Big audiences, big theatre, big pressure and big amounts of Starbucks
It was only two months ago myself and Charlie sat down to have a pastry party to celebrate the official announcement of our transfer to Japan – to mark the event we played Alphaville’s Big in Japan – little did I realise how often that phrase would come back to haunt us. Big audiences, big theatre, big pressure and big amounts of Starbucks. How do you take a show from a typical London fringe theatre with a capacity of 59 to a leading theatre in Tokyo with a capacity of 800, you may well ask?
Perhaps the unorthodox answer being: spending two weeks in a workshop in Kita-Toda, a rural part of Japan, fixed to my emails and phone. But the true answer lies with: passion, determination and of course constant communication spanning two different time zones. I was fortunate enough to be leading such an adaptable and professional company; our production team and cast dealt with daily schedule changes and pressures without a blink of the eye. All forgiving, understanding and worth their weight in shiny, shiny gold.
Working alongside our Japanese producers we faced the challenge of making an inherently British show accessible to a Japanese audience, and of making our ways of approaching and performing theatre as flexible as possible. With a shared motivation of making the production the best it can be and honouring Studio Ghibli’s work, we were able to overcome any last minute crisis that comes with putting on a production, particularly at this scale.
Despite the challenges, the strength that pulled me through was this incredible opportunity that we were given: everyone who had worked so tirelessly on this production was given their chance to shine, to have their efforts and work exposed in a professional capacity, and we were able to bring Princess Mononoke back to home. The opening night was one of those rare moments, a communal sense of pride shared by those not only involved but by every audience member who ever has been entertained, surprised and thought-provoked by Ghibli’s work.
We have faced the biggest challenge of our lives thus far, and have triumphed with renewed energy, friends (I’m looking at you, Family Mart) and understanding of the show. We’ve been from the extremely testing: 3am meetings lying on the hotel floor, to the immensely rewarding: meeting Miyazaki-san at Studio Ghibli. The next challenge being: scaling it all back! Bring on New Diorama Theatre: The Return.
Beckie Targett x
Producer, Princess Mononoke
A year ago, Whole Hog Theatre was in Leamington Spa. Our Artistic Director Alex had just got back from her job in a jewellery shop. Polly, one of our Company Directors, had a night off from her job as a cocktail waitress, and Charlie was on her way home from the alpaca farm where she was working in the shearing tent.
And then we got an email from Studio Ghibli.
Since then, our lives have transformed. We were given the incredible honour of adapting Hayao Miyazaki’s award winning ecological fable for the stage, using recycled materials to create set, puppets and costumes, and a cast of fifteen young performers playing up to nine roles each to tell the story as faithfully as possible. Still entirely run by volunteers, the whole team worked beyond the limits of human endurance to realise the film live at the New Diorama Theatre in London for a week of sold out performances.
And then we came to Tokyo.
We opened at the AiiA Theatre in Shibuya on April 29th to a packed house of 800. One audience member in particular was keen to speak to us after one of the performances, and that was Toshio Suzuki, producer of Studio Ghibli. We almost couldn’t believe it when he told us just how much he had enjoyed the show, and nearly fell over when he invited us to visit the Ghibli animation studios. The entire team boarded a train to the studio in a quiet suburb not far from the theatre.
And then we met Mr Miyazaki.
Anyone who loves his work can appreciate how much this has meant to the cast, crew and production team of Princess Mononoke. The old adage that you should never meet your idols has no place here – Mr Miyazaki was charming, inspiring and faultlessly gracious throughout. Our tour of the studios was fascinating and exhilarating in itself, but I know that for most of us, it was meeting Miyazaki-sama that will shine brightly as the greatest experience of our time in Tokyo. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the task we have set ourselves with this show, but meeting him has energised everyone with a new drive and focus. We are so grateful for his kindness, and are honoured beyond words by his praise.
We will go on tweaking the show between performances, and even 6.30am alarms for early make up calls won’t get us down. We are so grateful to everyone who has brought us this far, and are now even more determined to keep striving to improve and develop our show into something we, the fans, our producers, and Mr Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli can continue to be proud of.
