Sunday, June 16, 2013

Space: Getting Small. Getting Large.

I have just orchestrated another demonstration of an extremely elementary, highly impressionistic chanoyu situation before a crowd of people who had little to no prior understanding of what it is and who certainly did not come to this unlikely event just to see it. Did I mention that it finally happened at nearly 11pm on a weekday night, last in the program?

If you've tried to do a tea demonstration in a makeshift environment such as a classroom, restaurant / bar / club, school auditorium, ( tokonoma, no tatami, etc.), you will recognize the challenge to not only to do the presentation (host, guest, narrator) in a way that is visible. Production values aside, one also has to decide what impression through information narrated is most important to relay to the audience exposed to this "experience".

Given the nontraditional environment, I needed to figure out what they might actually see from their position -- seated auditorium style in chairs facing a stage to the side of which a two mat tea "house" had been constructed about 18 inches from the floor. (The "house", all 400 pounds of which was supposed to be lifted on to the stage once the drum set and video screen were moved away. This did not happen, luckily.)

Preparations for the demonstration -- out of my control most of the time -- constantly morphed throughout the evening: the flowers for the tokonoma didn't materialize, the matcha was still unopened 15 minutes before the start, a hotplate was in place under a tiny tetsubin ... Why was this included in the evening, I constantly inquired, but wished to help the event producer fulfill her fantasy. I couldn't help recall the scene in the film Memoirs of a Geisha where the former "Chiyo" does a weird modernist dance at her formal "coming out" performance, emerging as "Sayuri" I mentioned this in my review of the film, "The Way of Tease" for Kyoto Journal.

I determined that the most impressive situation would be to draw the audience's attention into the virtual tearoom space as if one would be a guest. It is pointless to explain every one of the teishu (host's) gestures, because in their role as guest, they are already doing what is necessary: to witness, settle in and wait for tea.

So as narrator I took them on the guest's journey through an imaginary roji, turning this way and that along the stone path, passing through the gates, rinsing at the tsukubai and enter the nijiriguchi. I then simply mentioned that the host is purifying the utensils in the presence of the guest as a way also to draw together their attention and hearts for this gathering.I mentioned other ideas, such as the "Wa, kei, sei and jaku" kakemono (calligraphy) on the scroll displayed in the two "mat" (goza) stage set, which included a tokonoma / tokobashira and shojis designed by East West Teahouse. The demonstration was very abridged inasmuch, too, that the host and guest were new to the practice. I felt the impression was the best under the circumstances.

Likewise, it is a huge challenge to demonstrate in a controlled theatrical space, such as a proscenium stage. I had the opportunity as a very new tea student to witness a kencha (memorial presentation of tea) presided over by then Sen Soshitsu XV, Hounsai, in Los Angeles at the Japan America Theatre. He used the formal daisu (large lacquered stand) and kaigu (set of fresh water jar, fire tongues / water dipper holder, waste water jar and lid rest), of course. I was seated in the balcony, and my eyes were riveted on his every move.

A rather tall man, Hounsai O-Iemoto towered over the daisu, yet he still had to get in there and withdraw the long handled vertically standing bamboo water dipper out of the long-necked holder with little room to spare under the top shelf. He appeared to cause the top of the daisu to expand upward as he reached inside to lift up the hishaku (water dipper). I couldn't believe my eyes.

I commented about it to a tea colleague who admonished me that the goal is to mirror our teacher's process, never to try to imitate the Grand Tea Master who can and would in fact behave more grandiosely.