Bow Down Diaries: Mana

In the second instalment of our blog post about the upcoming performances of Bow Down in the Summer Festival, our Marketing & Box Office Intern, Bethan spoke to cast member Mana Shibata about her experiences working on the production so far.

The first performance was quite scary for me. As a child I trained in musical theatre and did ballet for a long time but I hadn’t performed as anything other than an oboist for the last 11 years! Freddie (Wake-Walker, director) made us rehearse without mirrors so I have no idea how I look either. The philosophy behind that comes from Japanese Noh theatre (Freddie has taken a lot of inspiration from traditional Japanese culture for this project), where how you look isn’t important but you should automatically look right if you’re “being” what you are required to be… Does that make sense?? It’s quite difficult to explain… Anyway, so I remember suddenly feeling self-conscious on the first night. Luckily I was able to pull myself out of it and carry on. Also I’m not vocally trained as someone like Simon or Tom (actors), so projecting my voice was a challenge in Brighton, where we were performing in a boomy, dark, damp abandoned meat market with sea gulls and pigeons screeching above us! It was a strange venue because the audience were sat so close to us, yet it was so dark we couldn’t see them! It felt intimate but at the same time separated from the audience because we couldn’t see their reaction.

When we moved onto Norwich, it was a completely different feel. We were in a small opening in the middle of a forest, a fairly long car journey out of Norwich (it was advertised as “secret woodland location” and the cast still have no idea where we were exactly!), lit up by naked flames and the audience perching on hay-bales! Everything had to adjust to the change of atmosphere so it felt like a completely different piece. There was a sense of openness at this venue and the audience took it more light-heartedly it seemed so I felt I could connect to them a lot more easily there.

So we are really looking forward to the Village Underground and what we manage to create there! The cast are all based in London so it’ll be our local and hopefully that will give us the confidence to explore even more with the piece. That is exactly what’s so great about Bow Down – we’ll never feel like we know it inside out because it holds so many possibilities and we’ll never run out of ideas to try.

How does it compare to orchestral playing… I’ve just got back from an orchestra rehearsal actually and I had a quintet concert on Wednesday. I’d say I’ve become a lot more relaxed in general. The whole experience has opened my eyes to the bigger world of performance art. Music obviously plays a significant role in the performance arts but it’s not everything. It’s so easy to become cocooned when music has been the only focus in your life for such a long time but now I feel completely liberated as a “performer”. Bow Down has given me the opportunity to find who I am, what I’m good at, and develop it!

The answer to your question “have I had to adapt” is that actually, no, not at all. I’ve not had to change anything that I already knew but I learnt a lot to add to it. In Bow Down rehearsals we spent a lot of time standing in a circle and without “leading” one another we tried to clap in unison. We managed to do it really well quite a few times! We’re not sure what made it work apart from being in tune with each other, which sounds very pretentious! This is something that also applies in ensemble or orchestral playing so it’s nothing new but working with non-musicians has given me the chance to re-learn it because they use a completely different language. The most important lesson I learnt was “never take rhythm and tempo for granted”. When we met Harrison Birtwistle, the first thing he explained to us was what a pulse is. Some people had only used the word “pulse” in terms of heartbeats so for them to consider that a pulse could exist in any tempo was something completely new. So why have musicians decided to think in beats and bars? I’m still working out my answer to that…

I hope Bow Down is interesting to watch but for me the aim is to tell an already well-known story in a way that showcases all our strengths. That makes it sound like a school play but hopefully it’ll be clear to the audience that it’s far more than just a play.

Mana Shibata
Bow Down Cast Member


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