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Tall Keyaki Tree

A thousand year old tree, when cut down, will live for another 1000 years. The Tall Keyaki (Zelkova) tree, inspired by the novel The Five-Storied Pagoda written by Koda Rohan, is a poetic shadow puppet show with live music, actors and dancers. The story of a peculiar carpenter who motivated by the Keyaki Tree Spirit, undertakes the profound task of building a five-storied pagoda. Having grown up with the tree, the carpenter’s strong spiritual bond with the Keyaki powers the creation of an exceptional structure.

About: Tall Keyaki Tree

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The journey - a note from the director

Creating The Tall Keyaki Tree has been a long journey and great experience since I first seeded the essence of the show at my small studio with a 15’x15’ stage setup, three years ago. The first jump was a workshop grant. It came to us when theatre activities started idling because of Covid. Ironically or not, suddenly we had time and money! We spent all summer exploring and practicing with minimum members. Naturally the public showing never happened but we created the piece and video taped it. That led to a production grant. Happy news! But Covid continued. Then we lost the main puppeteer/actor, who left town to pursue his education in theater arts. After a long struggle to find a replacement during the pandemic, we finally started rehearsal. Only I found out that training puppeteering takes much more time than expected. I was so used to working with people who are familiar with my puppet. A month and a half before the residency week the Henson Foundation offered, we hit our lowest point. I really wanted the piece to be in good shape at the end of the residency, especially considering that I had to leave town for two weeks right after, but our progress was slow. The residency, however, actually ended up being the next jump, much more than I expected. This was the first time we got out of my small studio setup. We had the opportunity to do some creative exploring with lights, sets, and music, and figure out how we looked from an audience perspective. I renewed the set, adjusting to the large stage and added one more musician thanks to the funding. At the end, expanding the setup to twice the size both horizontally and vertically worked well for all. Though again, there were no public shows beyond inviting a few friends, it gave me a good feeling preparing for putting up a show at a place like LaMama, that was a huge deal for me. Directly afterwards, we hit another roadblock and I lost the main role puppeteer/actor again during the two weeks off! This time I was not upset or devastated. I strangely felt good. I decided to do what I originally wanted to do. I added one dancer/puppeteer and distributed the main role’s part to three women. The show was constructed by an ensemble. Only the recorded young man’s voice was used for the main character. This was another eye opening discovery for me. The recorded voice worked well. At LaMama, we had a very warm, rather enthusiastic, welcome. We had only four shows but all tickets were sold out and we got mostly positive reactions. Yes, this long journey paid off! I have been working in the theatre a quite long time, but when it comes to the puppet show, I feel like I just stand on my mark. I can see a big world to explore in front of me.




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