Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

The appeal of Star Wars transcends generation, place, and culture. Anyone can tell by the undiminishing popularity of the ever more frequent expansions of the Star Wars universe more than 40 years after the movie that started it all — and not just in the English-speaking West, but all the world over. The vast franchise has produced "cinematic sequels, TV specials, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, video games, but it wasn’t until November 28 that there was a Star Wars kabuki play," writes Sora News 24's Casey Baseel. Staged one time only last Friday at Tokyo's Meguro Persimmon Hall, Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords retells the events of recent films The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in Japan's best-known traditional theater form.

To even the hardest-core Star Wars exegete, Kairennosuke may be an unfamiliar name — though not entirely unfamiliar. It turns out to be the Japanese name given to the character of Kylo Ren, the power-hungry nephew of Luke Skywalker portrayed by Adam Driver in The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker.




In Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords he's played by Ichikawa Ebizō XI, not just the most popular kabuki actor alive but an avowed Star Wars enthusiast as well. "I like the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force," Baseel quotes Ichikawa as saying. "In kabuki too, there are many stories of good and evil opposing each other, and it’s interesting to see how even good Jedi can be pulled towards the Dark Side by fear and worry."

The thematic resonances between kabuki and Star Wars should come as no surprise, given all Star Wars creator George Lucas has said about the series' grounding in elements of universal myth. Lucas also actively drew from works of Japanese art, including, as previously featured here on Open Culture, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. And so in Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, which you can watch on Youtube and follow along in Baseel's play-by-play description in English, we have the kind of elaborate cultural reinterpretation — bringing different eras of Western and Japanese art together in one strangely coherent mixture — in which modern Japan has long excelled. No matter what country they hail from, Star Wars fans can appreciate the highly stylized adventures of Kairennosuke, Hanzo, Reino, Sunokaku, Ruku and Reian — and of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

via Neatorama

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

It’s time, writes Kim Stanley Robinson in his essay “Dystopia Now,” to put aside the dystopias. We know the future (and the present) can look bleak. "It’s old news now,” and “perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more.” Of course, David Byrne has never been a dystopian artist. Even his catchy deconstructions of the banality of modern life, in “This Must Be the Place,” for example—or Love Lies Here, his disco musical about Imelda Marcos—are filled with empathetic poignancy and an earnest desire to rehumanize contemporary culture.

Still his oblique take on things has always seemed too skewed to call utopian. Lately, however, Byrne has become unambiguously sunny in his outlook, and not in any kind of starry-eyed Pollyannish way. His web project Reasons to Be Cheerful backs up its optimistic title with incisive longform investigative journalism.




His latest stage project, the musical American Utopia, which he performs with a cast of dancers and musicians from around the world, announces its intentions on the sleeves of the matching monochromatic suits its cast wears.

Barefoot and holding their instruments, Byrne and his backup singers, musicians, and dancers march on the “Road to Nowhere” with smiles hinting it might actually lead to someplace good, They perform this song (see them on Jimmy Fallon at the top), and a couple dozen more from Talking Heads and Byrne solo albums, especially last year’s American Utopia. In the course of the show, Byrne “lets his moralist outrage explode” yet “balances it with levity,” writes Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork. “There is a political engine to this performance… with a clearly humming progressive core… but Byrne’s goal is to urge kinder consideration of how we process the stressors of modernity.”

The musical doesn’t simply urge, it enacts, and proclaims, in spoken interludes, the story of an individual who opens up to the wider world. “Here’s a guy who’s basically in his head at the beginning,” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “And then by the end of the show he’s a very different person in a very different place.” The road to utopia, Byrne suggests, takes us toward community and out of isolation. American Utopia’s minimalist production communicates this idea with plenty of polished musicianship—especially from its six drummers working as one—but also a rigorous lack of spectacle. “I think audiences appreciate when nobody’s trying to fool them,” says Byrne.

