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by TC Best about a year ago in how to
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The Paper Play (Part I)

Japanese theatre always seemed mysterious and intriguing to me. I’ve always wanted to learn more about style, costume, movement, make-up, characters, and everything it encompasses. Yet, I couldn’t find the time to make it happen. Then, one day, while scoping through Arts & Crafts ideas for a group of individuals with different abilities, I came across KAMISHIBAI - Japanese Paper Play; a combination of street theatre and storytelling.

At first, I thought this looked really interesting, the absolute opposite of main stage theatre. A portable mini box theatre made out of wood, with illustrated boards that slid in and out, with dialogue on the back of the boards for the narrator to tell the story. I thought to myself, the guys love a good story, they love crafting stories through MADLIBS. Their creative input is never ending, so why not bring another element of storytelling to the table? Why not explore another culture, and their way of sharing ideas, thoughts, and visions? Why not elevate our creative abilities? Why not try something old, yet new?

This old form of “pictorial storytelling” has “deep roots” in Japanese art history. But the KAMISHIBAI, really made a huge following during the 1930s to the post-war period in Japan and before the infusion of television. KAMISHIBAI Narrators (KAMISHIBAIYA) would arrive at street corners in Tokyo, open their box theatre, and tell stories, captivating young and old audience members with a great combination of story and illustration.

It looked so amazing and beautiful, and I wanted to bring this form of storytelling to an audience. After all, the guys love finding different mediums to get their stories out for everyone to enjoy. So why not build the mini box theatre? It was different, and needed exploring, but I didn’t have any wood around to build the mini box. So, another online video showed how to build a KAMISHIBAI from a cardboard box; and those were in good supply. I just needed to wait for the next office supply drop off.

In the meantime, I tuned into the “how to” video for many days; stopped and rewind it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And if I did, I would just get another box and start over. But in all honesty, I wanted to take my time to build the mini box to avoid having to start all over.

So, I started scouting my work area, all of the first floor, along with the administration’s office for the right box. Then I found one, and started the process of measuring, cutting, and taping. And as I was measuring and making cuts, I was thinking of what stories we can tell, and how amazing this would be if we merged another artistic medium, like video, to the mix. After all, we have a lot of talented individuals in our midst, and collaborating with them is always a fun time, filled with learning and sharing creative ideas. But don’t worry, although happiness had taken over, I wasn’t getting ahead of myself.

Currently, the mini box is in its humble beginnings, after measuring and cutting out sections. Reinforcing the sides with extra cardboard for a more solid structure was needed. And with my nifty scissors, work was done around the edges to remove unsightly, seemingly out of place, pieces of cardboard that was just sticking up. My vision for the final product is to mount a storytelling session. A session that is filmed and posted online for everyone to see and hear. I feel excited about the project, and what creative elements other people of whom I have the pleasure of working with will bring to our KAMISHIBAI.

Although “practice makes progress,” and this is our first mini box, we’ll have to do others: create more stories, more illustrations, more Paper Plays that will hopefully teach us how to embrace the mysterious and intriguing forces of theatre.

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TC Best

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