Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (11)

Part 11 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: 2 (South America)
Portuguese Shinnai

Well, how did I solve the problem?
I will explain a little about the problem for those who did not read the previous essay.
At the first of our joint shinnai-Kuruma Ningyo performances in Brazil, the audience could not understand the story at all. I received a complaint from staff of the Japanese Embassy. Hmm. How should I deal with this problem from then on?
In order to come up with a solution, I scrutinized the content of the work we were performing, and changed and clarified some of the language. Also, I asked the person who would be explaining the story to the audience before our performance to make sure that the explanation was understandable. But still I wasn’t satisfied. I thought about it some more, and finally came up with a good idea.
Shinnai performances are a combination of singing and spoken lines. I decided to use the local language for some of the spoken lines. Since the next performances were going to be in Brazil, Portuguese was the local language. The only words I knew in Portuguese were “castella” (a sponge cake brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century) and “tempura”. But I decided to challenge myself and give this performance method a try.
Immediately, I asked the interpreter to come to my room, and I explained my idea.
“What?! Really? Do you know any Portuguese?”
“No, none at all…,” I replied. The interpreter was surprised, and said, “Are you sure? What you want to do is impossible.” I explained my serious commitment to this decision. Finally, he was convinced.
We didn’t have much time, so we started right away. The first spoken lines in the work that we were performing, Yaji-Kita, are “‘Ahh. I’m tired, very tired’… How can I say that?” “Kansa’do”. “And ‘sorry, very sorry…’?” “Perdon, perdon.” Like that, he gave me the translations phrase by phrase, and I wrote them in katakana (one of the Japanese syllabaries) in my daihon (the script that I read from when I’m performing).
“Horseshit?”
“Koko de kava’lo” (maybe that’s not correct).
“How about ‘stinks’?” “Tafeshi’do.” We translated about 50 expressions into Portuguese for the 30-minute performance.
Writing the Portuguese words in katakana made them easy for me to read. It seemed to me that Portuguese was an easier language than English.
Only about 3 hours remained until the performance. I practiced frantically. There wasn’t time to even think about having a shinnai rehearsal.
Even though Portuguese was easy for me to pronounce, this was my first time to use the language in front of an audience of people from a Portuguese-speaking country. I was tense and dripping with sweat. It was as if I was fighting with the katakana on the stage. And I wasn’t the only one having a hard time. It was also tough for the Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers.
The movements of the puppets in a puppet play have to coordinate with the words and music of the story. In a shinnai work with the Kuruma Ningyo puppets, the puppeteers are guided by the shinnai narration and song. Yaji-Kita has extensive spoken lines, and the puppets’ actions are supposed to match what I’m saying. Because I was now speaking many of my lines in Portuguese, the puppeteers were confused. In addition, I used many ad libs, which made it even more difficult for them.
However, when I said, “Kansa’do, muinto kansa’do,” there was a huge burst of laughter, which continued with each of the katakana (Portuguese) lines. Yaji-Kita was originally a humorous work, and it was received very well. Indeed, the laughter of these cheerful Brazilians was so loud that it practically drowned out the sound of the shamisen.
It was completely different from the first performance. This time, the audience was delighted; we performers were even more delighted. After that, we got the same reaction from the audiences in Rio, Sao Paulo, and other cities. At every performance, we had 4 or 5 curtain calls. The Embassy staff were also very satisfied: “You can use this method wherever you go in the world,” they said to us. Actually, after this experience, I did use the method in many places around the world… “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Dec. 2014-Jan. 2014 issue, issue #77).

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