Charlie Hoare x
Princess Mononoke Puppet Designer
Who actually are they?! And do they like Marmite?
You’ve seen their photos and perhaps read their tweets, but do you really know the cast of Princess Mononoke? Three of our actors have kindly taken the time to answer our questions…
Name: Mei Mac (San/ Princess Mononoke)
Training: Rep Theatre Training
Why did you audition? Because Whole Hog create the type of theatre I love to create. Also because Studio Ghibli was such a great part of my childhood, and I wanted to be a part of that.
What's the hardest thing about your role in Princess Mononoke? San's entrances in the play are often fast paced. My challenge has been in finding the grey moments of stillness, where her inner conflicts can be translated for a live audience to read, while also being true to her character in the animation.
Any funny moments from rehearsals that you'd like to share? Aha! Times of delirium bring out the ridiculous in us, really. Jess, who plays Toki and Moro's bum has been capturing these with 'Bum Cam'. Hopefully we'll be able to post them one day so you can all see how absurd it can get…
What are you most looking forward to about taking the show to Tokyo? Meeting all our supporters and hearing the reaction from fans!
What are your plans for after the show finishes its 2013 run in June? As a jobbing actor I will be once again chasing that audition trail! I really hope we can return to Princess Mononoke, this show has so much life in it yet to give.
Any advice for aspiring actors? Keep training, learning and networking. Have an awareness of yourself, your style and opinions. But be open minded for change, collaboration and constructive criticisms.
Marmite or jam? JAM.
Bath or shower? Oh, shower absolutely.
Name: Oliver Davis (Yakul)
Training: BA Theatre and Performance Studies
Why did you audition? I've known and worked with the WHT team since uni and was eager to get involved with a new project. I had never even heard of the film but as with most I knew it was special as soon as I watched it. Mostly I was intrigued as to how they would even fit such an epic tale onto the stage.
Do you have a favourite moment in the play? I have a few and keep finding new ones. Favourite to perform: San and Yakul's interaction when Ashitaka has been shot. Favourite to watch: When demon Nago attacks the Emishi village at the start of the play.
What's the hardest thing about your role in Princess Mononoke? Holding up Yakul's head up for reeeeeeeeeeally long periods without losing focus. My shoulders get very sore and I usually have someone sat on my back too!!
Any funny moments from rehearsals that you'd like to share? Scaring Jackie Lam (ie. Gonza) with spiders.
What are your plans for after the show finishes its 2013 run in June? Run away with the circus.
Any advice for aspiring actors? Don't be put off by small companies or unpaid work (if you can afford it). As WHT have shown you never know where things can take you. Just choose what intrigues you and makes you passionate.
Marmite or jam? Jam! Way more versatile!!
Bath or shower? Shower. I forget about running baths and cause floods.
Name: Adam Cridland (Ensemble)
Training: European Theatre Arts (BA Hons), Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
Why did you audition? I didn't unfortunately but a very good friend of mine informed me that someone had dropped out of the ensemble and they needed a quick replacement so he gave me a call and forwarded on Alex's details (the director) and after having a 'trial rehearsal' I became involved....WALLAH!
What's the hardest thing about your role in Princess Mononoke? The consistent costume changes. I've never had to deal with so many although I am finding them rather invigorating.
What are you most looking forward to about taking the show to Tokyo? The thing I'm looking forward to is exposing the work of a company who are still developing their own practices and theatrical style to a culture that has no idea who Whole Hog are.
What are your plans for after the show finishes its 2013 run in June? No idea... a few auditions have come up so I might give them a go or get myself a job for the time being, as I owe people i.e. my parents a huge amount of money for being involved in this project... BIG LOVE TO YOU!!
Any advice for aspiring actors? Don't be afraid to fail, we all make mistakes and will throughout life. Don't conform to the powers that be just make your music and paint a picture with it whether it's on a wooden stage or concrete street, up a tree or on your feet... Just jam wherever you may be.
Marmite or jam? Jam fo' sure. Marmite is a no go zone.
Bath or shower? It has to be....SHOWER!
So now you know not to offer baths or marmite to any of these guys if they pop round for tea…!
