By Whitney Prather, Georgetown College News Bureau
To Georgetown College professor Michael Rich, Japanese culture isn’t just a fascination or a hobby, but a way of life—and Rich readily admits his Japanese wife, Fumi, is “probably more Western” than he is.
“She enjoys shopping, knitting and writing,” Rich said of Fumi, who grew up in a 300-year-old home in central Japan and is the daughter of a 15th generation sake brewer. “I’m the one who likes all the traditional Japanese stuff.”
In his second year as an assistant professor of Japanese language and literature, Rich is not only preparing to celebrate his family’s second Christmas in Georgetown (they also have a 4 ½-year-old daughter, Laura), but to share a fascinating gem of the Japanese theatre arts with anyone interested in participating through the upcoming, free Noh theatre workshop at the end of January.
Rich’s interest in Japanese culture began budding as a child, growing up in California.
“I lived in an area with a lot of Japanese people, and I had a lot of friends of Japanese decent. You would go to their homes, and they would be folding origami cranes for someone who was sick—I just liked the atmosphere.”
His interest in Asian culture carrying through the years, Rich worked in Nepal for four months during high school, and he began a new hobby—reading English translations of Japanese novels.
“That’s where I really focused in on Japan,” Rich said. “I wanted to be able to read the novels in their original form.”
Rich tackled the challenge of learning Japanese head-on. He enrolled in a nine-week intensive program at Middlebury College to prepare him for an exchange program at Keio University in Japan to study the language as a junior from Dartmouth College.
“You didn’t speak any English and you lived in the dorms and ate with the professors…When I finished and took the placement test, the results showed the equivalent of two years of Japanese language in college.”
With the Japanese exchange program under his belt, Rich returned to the U.S. to enroll in graduate school at Yale, receiving his Ph.D. in classical and modern Japanese literature.
Having been settled in Georgetown since August of 2005, Rich is enthusiastic about bringing a taste of Japanese culture to “people of all ages” through the Noh Workshop.
“I have practiced kendo (Japanese fencing) since 1985 and kyudo (Japanese archery) since 1991. I began my study of Noh theatre in the summer of 2004 when I attended a traditional theatre training workshop—from this experience I asked my instructors to come to the US to offer a similar workshop.”
The Japanese tradition of Noh theatre, Rich said, can be described as “componentized theatre,” made up of three to four musicians, eight singers in a chorus, a main dancer with a mask and robe and supporting cast members that can all be added to or taken away from a performance.
The week-long Noh workshop will be taught by three certified instructors from the Kanze School of Noh in Kyoto, Japan with experience teaching professional and amateur actors Noh dance and chant. Students will not only learn portions of Noh performance, but they will also see demonstrations on costuming, wearing the Noh mask, playing musical instruments and performances of well-known Noh pieces.
There are already participants interested in the workshop, including professors from the University of Kentucky, Berea College and several others of all ages hailing from Louisville, Lexington and Georgetown.
Monica Willett, a Georgetown native and senior theatre major at the University of Kentucky is looking forward to participating in the workshop and experiencing some of the culture as she prepares to travel to Japan next year.
“My emphasis in theatre is costuming, and I have worked at several area theatres on wardrobe and in design. I will be traveling to Kyoto in the summer of 2007 to study silk, textile and Kimono making with several masters,” Willett said, optimistic of the prospect of bringing her own theatre and costuming background to the workshop. “I’m not sure what sort of costuming the Sensei will be using for the workshop, but if they give us the option, I would certainly love to create something.”
The workshop offers a unique opportunity to participants through the experience of learning under Noh masters.
“(Noh actors) are cultural icons in Japan, and some are even considered living national treasures,” Rich said. “The performers spend their lives learning and performing Noh. Their robes alone cost as much as $25,000, and the masks can cost nearly $10,000. It’s an art that’s generally passed down through the generations.”
Aside from experiencing a piece of Japanese culture first-hand, Rich said a lot of the take away value of participating in the workshop lies in mastering a new art form.
“The training is difficult because it’s a new, unknown thing. People will feel they have really stretched themselves—it’s a personal transformation,” Rich said, explaining the many facets of benefits from the workshop. “You’re also working closely with a Japanese person, so you learn the culture of communication—the way they work and communicate is very different, and people can pick up on all of that through interaction. It’s character building, and I think (the workshop) is really valuable and worthwhile.”
The Noh workshop will be held Jan. 30-Feb. 4, 2007 at Georgetown College. In addition, a demonstration of Noh costuming and masking, dance, chant and instruments will be held Feb. 1 at 4 p.m. in the college’s John L. Hill Chapel. A recital performance of the workshop participants will be held in the chapel Feb. 4 from 4-6 p.m. Applications are due Jan. 19. To reserve your spot, e-mail Michael_rich@georgetowncollege.edu or call him at (502) 863-8202.