book in a fun and respectful manner. I kept a lot of the original dialogue and also incorporated some of Dickens own notes and quotations.

Dickens’s desired a face-to-face relationship with his public (the relationship he was to achieve literally with his readings), in which he and his audience were present in the same room. Our play opens with Dicken’s (played by Chris) reading to the audience.

The rehearsal was split between debate around the table and work on our feet; discovering and exploring the basic physicality of the show and its movement sequences.

Tonight’s rehearsal was Walter’s last until September. He’s going on holiday to America for a month. We rehearsed Marley, Fezziwig and Christmas Present scenes. The Fezziwig scene is one of my favorites as it’s full of joy, merriment and music. It’s also a very contemplative scene. Especially at the end.

I should also mention Chris made a rather fetching Mrs. Fezziwig.

One hilarious moment in the rehearsal was when Walter called Scrooge ‘Bob Marley’. Images of Bob Marley singing ‘No woman no cry’ through Scrooges office window, on a cold, Victorian Christmas eve filled my mind.

At the end of the rehearsal, Tim recounted his horrifying experiences at a public school, he attended in London (During the 1800’s) ‘The teachers you see’ he exclaimed with a tint of resentment ‘caned the naughty boys’ bottoms for punishment. In the shower room, you could always tell the boys who had been caned, by the black stripe on their behinds.’

I always wondered where the inspiration for the name Black Stripe theatre came from.