Costume Concepts For Princess Mononoke
Costume Designer, Yoseph Hammad, shares his concepts and design ideas behind the stunning Princess Mononoke costumes.
When taking on the task of designing the costumes for Whole Hog Theatre’s Princess Mononoke I had to try to strike a balance between the original animation, the recycling theme and the need to adapt the animated palette to “real world” colours. For example, pastel blues from the film are changed into traditional Japanese colours such as indigo blues.
When looking through the donations of recycled goods from the various supporters of the project it became very apparent that the costumes would need to be a patchwork: transforming peoples’ work shirts, baggy denim jeans and winter coats into kimonos, happi jackets and hakama trousers.
I collected a range of Japanese fabrics and imported a variety of second hand kimonos and donations from Japan to blend in with the British fabrics to give the costumes a much-needed cultural boost.
Boro, a Japanese form of patch-working rags into garments, was my biggest inspiration. I felt that this style of make do and mend, which was born out of survival rather than fashion, would be the right direction for our patchwork interpretation of Princess Mononoke.
To learn more about the sources that inspired the costume design see the links below:
Boro: Rags and Tatters From the Far North of Japan, Kyouiti Tuzuki.
Picture from Boro: Rags and Tatters From the Far North of Japan.
Samurai Undressed, Jacqui Carey.
Samurai an illustrated History, Mitso Kurey.
Sweet Pea Path.
Euro Japan Links.
Yoseph Hammad x
Costume Designer, Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke From an Actor's Point of View
Exclusive: first ever blog from a Princess Mononoke actor! Our youngest performer, Sam Wightman, who plays Okkoto, gives us an insight into the rehearsal process thus far.
With 2 weeks until our first performance in Japan, it’s safe to say that as a company of actors, we’ve come a long way since we first met in November. Many cast members grew up with Princess Mononoke, and consequently there is a passion and enthusiasm that you just couldn’t get with a different project. And even those (like me) who were embarrassingly unacquainted with film have been swayed to see how magical Studio Ghibli films can be. Whilst Princess Mononoke is great material for us to work with, I think we are all aware of the enormous pressure to do justice to the film: both for our own personal admiration of it, and importantly the worldwide fan base it has amassed.
For me, the most exciting element of this production is the way adaptation is being so strongly embraced. Whilst Miyazaki’s masterpiece will be forever immortalised in film, there is something really special about having the responsibility of bringing such iconic characters into the live arena of theatre. The movie is inevitably the starting point for characterisation, but we have had to add our own depth and interpretation to our parts in order for them to be expressive and believable as human beings (and gods) before a present audience.
I am also so excited about the work we’ve been doing to incorporate movement sequences into the production. Movement and contact improvisation has played such a key role in our character work and for it to be embedded in the performance, and devised by us, is hugely refreshing, but also marks our telling of Princess Mononoke as a distinctly theatrical event. This process of adaptation and devising goes far beyond what can be seen on screen. With the setting being a real part of Japan’s history, I have found that even the smallest character has a very exact role within their respective community, and this has had to inform our treatment of other characters too. With the help of research into Japanese culture, watching behind-the-scenes interviews of the original film’s production, and by incorporating the knowledge of Yuriko, our Japanese cast member and Rehearsal Dramaturg, we have been able to grasp the important specifics of Japanese culture and the world our character’s live in. For the Tokyo audiences, this has also helped us to consider choices which we would normally disregard in our culture, such as specific phrases carrying alternative meanings and the importance of wearing a kimono with the correct side on top.
In short, the Princess Mononoke rehearsal process has been so far tremendously rewarding and stimulating. I feel very lucky to be working with such a hard-working group of people, on what is shaping out to be a really special production indeed.
Sam Wightman x
Okkoto in Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke production photos!
We have had the website ravaged by technical gremlins, but now we've finally revived our beloved site and we're excited to treat you all to the first batch of show photos, taken at the New Diorama Theatre during our run last week. Enjoy!
Whole Hog Theatre x
Princess Mononoke First Run Storify!
As well as amazing show photos, we've also collected some of last week's action and bunched it into a Storify, bringing you the most excited tweets from the team and the kindest words from the audience one one handy little page.
Anaïs Higgins x