The Beowulf Project was not a regular main stage show. It was a project initiated by THE ART Project Multicultural Book-Reading Club and sponsored by Kawasaki city’s Takatsu ward’s Shiminkan. The goal was to produce a show, based on a foreign fairy tale or story, that the kids could perform in English. We wanted to eliminate any preconceptions about the story, so we chose Beowulf. We guessed, correctly, that most schoolchildren wouldn’t be familiar with an Old English epic poem. We also decided that we didn’t want a regular kids’ show with the children just memorizing lines and waving their arms around, and also that we wanted to try to follow the philosophy of the YTG Ensemble as much as possible. It was important that the kids spend much of the show being themselves rather than "acting".
(Photo: First “audition” day in Kawasaki. July 15, 2013)
(Poster: the Beowulf flyer)
We had five rehearsals with the kids, not including the first audition/workshop day, which meant that some of the show did have to be pre-planned and scripted by us, but we struck what we thought, under the circumstances, was a good compromise between order and chaos (glorious, glorious chaos).
Aside from the kids, we had Sarah Macdonald, a trained actor, and Akane Terashima, our primary translator playing the two adult roles in the production. Juna Hewitt (who appeared three years ago in Tartuffe) stepped in at the last minute when one of the older, bilingual kids got too sick to perform. Ensemble members Sarah Lumsden, Robert Collins, and Andrew Woolner also participated. Sarah ran the warmups and and helped with the rehearsals. Robert composed and performed (along with Michael Rowlands and Tomomi Kimura) an original score for the production. Andrew wrote the adaptation and directed the piece.
YTG Board Member Mayuka Kowaguchi also helped run rehearsals.
We were also lucky enough to have the dance talents of JDS Youth and Hama Satomi Ballet Art at our disposal.
The show was set in the outbuilding of a museum in England where a group of Japanese students are trapped during a sudden thunderstorm:
The kids enter the space, shaking off their wet umbrellas, and gingerly explore until the lights are turned on by Aemma, a museum guide. To pass the time, they decide to tell the story of Beowulf. Some of the kids become Danes, while a few become the Geats, Beowulf’s warriors. Throughout the show, each of the Geats will play Beowulf for a scene or two, before passing the role on to another child (by way of a helmet exchange). Through the kids’ imagination, we see Beowulf fight Grendel (by ripping him in half), Grendel’s mother (stabbing her in the head with an umbrella/sword), and a dragon (chopping into eight pieces). All the monsters are played by multiple dancers. We were very lucky to have the help of dancers from the JDS Company Youth group as well as Karin Nagayama and two high-school aged dancers, all under the direction of choreographer and dance teacher Satomi Hama.
The biggest challenges on the Beowulf project were the number of children involved (39 if you include the two high school-aged girls who transferred to the dance unit), and the limited amount of rehearsal time (20 – 30 hours). Given those constraints, the final product was quite good, and though at times the delicate balance between order and chaos tipped to the side of chaos, at least chaos is interesting to watch.
The most important result of the project, however, was the resolution, but participating members of the group and associated artists, for YTG to start its own “Youth Ensemble” for kids aged 9 – 14 to create shows together.