Our 2016 R-10 musical Bonsai Samurai made its world premiere in the Maitland Area School Performing Arts Centre on Wednesday September 21 and Thursday September 22 to packed houses and enthusiastic audiences.
Telling the story of a short, Samurai obsessed boy called Hiroki (played by Ollie Linke) and his long-suffering sister Shun (played by Emma Rowe), Bonsai Samurai featured ninjas (short and tall), Samurai (blue and red), Imperial Lords (good and bad) and a wide assortment of bandits, villagers, sumo wrestlers, koi fish, shadow puppeteers and ghostly Japanese spirits called Tsukumogami.
But why a historical musical, why Japan and why a short samurai?
The Journey Begins...
Bonsai Samurai's inspiration came from our school's Exchange Visits with Ohara and Mimasaka High Schools in Okayama Prefecture in Japan.
As guests we learned of the Samurai history of the area, were treated to visits to historic areas and toured Japanese museums and cultural precincts.
The area is rich in natural beauty, rugged grandeur and the aim was to bring a little of this to our Performing Arts Centre's stage.
We also heard much of Ohara's famous samurai 'Musashi', who pioneered the two-sword technique, survived numerous duels and finally became a poet in his old age.
He seemed like a suitable subject for a musical but as the story evolved, Musashi disappeared and a brash, self-centred boy called Hiroki took his place, and a theme of loyalty vs. personal ambition took over.
The (very!) large height difference between our junior and senior students needed to be incorporated and so over, eighteen months and many drafts, Bonsai Samurai gradually emerged with Hiroki battling a height rule and his own self-serving goals.
Japan has such a rich cultural tradition it was often more difficult to decide what to leave out than what to put in.
But my fascination with Japanese culture was mirrored by the students as they learned of the traditions of Kabuki Theatre, the Tsukumogami household spirits and their names, Sumo wrestling and its intricate rules, Japanese sayings and expressions, religious figures and superstitions.
This cultural immersion through acting and singing is one of the ways that the performing arts is such a powerful learning tool. It even extended to our traditional backdrop, the sound effects, the colours on stage and the final play-within-a-play at the end.
All our student actors deserve the highest accolades for their achievements, from our main characters Emma and Ollie who showed professionalism, confidence and skill beyond their years all the way to the smallest Ninja or village girl who stepped onto stage and gave their best performance ever. Amongst our talented children:
- Isabelle & Jemima who stopped the parade.
- Lily, the sweet singing Mother Tanaka.
- Kimberley, the confident and capable Princess Akiko.
- The amazingly athletic (and highly amusing) 9/10 Ninja team.
- Our evil Lord Udaijin, played to perfection by Liam.
- Riley, the Captain of the Red Guards and Mitchell the Captain of the Blue Guards.
- Our 7/8 bandits for filling the holes when people were away.
- Sam.G for playing different characters!
- Carlin for his confident stagehand appearance.
- The 4/5 Nightingale Floor dancers - beautiful!
- The 4/5 Tsukumogami - so funny!
- Ella and Ilea for choreographing the Sumo Song.
- Jasmine, Bella and Shayla, our fast-talking Jamaican monks.
- Marley and Sadie, the amazing Monkey-Clan leaders.
- Matt and Lochie, the amusing comedy duo.
- Harrison, Jackson, Cy and Oscar, the loyal but cowardly village boys.
I'm very proud of our backstage crew, especially as most of them were students! Under stage manager Val McLean's training and encouragement, the stage crew reduced the fourteen complex scenery changes down to mere fractions of a minute and are to be commended on their focus, teamwork and positive attitude. At the other end of the theatre were the tech crew, who also did a professional job. Thanks to Angus on lights, Rhys on follow-spot, Jarrod on sound effects and student teacher Hannah on the computer.
Lots of thanks go to our staff for their flexibility, support and encouragement.
Thank you especially to Pat Hasting (and her class) for photography and Val McLean (and her class) for the amazing backdrop.
More thanks go to Star Derrington for her on-stage role, to Debbie Schwartz for the voice coaching and prompting, to Principal Grant Keleher for his support and playing our Sumo, to Betina Davies and Emma Westbrook for choreography, Martin Salmon for assisting backstage and to all our SSOs and staff who helped with crowd control, ticket sales, organisation and supervision.
Finally, thanks to acting deputy Chelsea Schmidt for her organisation and sharing of the load - much appreciated!
Like our staff, our school community is so supportive and encouraging of the arts.
Thank you to Letitia Linke for her choreography of the Tsukumogami song, to Zac Rawlings for his lighting and sound expertise, to the Parents and Friends for their help with costumes and props and selling food at the show, and to all the people who helped with the makeup - it was the best we've ever had!
A last thank you to Di Bourne.
Di started collecting Japanese themed costumes early last year, and there's many a Yorke Peninsula op-shop that kept beautiful costumes set aside for her many visits.
Samurai costumes are, as you might imagine, fairly hard to come by in rural SA, and it's here Di's true creative talent shines, as a close examination of the Samurais will reveal the use of cricket pads, tartan cloth, vinyl, baseball caps and more! Di loves here research too, and created folders of notated samples and pictures based on the script's characters, making my ideas come to life.
A quick look at the gorgeous photos shows just how big an influence Di has on our productions and I simply can't thank her enough.
So thank you one and all, for making this year's show our biggest and brightest yet!