Blacktip Island’s Heritage House has been transformed into a traditional Noh stage for the Blacktip Island Community Players’ weekend performances of classical Japanese dance-drama. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny)
The Blacktip Island Community Players this weekend will stage the Caribbean island’s first Noh performances, with all actors wearing modified public-health-mandated facemasks, organizers said.
“The island needs a pick-me-up, and we thought, since no one here can travel, something from the other side of the world would be perfect,” BICP director Doris Blenny said. “I’ve always been a bit of a Japanophile, and everyone having to wear masks put me in mind of classical Japanese dance-drama.
“My brain said ‘Kabuki,’ but my heart said ‘Noh,’” Blenny said. “Noh plays tend to be about ordinary, everyday people, like Blacktippers. We’re staging a mix of traditional stories and some we tweaked a bit to be island-specific.”
BICP volunteers say the COVID-mask requirement caused some acting hiccups.
“Traditional wooden facemasks play a huge role in Noh theater,” Helen Maples said. “We’ve gussying up our sanitary face masks so the actors can portray a suitable emotional range. We did our best to decorate the masks in a classic, 17th-Century style to make them integral parts of the costume, not just modern add-ons.
“We’re keeping the final versions under wraps until our first show, but I can say the sanitary masks were imported directly from Japanese suppliers, so it’ll have that added level of authenticity. And the actors have been working on conveying emotions with extra-stylized body language and gestures.”
Actors say the use of COVID masks isn’t a burden.
“You don’t see the actors’ faces in Noh anyway, so it’s not that much of a jump,” Jerrod Ephesians said. “That pushes us, as actors, to stretch our abilities. And the staging is minimalistic, so the focus is really on the performers.”
Organizers say the performance will a shortened version of classical Noh structure.
“Traditionally, you’d have five Noh pieces, with shorter, comic kyōgen pieces in between, but we weren’t sure Blacktippers’d have the patience for that,” Blenny said. “Instead, we’re doing an abbreviated program of two Noh plays separated by one kyōgen piece.
“We’re starting with a traditional genzai Noh with human characters and events and a linear timeline,” Blenny said. “Then the kyōgen will be the crowd favorite “Persimmon Mountain Hermit,” with a Blacktip flair, followed by a mugen Noh with supernatural creatures and spirits, and time spooling around in a quite non-liner fashion.”
Many in the cast are looking forward to how the performances will be received.
“I can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction to our masks,” Marina DeLow said. “Doing this in COVID masks really makes a statement. Of what, we’re not sure. But it’s definitely a statement.”
Performances will be Friday and Saturday nights for the rest of September in the island’s Heritage House.