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Grams draws inspiration from Noh and Kabuki theater

Tae Andrews | Friday, February 15, 2008

For his FTT Honors Thesis project, senior Nate Grams decided to try something new and mix things up – literally.

In writing and directing “The Flight,” he crossed the texts of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House” and Kinoshita Junji’s “The Twilight Crane,” creating an original work that is an amalgamation of both plays.

The two plays make for an interesting marriage, which is fitting considering that “The Flight” follows two couples and deals with the issue of the sacrifice women oftentimes make for the sake of their marriages.

“My inspiration for creating this project was the opportunity to do something completely original,” he said. “I started with research: research into plays, into Suzuki Method, into the Japanese Theatre styles, scholarship on the works, everything. And from all this, I’ve created a synthesis that I can actually call my own, and that feels really cool.”

Some might say taking on such an ambitious enterprise is for the birds, and Grams might agree, but for a different reason – he titled his play “The Flight” because it employs the image of women as birds.

“Birds are these beautiful creatures with the power of flight, but the act of keeping one represents a tremendous loss of freedom,” he said.

In writing the play, Grams said he cut the plays in what he calls “dialogic manner,” where the narrative goes back and forth between one world and the other until the final scene, where the story arcs overlap and draw together.

By his estimation, Grams said he took about sixty percent of the lines in “The Flight” from the two texts, with the remainder coming from his own hand. In addition to writing and directing the show, Grams also designed the choreography, music, set and costumes – doing everything, in other words, short of taking the stage himself. “I’ve gotten my chance to try a little bit of everything this show,” he said. “Just about the only thing I haven’t done for this show is act, which is fortunate because I have a fantastic cast, and I don’t know if I could do what they do.”

“The Flight” features Jennifer Betancourt as Nora, Luke Cieslewicz as Torvald, Huyen Nguyen as Tsu, Devin Preston as Yohyo, Tashi Thomas as the Narrator and Kenneth Hamilton as the Drummer. His crew includes Shay Thorton as Stage Manager and James Miller-Marquez as light designer.

“Everyone in this show has been so awesome to work with and truly generous with their time in helping to bring this show together,” Grams said. “There’s no way I could ever repay them, but I think their work speaks for itself.”

“The Flight” has a strong Japanese influence, which Grams says dates back to his years in high school, where he studied Japanese and traveled to Japan, which in turn introduced him to Noh and Kabuki Theater. He also said that his exposure to Suzuki Method came from one of his professors here at Notre Dame Jay Skelton. Suzuki Method is a movement technique and acting which combines traditional forms of Japanese theater including Noh, Kabuki and Kyogen.

“Suzuki is based on the principle of forms, kind of like ballet,” he said. “The biggest obstacle to this is the fact that much of Suzuki is very physically strenuous, but you must always fight to appear calm and relaxed at all times, ready to do anything, at any speed, in a moment’s notice. […] I think it instantly creates this incredible dynamic tension on stage.”

Noh is a traditional, ancient form of Japanese theatre which dates back to the 1300s. Half of Grams’ source material, “The Twilight Crane” was originally written in this style.

“I think what I love about Japanese Theatre in general is the specificity, how one tiny movement, executed precisely, can communicate so much,” he said. “I love that kind of power and subtlety.”

Grams began working on this project in the spring of last year. His proposal for the Honors Project was due in April 2007 and he began his research at that time. “Since then it’s been a long process of reading, taking classes on Suzuki, writing, editing and now rehearsing,” he said.

He said “The Flight” represents the culmination of the skills he’s learned during his four years at Notre Dame.

“At some point or another, I’ve found myself applying what I’ve learned from every class and every show I’ve ever done here,” he said. “I couldn’t have even begun to imagine doing this without what the major has given me.”

As far as his future goes, Grams said he has already auditioned with several graduate schools for acting and is currently waiting to hear back from them. Regardless of the outcome, Grams said he remains committed to his craft and he is prepared to go the “starving artist” route. “If [he’s not accepted], then I think I plan on moving to Chicago next year and just trying to act and direct professionally,” he said. “And be poor. Professionally.”

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu.