For My Next Trick … Opening a New Musical in Tokyo in a Pandemic


For My Next Technique … Opening a New Musical within Tokyo in a Pandemic

Our own writer’s adaptation of “The Illusionist” was slated for a tryout operate. Lockdown, a tragic death, malignancy and quarantine got in the way, yet didn’t stop the show.

Credit… via Peter Duchan

  • Feb. 17, 2021

As I completed into my seat before takeoff, I felt, improbably, a sense of achievement. That I’d made it onto this particular (nearly empty) plane felt like an issue. That I was permitted to travel overseas, a miracle. The road to J. Farreneheit. K., to this flight, to my chair had already been long and high.

This began in 2016, when, more than Skype, the London-based composer-lyricist Eileen Bruce and I wrote the first set up of our musical adaptation of the 06 film “The Illusionist, ” itself based on a short tale by Steven Millhauser. It injury past second, third and 4th drafts, past two developmental training courses.

I was working toward a world premiere within Tokyo in late 2020. Our movie director, Thom Southerland, had a fruitful background with Umeda Arts Theater, among Japan’s larger producing entities. These were itching to develop a new musical, plus “The Illusionist” would provide that will opportunity. For the creative team, it had been a chance to not only further refine the particular writing but also to incorporate a crucial, up to now unrehearsed element: the illusions. (The protagonist is a magician, after all. )

Your coronavirus. Theaters in America and the Uk shut down. I anxiously tracked the problem in Japan, distraught when they ended admitting foreign visitors, buoyed to find out them make it through the first influx with the virus largely under control. Movies building, crucially, were open, so our own production could go ahead as prepared, even if the creative team was banned from entering the country.

Regardless of what, I wanted the production to happen. I’d currently had two 2020 regional shows canceled: one, a musical I’d written; the other, a show on which I used to be consulting. Like so many others within my sidelined industry, I was desperate for any kind of crumb of professional validation.

Umeda acquired announced that the December debut would certainly star Haruma Miura as Eisenheim, an illusionist in fin sobre siècle Vienna who reunites together with his first love, now engaged to some Hapsburg prince, and, in wanting to win her back, upends the particular fragile, carefully constructed social purchase. (Edward Norton played the part in the movie. )

Miura, who headlined Tokyo’s “Kinky Boots, ” experienced participated in a workshop of Yojiro Ichikawa’s Japanese translation of our display in 2019. We knew their Eisenheim, intense and charismatic, will be a strong anchor for the piece. The availability — and his involvement — appeared to be generating some buzz.

On July eighteen, I woke to an email communicating the news: Miura, at 30 years outdated, was dead. Japanese media reported he had hanged himself. The entire group was stunned and saddened, uncertain how or if we would move forward.

Previously, I’d been suspicious of “the show must go on” — it seemed designed to coerce employees into tolerating unacceptable labor methods — but now I heard a good earnest yearning in the phrase. Theatre is, by nature, communal. Surely it might be more healing for all involved to collect and perform the show. Exactly what would be gained by giving up?

Then from our producers came the barrage of questions. Would We be willing to quarantine in Tokyo? How quickly could I get personally to the Japanese consulate? (Deus old flame machina: Japan began allowing company travelers to apply for visas! ) Can we cut the intermission? (Socially distanced restroom use would consider too long. ) Were we Cofortable with a shift in the schedule? Shorter form the run?

Yes, yes to all from it, yes to anything. We simply had to do the show.

Credit… through Peter Duchan

Recasting the main character was obviously a thorny business so we’d chose to keep it in the family, inviting Naoto Kaiho, originally set to play the particular prince, to step into the part of Eisenheim.

And then, another shoe. Thom was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He previously confidence in a full recovery, yet he would have to remain in London with regard to treatment. He wasn’t going to have the ability to make the trip to Japan. Michael and am were worried about him. “Prioritize your wellbeing, ” we implored.

But Thom was adament his illness need not derail the particular show. Our producers once again scrambled and came up with a plan. Thom might direct remotely, via live give food to. A solution that might have seemed hard to rely on, even unthinkable, before the pandemic had been now the only way we could carry on.

With the required travel permissions, I’d made it in order to J. F. K., to this airline flight, to my seat. I snapped the selfie. Everything that could go wrong appeared already to have gone wrong. I actually felt palpable relief.

At every juncture came from here, there would be safeguards and precautions. We tested before flying (nasal swab at an overpriced boutique medical practice) and upon landing at Haneda Airport (spit test in a presentation area outfitted with photos of pickled plums to encourage salivation). I might join rehearsals after two weeks within quarantine, but even then, I actually wouldn’t be engaging much along with Tokyo: We’d all agreed to prevent indoor dining, bars, museums — any and all crowds.

