Provincetown Playhouse, NYC
I feel so privileged that I was able to see this performance. I was extremely moved by the simple beauty and power of the stories, and the impressive collaboration of these two wonderful women, Hiroko Fujita and Fran Stallings. I had not known what to expect from the performance, especially in regards to the approach with language, but the entire afternoon communicated effectively the passion and pride with which Fujita tells her stories. What also came across to me was the deep reverence with which Fran Stallings has approached these stories and the process of being a helping voice.
On Sunday, April 9, 2006, Fran Stallings and Hiroko Fujita told Japanese folk tales and stories to a lively audience. Present was a mix of NYU students, many of the faces from our storytelling class, as well as several families with children ranging in age from a few months old to ten or eleven. The two storytellers began the afternoon by playing with traditional Japanese toys while audience members filed into their seats. This created an interest and showed a playful side present in both women. This activity also created a relaxed, informal atmosphere where the audience began to feel at ease to ask questions, participate, and enjoy themselves.
The performance was formatted so Ms. Stallings would introduce the stories, telling some history behind the tales, which helped to expose us, the spectators, to aspects of Japanese culture and past. One particular instance was in describing the traditional Japanese food, which helped us to understand both customs of Japan and the twists of the story. Stallings would give a brief description of the action of the story, since it was to be performed in Japanese. She mainly established the characters and the bare bones plot of the piece. Often, she would leave the ending a mystery and Fujita would show us the ending. I was impressed with this for a number of reasons. First, we as an audience were then able to predict what we thought was going to happen. The children and adults were excited and drawn in, waiting to see if they had correctly predicted the ending of the tale. Most memorably, the tale of the two greedy snakes that end up devouring each other stands out. Fujita's physicality made so clear the ending of the story that no clarification was needed. Because there were small children in the audience, Stallings would frequently ask, “So what happened?” allowing them to tell their version of the story and to make sure they did understand what went on.
Both storytellers maintained a magnificent engagement with the audience. They were warm, open, and quite gracious in their recounting of the stories. Fujita has a brilliant command of prop use. What moved me the most was the simplicity of her props. She needed no fancy puppets or elaborate snakes. She used her own body and simple household objects to create a wonderful spectacle of movement and intrigue. Her movements were also simple, very clear, and easy to interpret. Frequently she used repetitive movements and asked us to move with her, not only bringing us into the story, but teaching us skills or cultural games.
What was most amazing was the language. Fujita speaks beautifully and uses a wide variety of voice techniques. I thought prior to viewing this piece, how will we participate without knowing the language? Her use of repetition served as clarification and I felt that any participation was welcome and safe. I was not afraid to say the wrong words. I am glad, however, that I bought the two small publications containing her stories. Looking over them, I can appreciate the difference between live storytelling and a story that exists on the page. Listening and reading give me completely different reactions to the story. Not being able to understand the language helped me to realize that we as humans communicate any way we know how, through gestures, voice, demonstration, etc. Stories are universal.
This beautiful performance showed me the ultimate power and importance of story telling. Not only was I able to learn several stories, but I learned about culture, history, and humanity.