See several performances from American Utopia, the musical, above, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and the Hudson Theatre, where it’s currently running. The musical debuted in England last June, causing NME to exclaim it may “just be the best live show of all time.” Its Broadway run has received similar acclaim. Below, see a trailer for the show arriving just in time, The Fader announces in a blurb, to “fight your cynicism.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Improv Comedy (Live and Otherwise) Examined on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #20

 

What role does improv comedy play in popular culture? It shows up in the work of certain film directors (like Christopher Guest, Adam McKay, and Robert Altman) and has surfaced in some of the TV work of Larry David, Robin Williams, et al. But only in the rare case of a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the presence of improvisation obvious. So is this art form doomed to live on the fringes of entertainment? Is it maybe of more apparent benefit to its practitioners than to audiences?

Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by Tim Sniffen, announcer on the popular Hello From the Magic Tavern podcast, and a member of the Improvised Shakespeare Company and Baby Wants Candy (improvised musicals). He’s also written for Live From Here and other things. We discuss different types of improv, a bit of the history and structure of Second City, improv’s alleged self-help benefits, how improvisation relates to regular acting, writing, podcasting, and other arts, and more.

Here are a few improv productions to check out:

For further reading, check out:

For musical improv, try Nakedly Examined Music #30 with Paul Wertico and David Cain, and also #55 with Don Preston (Zappa’s keyboardist) whom Mark quoted in this discussion.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

Is Opera Part of Pop Culture? Pretty Much Pop #15 with Sean Spyres

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Opera used to be a central part of European pop culture, Pavarotti was as big a pop star as they come. But still, it's now the quintessential art-form of the wealthy and snobbish. What gives?

Guest Sean Spyres from Springfield Regional Opera joins his sister Erica along with Mark and Brian to discuss opera's place in culture (including its film appearances), how it's different from music theater, the challenges it faces and how it might become more relevant.

Some articles:

Watch the Shawshank Redemption opera scene or perhaps the Pretty Woman scene. What Is pop opera? Here's Ranker's list of artists. Paul Potts sings that famous song on Britain's Got Talent. Plus, check out albums from brother Michael Spyres. Yes, you can hear an opera-singer sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but you probably shouldn't.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Patti Smith Sings “People Have the Power” with a Choir of 250 Fellow Singers

…people have the power

To redeem the work of fools

—Patti Smith

As protest songs go, "People Have the Power" by Godmother of Punk Patti Smith and her late husband Fred Sonic Smith is a true upper.

The goal was to recapture some of the energy they’d felt as youth activists, coming together to protest the Vietnam War. As Patti declared in an NME Song Stories segment:

… what we wanted to do was remind the listener of their individual power but also of the collective power of the people, how we can do anything. That’s why at the end it goes, "I believe everything we dream can come to pass, through our union we can turn the world around, we can turn the earth’s revolution." We wrote it consciously together to inspire people, to inspire people to come together.

Sadly, Fred Smith, who died in 1994, never saw it performed live. But his widow has carried it around the world, and witnessed its joyful transformative power.

Witness the glowing faces of 250 volunteer singers who gathered in New York City’s Public Theater lobby to perform the song as part of the Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming last spring.




The event was staged by Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Canadian organization whose commitment to community building vis-à-vis weekly drop-in singing sessions at a Toronto tavern has grown to include some starry names and world-renowned venues, raising major charitable funds along the way.

As per Choir! Choir! Choir!’s operating instructions, there were no auditions. The singers didn’t need to know how to read music, or even sing particularly well, as participant Elyse Orecchio described in a blog post:

The man behind me exuberantly delivered his off-pitch notes loudly into my ear. But to whine about that sort of thing goes against the spirit of the night. This was a democracy: the people’s chorus.

Director Sarah Hughes had been having “one of those theater nerd Saturdays,” and was grabbing a post-Public-matinee salad prior to an evening show uptown, when she bumped into friends who asked if she wanted to sing with Patti Smith and a community choir:

I'm working on playwright Chana Porter and composer Deepali Gupta’s Dearly Beloved, a meditation on productive despair for community choir, and have been having beautiful, enlightening experiences making music with large groups of non-singers, so I was curious about what this might be like. 