The safety precautions in the rehearsal studio were intensive. Upon arriving each day, participants zipped their personal belongings into designated garment bags, including the face masks worn during their commutes. The production offered a new mask each day, to be put on throughout rehearsal. No eating had been permitted in the room. No writing phone chargers. The schedule incorporated regular “airing breaks. ”

During my very first week of quarantine in a Tokyo hotel, I attended rehearsals through Zoom. The choreographer, Ste Clough, was already in the studio, but the remaining foreign creative team remained sequestered, back-channeling over WhatsApp. Over the course of the particular week, we cut 15 minutes through the show, replaced a song plus juggled notes coming from multiple instructions. We staged the first half of our own intermission-less musical.

Then, the morning associated with my eighth day in pen, I got a call from a manufacturer. One of the actors was experiencing signs and symptoms and had tested positive for Covid-19. Rehearsals were on hold. Individuals exposed — 19 cast users; various producers, stage managers and production assistants who were in the space every day; as well as those who had merely stopped by, including our orchestrator and a vocal coach — were being tested that afternoon.

The more optimistic among us shared the hope that the results would validate the precautions taken, allowing work to start again in two weeks, after everyone in close contact with the afflicted actor had waited out their quarantine period.

The next afternoon, at a Zoom production meeting, our lead producer relayed the results. Seven positives. Five onstage, two off. Our efforts may have limited, but certainly didn’t prevent, the virus’s spread. It was becoming increasingly difficult to adapt to the constantly changing circumstances. “Sometimes, ” she said, “the bravest thing to do is walk away. ”

If we were to resume, I recognized, it would have to be with the fewest possible people in the studio. And, I had to admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to feel safe being one of these. As the apparatus for rehearsing remotely was already in place, I decided to go back to New York.

Credit… via Andrew d Duchan

I went straight from J. P oker. K. into yet another quarantine. My own woke at 5 a. ecologically. for daily production meetings that can stretched on for hours as each of our hardworking interpreters made sure every short review was understood in two you can find. The Umeda team outlined the trail forward. They didn’t feel comfortable looking for folks to rehearse in a confined studio, but our venue, your current vast Nissay Theater, with its just 1, 300 seats and substantial cu. space, would provide a less dangerous environment.

We would have to get shorter and tighter the rehearsal period. We would require to simplify the staging to restraints physical contact between actors. We are going to wouldn’t have time to implement most of the tricks, forcing us to redouble those scenes on the reaction to job rather than on the magic itself.

We would will need to inform the audience they’d be being able to see a concert staging and offer reimbursments to the disgruntled and disappointed.

Yes, obviously to all of it. We just did the show.

We made it through a week of virtual rehearsal before Ideal Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a the state of emergency for Tokyo. I was canceled. Our choreographer returned into London. But the state of disaster didn’t actually order theaters to seal. If other shows remained open, have you thought to ours? Uncanceled.

Thankfully, none of the positive bags in our company seemed to be severe, however as our restart date talked to, some weren’t yet healthy all that is needed to work. Would we be want to delay the opening, further shorter the run? Could we make easier the already streamlined staging?

Again, affirmative. But why? Why were the two of us fighting so hard? Was it considering our story, exploring the fragility pointing to truth, felt so relevant to when we were living? Or was the site because, having overcome so many difficulty already, it felt illogical on to cower in the face of any new challenge?

, were we driven by the will need, however selfish, to have something, something, to show for our efforts? The briefest of runs at 50 percent ability — how helpful could it be very much? No matter what happened in Tokyo, my sudden case of British collaborators and I — since show itself — would return to hacia numbing holding pattern, waiting for movies building in our respective countries to reopen. All we would gain by doing unquestionably the show would be having done finally, the show. Was that reason enough?

Credit… Chisato Oka

One month to the day after I distributed Tokyo, “The Illusionist” resumed live rehearsals. Of the creative team, but Michael was at the Nissay Theatre. Thom and Ste, both in Paris, rose at 4 a. michael. for work. In the United States, I rehearsed most nights until about five a. m. The show gathered quickly. It had to.

The process felt removed, but the thrills were the sort well recognized to anyone who works in musical technology theater: hearing the score super-hero by a full orchestra after involving it played on one piano; thinking about Ayako Maeda’s sumptuous, intricate dehors soak up the stage light with sharpen the actors’ characterizations; keeping an eye on the talented and brooding Kaiho sink his teeth into the role amongst Eisenheim.

I watched the Jan. 33 opening performance on our trusty by way of feed. During curtain call, generally the cast wept with joy and therefore relief. Afterward a producer out her phone to each dressing freedom so those of us celebrating remotely could possibly shower the cast with good luck.

Strained through screens, I could still find out the merry, frenetic backstage energy. Near 7, 000 miles away, I became able experience the elation of a tally night. I was making theater all over again. We were doing the show.

Two days later, when playing its five scheduled actions, “The Illusionist” closed. Therefore we wait.


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