May Days

May was a difficult month. Many of the things I had planned to be doing were cancelled or postponed. And some things ended up taking up far more time and effort that they should have because they had to be moved online.

Since the production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella I was directing was postponed until next year we got permission to make an at-home style video of a few of the songs. I am aware that the internet is now full of these tiled videos of singers performing at home, but they are very time consuming to make. They also involve video editing skills that I had to learn, but in the end I was happy with what we were able to do. (The video will only be up for a couple of months, and then our license will expire.)

I work with a youth theatre and we had our final classes online for the season at the weekend. We were not able to put on a live performance, but we did try an online one. I wrote a little about my experiences doing that, but I can’t wait until we can make theatre in person again.

Not everything about the lock-down is negative. I have been watching the recordings made at the Spheres of Singing conference that has been taking place virtually. They made asynchronous tickets available allowing me to watch these recordings without having to time shift to UK time. They are available for a limited amount of time, but I set the time aside to watch them and so far I’m enjoying the conference.

Relaxing Restrictions

The state of emergency is being lifted for many parts of Japan. It will remain in place here in Tokyo, but it’s due to be lifted at the end of the month. I’m still not sure how I feel about how we are dealing with the coronavirus in Japan. We are testing at a much lower rate than many countries but the number of people dying is also much lower. Currently that number is 713. And that’s in total since the middle of January, not a daily rate which is what it sounds like when I am talking to my overseas family who are in places where hundreds of people are still dying each day.

Here the lockdown has been much softer than many places. The main focus has been on tracking down clusters – giving us the phrase cluster busters. And to avoid the “Three Cs”.

Explanation of the Three Cs

We have also been given guidelines on how to properly wash our hands, coughing manners, and how to wear masks correctly. Cloth masks are being sent out to every household. We have received our two masks, but not everyone I know has gotten these yet.

Government Guidance to Prevent Infectious Disease Spread

I do not like wearing masks. At the minute it’s 82F (28C) outside and I find it harder to breath with a mask on. The Japanese government is already sending out warnings about what it means to do things in hot weather wearing a mask. But when I look at how awful the situation is in other big cities, like New York, I’m going to put up with wearing a mask as it does seem to be helping to prevent the spread of the disease in Tokyo.

One Response to “Relaxing Restrictions”

  1. Ann Pauley Says:

    The Japanese Government’s guidance to prevent spread of infection is excellent. Simple, sensible, straightforward And successful in keeping the death toll low in Japan. Unfortunately the UK government’s shambolic handling of the pandemic has resulted in the highest death toll in Europe

On Hold

The situation in Tokyo is strange. There is still no official lock down, but the governor of Tokyo is suggesting that we don’t go out to bars or nightclubs for another week or so. We were also asked to stay indoors this weekend, but with no legal force behind it many people still had to go out to work or they decided that their thing was essential.

The show I was directing, that was due to take place in May, has been postponed. It was getting much too difficult to hold rehearsals and there was no way to get the cast of 34 together in one room. Nearly every project I am involved with has been put on hold. It’s an odd feeling, but one that people all across the world are feeling.

Moderate Changes

Just over a month ago I wrote about the small changes that were being made to life in Tokyo. Today things are much more uncertain. The schools are closed, museums and theme parks are closed, many more people are working from home, and there are shortages on papers products and hand sanitizers.

I have had to suspend my studies as I have no students to teach in March. The Youth Theatre program I work for has cancelled classes, and I keep having to reschedule rehearsals. I am working on a show that has a cast of 35 people, but we can no longer have that number of people in our rehearsal space, and some of the bigger spaces are run by the local government and have been closing. My freelance work is greatly reduced and I only have one day of recording work this month.

We can still buy most things at the local supermarket, but there has been no toilet paper, tissues, masks, or hand sanitizer for quite a while now. There are also changes in how things are displayed. We used to have a bakery section where the bread rolls were displayed in a basket, and the cabinets were full of fresh pastries. Now every individual pastry is in a plastic bag.

I have been doing my best to avoid traveling on busy trains, but sometimes I still need to do this. I have been hearing that there are fewer people on the trains, but given how full Japanese trains get it’s not possible to stay a metre away from other people. And if I walk to places I still end up walking through crowds, and some evenings these are crowds of thousands of people as I need to walk through areas like Shinjuku.

The building I live in has closed most of its communal areas, and the gym is closed. There are signs in the lift showing good coughing etiquette and how to properly wear a mask. There is an alcohol spray at the doors and signs about keeping your hands clean

COVID-19 does not appear to be spreading as fast in Japan as it has in South Korea, but then the two countries have very different testing criteria. By the 10th March Japan had only carried out 9,600 tests, compared to South Korea which had carried out nearly 200,000 tests. (I tried to link to the Japanese website that listed the figures, but they have been overwriting the page with new reports, and the new charts no longer show number of tests, just the number of positive results.) The government tell us everything is improving and that the Olympics will go ahead, but the cases of COVID-19 still increase and I’m starting to see articles about hospitals being under pressure and not easily able to deal with the outbreak. We are expecting to hear more from the government on the 19th March, and it will be interesting to see if the current restrictions are lifted or if we start to fall in line with the rest of the world.

Small Changes

I have been asked if coronavirus is having an impact on life in Tokyo.

Some things have changed for tourists, such as enhanced quarantine procedures at airports and ports. Japan is no longer allowing foreign nationals who live in Hubei province or have have visited the province recently to enter the country. As of this morning there are 61 confirmed cases of the virus on a cruise ship that is in quarantine in Yokohama.

