It’s been a while since I posted anything here. I’ve been busy — I’m now writing articles for IndieGames.com regularly, I went to Tokyo Game Show (the first event of its kind I’ve ever been to), I came back from Tokyo Game Show with a cold which caused minimal discomfort but a fever that kept me out of work for 3 days, and this past Sunday my junior high school had its annual school festival. This is the first time I’ve been to one of my school’s festivals without having been around for most of the weeks of practice since right after I first got here, which made it an event of mixed feelings. A big part of the reason I missed so much of the prep time was Tokyo Game Show and the cold it gave me, but I’m also not at all sorry for going to Tokyo Game Show.
Anyway, read on if you want to find out about all the neat stuff my students did for their festival. Here’s a list of the general flow of the day, with details starting after the break. This will be the first of multiple posts.
- Free performances by grade
- Choir performances by grade
- PTA Choir performance
- Random performances (optional)
- Dance performances (all grades)
- Play performance (all grades)
Free performances by grade
My junior high school is small, so there’s only one class per grade. The school festival starts with each class doing something which reflects something they’ve been learning, or involves learning something new to prepare, or conveys a moral lesson, or something. As long as the performance falls under that fairly broad umbrella, the students have a lot of freedom in deciding what to do. This year, the 7th graders chose to do something related to shodo (Japanese calligraphy), the 8th graders did a short play with a simple story which focused on spectacular effects using a lot of tricks of light and shadow, and the 9th graders (for the third year in a row) wrote and performed a play whose story contained a life lesson.
When the 7th grade homeroom teacher told me that her class was going to do a shodo performance, I was confused. It didn’t surprise me that they chose shodo as their subject. Their homeroom teacher is the Japanese teacher at the school, and a lifelong shodo practitioner whose handiwork is enough to inspire anyone to learn the art. But how do you do a shodo performance? Well, apparently you do it with big brushes, on big paper, to music you could dance to, with every tarp the school owns spread out on stage to protect it from the ink (and you still get ink on the curtains at the back of the stage). They put a video camera above and behind the students on stage, connected to a projector so that the audience could not only watch from the front while each kid did a bit of the whole before handing their brush off to the next person but see some, at least, of their handwriting before the product was finished.
They did three large pieces. For the first, one kid laid down on the paper to have his outline drawn as the base of a picture taking up the left third of the sheet while another student started filling in the quote. After that, they traded off writing and filling in the simple picture on the left. When they were almost done, they brought out a huge stamp made of styrofoam and looking like a hanko that didn’t say anything. I thought it was going to be their class symbol for the big drawings, but they actually used that stamp a couple of times and combined it with yellow strokes to draw sunflowers. They then produced a large styrofoam version of the official school hanko, which they used as their signature/seal on the finished product. The second piece of paper already had a rainbow printed on it. They drew no other pictures, as there were a lot of words to this one. Each student wrote 1-2 lines, and when they showed off the finished product I realized it was quoted song lyrics because it ended with the name of the band GReeeeN. Their third piece was a collection of inspirational kanji ending with a giant rendition of the kanji for “bonds between people” or “emotional ties” in the middle.
It was pretty mesmerizing to watch. Except for the last one, I have no clue what they actually say — I was too busy watching the kids work to try to read it, and I suspect I would need a dictionary anyway. It was pretty funny when a piece was done, because the students would swarm over it like bees with blotting paper before shifting it from the main tarp to one of the ones at the front of the stage to be carried away.
Coincidentally, it was about the time the second piece was carried off was when I realized that they must be using all the tarps. Normally a tarp is placed near the school entrance so that guests have a place to put their outdoor shoes that is out of the way. This time, there was packing material taped to the floor.
Their play had a very simple story. A boyfriend and girlfriend were hanging out together at a festival, but a demon king wanted the girl and tried to take her away. That’s really all they needed, though, as it provided all the excuse they needed to have lots of light and shadow effects.
A screen made of thin sheets of plastic (more packing material?) taped to wooden posts separated the front of the stage from the back and made a canvas for their shadow play, with a projector used for the lighting. Sometimes they used shadow puppets; other times, as for fights, one combatant was behind the screen where the projector could cast his shadow on the screen. Once, when the demon king was floating above and throwing balls of light at the antagonist, projected animation was used for all of the effects, with the antagonist using a light stick designed for traffic direction as a sword for some action reminiscent of fights between Link and Ganondorf (see the video below if you don’t know what that means).
When there wasn’t any fighting going on, the students did things like shadow puppet flashbacks and dancing with LED light sticks perfect for raves offered a variety of fun things to watch. It was really neat, though the teacher initially had some reservations about how well they’d be able to pull it off. The old gym curtains were made of black velvet, but the new curtains are made of fabric that will last longer… but which don’t block out light nearly as well.
I hate to say it, but of the three performances by grade, theirs was the least spectacular. It was solid, and well written from a perspective of not being too complicated to do in terms of sets and costumes and stuff, but they basically just made a play with dance numbers in it. I love them, and I think they did a great job, but it was a bit anticlimactic after what the other two classes pulled off. In their defense, they’re a little disorganized sometimes and they are expected to spend all their free time studying now because they have entrance exams coming up, but… I mean, there just isn’t much I can tell you about the performance.
It was a modified, humorous version of the story of Aladdin. One of the dance numbers was also a fight, and all of the dances were choreographed by the students. The moral at the end of the story was that the genie didn’t actually have any power left, being really old, so Alajin (they changed the name) had really done everything by himself. Have confidence, believe in yourself. They didn’t quote Star Wars, but it did make me think of “Do or do not; there is no try.”