And it was lovely. Just singing at all is always very great, even though I am not "good at it.” Singing along with all the other people in the room felt especially good. 

The Choir! Choir! Choir! leaders were generous, had a sense of humor, and weren't afraid to tell us when we sounded terrible, which was refreshing. 

We learned our parts and then I ate my salad standing in the Public lobby while we waited for Patti. She took a longer time to arrive than they'd planned for, I think, but it was because she was at a climate crisis rally so we weren't mad. And she was just very fully herself. 

I'm not like a die-hard Patti Smith fan, but I sort of fell in love with her after reading her beautiful recounting of messing up while singing "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" at Dylan's Nobel Prize ceremony. This experience made me appreciate her even more—her humanity, her vulnerability, the strangeness of being famous or recognized or heroic to many many people. And she really did lead us, in this very special, simple, real way. It reminded me of how little we really need in the way of money or production values or even talent for a performance or public event to feel worth our time.

The film reflects that sense of the extraordinary co-existing gloriously with the ordinary:

An unimpressed little girl eats a peach.

Two young staffers in Public Theater t-shirts seem both sheepish and thrilled when the film crew zeroes in on them singing along.

Guitarist and Choir! Choir! Choir! co-founder Daveed Goldman nearly bonks Patti in the head with the neck of his instrument.

Also? That’s the Police’s Stewart Copeland playing the frying pan.

Next up on Choir! Choir! Choir!’s agenda is an October 13th concert at California’s Boarder Field State Park, with some 300 people on the Tijuana side and 500 on the San Diego side raising their voices together on Lennon and McCartney’s "With a Little Help from My Friends." More information on that, and other stops on their fall tour, here.

Sign up to be notified next time Choir! Choir! Choir! is looking for singers in your area here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sir Ian McKellen Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter to High School Students: Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

Author Kurt Vonnegut was possessed of a droll, unsentimental public speaking style. A son of Indianapolis, he never lost his Hoosier accent, despite lengthy stints in Cape Cod and New York City.

Actor Ian McKellen, on the other hand, exudes warmth. He’s a charmer who tells a story with a twinkle in his eye, altering his voice and facial expressions to heighten the effect. (Check out his Maggie Smith.) Vocal training has only enhanced his beautiful instrument. (He can make a tire repair manual sound like Shakespeare.)




These two lions may have come at their respective crafts from different angles, but Sir Ian did Vonnegut proud, above, as part of Letters Live, an ongoing celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence.

The letter in question was penned the year before Vonnegut’s death, in reply to five students at a Jesuit high school in New York City, regretfully declining their invitation to visit.

Instead, he gave them two assignments.

One was fairly universal, the sort of thing one might encounter in a commencement address: make art and in so doing, learn about life, and yourself.

The other was more concrete:

Write a 6 line rhyming poem

Don’t show it or recite it to anyone.

Tear it up into little pieces

Discard the pieces in widely separated trash receptacles

Why?

A chance for Xavier High School’s all male student body to air romantic feelings without fear of  discovery or rejection?

Mayhaps, but the true purpose of the second assignment is encapsulated in the first—to “experience becoming” through a creative act.

This notion clearly strikes a chord with Sir Ian, 17 years younger than Vonnegut but by the time of the  2016 performance, closing in on the iguana-like age Vonnegut had been when he wrote the letter.

Should we attribute the quiver on the closing line to acting or genuine emotion on Sir Ian’s part?

Either way, it’s a lovely rendition.

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. 

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

(Ian McKellen’s other Letters Live performance is a fictional coming out letter from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, from a gay character to his Anita Bryant-supporting parents.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play and You Can Now Watch It Online

Several weeks back, Colin Marshall told you about an enterprising group of high school students in North Bergen, New Jersey who staged a dramatic production of Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. And they did it on the cheap, creating costumes and props with donated and recycled materials. The production was praised by Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver alike. Now, above, you can watch a complete encore performance made possible by a $5,000 donation by Scott, and attended by Weaver herself. Have fun.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

h/t azteclady

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