There is no doubt that coronavirus is a topic of conversation and mentioned in every news broadcast. It’s become difficult to buy masks or any sort of hand sanitizer as people have been panic buying. On Sunday we tried to buy an alcohol sanitizer for rehearsal, but gave up after trying multiple drugstores. As masks have become scarcer it is noticeable that fewer people are wearing them when walking around outside, but that nearly everyone of the train is wearing them. I assume that, like me, people are keeping them to wear when they are in places that are overcrowded. I am aware that wearing masks can’t stop the spread of a virus, but it does offer some protection and in a city like Tokyo people expect you to wear them in overcrowded places.

My hands are becoming dry as I have been washing them more often, as now I make sure to wash them every time I change location. I always washed them when coming home, but now I do this when I arrive at any venue.

I have started to buy more food. It’s normal for me to go to the grocery store every day, but recently I started to stock up on rice, pasta, and canned foods. I’m not buying loads of food, but I realised that I usually keep very little extra food in the house, because going out and buying what I need is really convenient. Now I’m starting to think about what I would do if the government introduced social distancing measures in the city.

At the minute I would not describe us as being overly concerned about an epidemic, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the virus is spreading through Asia and that we live in a city where we can come in to contact with thousands of people in a day. I live within 15 minutes of the busiest train station in the world, which is used by around 3.5 million people a day. For now we will continue to pay attention to the situation.

Year's End

The years do seem to move faster, now that I’m older, and I am still coming to terms with the fact that it’s nearly Christmas. 2019 has been a very full year.

I started the year visiting family in Northern Ireland. I made it back a few times this year, and it’s always an adventure catching up with friends and family. This year I also managed to go on two holidays, one with a friend and one with M. I absolutely loved Canada. It was so beautiful.

Athabasca Glacier

I’m finally at the stage where I tell new people I meet that I work in theatre. This year I performed and was part of the production team of a professional show, I taught youth theatre, and I directed community theatre. I spend most of my weekends and evenings working on some sort of theatre production. I’ve also been in enough recording studios that I can say that I sing professionally.

Cast & Crew of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I continue to study and I hopefully by next summer I will have finished my vocal qualification. The oddest thing I learnt to do this year was rock scream. This is not something I plan to do a lot, but it was interesting to find out how this can be done without destroying my voice.

2020 is looking like it will be a busy year, but I’m hopeful that it will be a good one.

End of Year Work

The year will end soon and it seems that this causes companies in Japan to go mad and to try to get as much work finished as possible before New Year. So suddenly I find myself recording more songs in a week than I recorded in the last few months. Being asked to record musical theatre songs makes sense, but I never expected to be singing backing vocals for a karaoke track of Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke”.

I’m also busy casting Cinderella for Tokyo International Players. The first rehearsal is this Saturday, so that part of the work is nearly completed. It’s going to be an exciting show. I’ll be blogging about it on my other website.

I have 10,000 words to write for my current module, but I’m struggling with getting started. I much prefer doing the research and the practical work, to the writing it all up part. But I will start soon. I’m looking forward to April, when this course will be completed.

Cinderella Begins

Autumn is starting to make itself felt in Tokyo. I was out of the country, during Hagibis, and I’m glad that the more recent storms have been mild in comparison. I have been watching the changing leaves, and the surprising pumpkin displays, and thinking of my May 2020 production of Cinderella.

The fields are aglow in autumn yellow, and the sky is a robin’s egg blue.

Rodger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Often, when talking about a show, we talk about the production dates, and not the large amount of time spent before that to create the show. The process started in the summer when I put together the proposal for Tokyo International Players. Cinderella was not my first choice, of a show to direct, but getting rights to musicals in Japan is difficult. Many of the well known shows have their rights on hold with large Japanese theatre companies and others don’t grant rights in this region. It is always disappointing to work on a proposal, only to discover there was never a chance of working on the show. But I’m excited to be working on Cinderella.

The auditions will be at the end November and I have already analyzed the show and put together many of the production team. I have also been creating art work to promote the show and the auditions. Yesterday, I met with a designer and discussed possible ways of creating a pumpkin that turns into a carriage, one of the many technical challenges for the show.

I have received the rehearsal tracks and I’m delighted with them. This is the first time I have used ROC’s rehearsal track system and I love the control it is giving me over the score. I will miss having a live orchestra, and the music director I have worked with in the past, but the ability to change keys and to give the cast access to all of their vocal parts is amazing. In the past we have recorded all of the vocal parts before rehearsals start and it takes a long time. And, yes, I could change key with an orchestra, but it means re-scoring all the parts or paying to have this done – so we tend to never to that.

There is no doubt that the show will take over my life in the months to come, but it’s going to be worth it. I will get stressed and overwhelmed but the show will bring joy to the cast and the audience.

The Weirdest Kid I Know

I am currently working as vocal director on TTFC’s newest show, The Weirdest Kid I Know. The quirky sci-fi musical will be running from the 15th to 17th November at Woody Theatre.

This is the second time this year that I’m getting to work on a new musical!

Back Home

Tokyo is sweltering hot, so I’m glad that I haven’t needed to go out much since I got back. I enjoyed the cool air of Glasgow and the course I studied there. I got to observe an experienced Director working with a new cast, dance the Gay Gordons, sing in Gaelic, and play a number of characters including a goat. Playing a goat was a lot of fun as I don’t often get to be just that playful on stage.

Now that I am back I need to work on my plan for the upcoming year. I will be working as vocal director on TTFC’s upcoming show The Weirdest Kid I Know. I’ll also be working with TIP Youth again this season, though at this stage we don’t know which musicals we will be working on. I’m still waiting to hear if I will be directing for Tokyo International Players in their upcoming season.

I am still studying, and my current unit focuses on vocal registers. Getting time to study, with my rehearsal schedule, is difficult, but I am learning a lot and I’m glad that I started the course.