Katsura Kaishi is the premier performer of Rakugo in English. He was recently awarded the Ministry of Culture award for Cultural Exchange. He has won numerous prestigious awards for Rakugo, including the NHK Japan National Television Award for Young Artists, the Ministry of Culture Yew Artist Award, The Hanjoutei Yose Theatre Award for Explosive Laughter, and others. He is one of the most popular storytellers in Osaka, Japan. Up until now, Rakugo could only be seen in Japan. But, in order to bring this art form to the world, Kaishi has, since 1997, performed in over 12 countries including England, Australia, Canada, India, Brunei, and The Phillipines. In all he has performed abroad over 200 times! In 1999 he made his debut at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, he presented a full “Yose” lineup Off-Broadway, a full week of sold-out shows that drew the attention and acclaim of both the Japanese and American media. He is currently touring the United States on a Ministry of Culture grant for cultural exchange.
Having been awarded the Japanese grant for cultural exchange, for the purpose of introducing Rakugo to the world, Kaishi begins his journey on April 1, 2008 in New York. From there, he will travel by car to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, Chicago, and other cities and towns on a grand American tour ending again in New York.

Piling just his living essentials and his Rakugo tools kimono, fan, hand towel, cushion, and unique sense of humor, Kaishi will perform Rakugo in English in more than 30 States.

And not just in theatres! Comedy clubs, schools, on top of bar counters, on the back of tractor trailers... Kaishi can turn almost anything into a platform for Japanese traditional comedy! America, prepare to laugh your heads off, Japanese style!
Surprising performance
During this U.S. tour, I planned to give approximately 40 performances in over 30 states. This only includes shows held at the real theaters, but doesn't count unexpected ‘guerilla performance’ that will introduce Rakugo to those who are never interested in Japanese culture, which is my first aim of this tour.

I have already performed in some unusual places, like at a bar and on a boat, where I never think to perform back in Japan.

The audience coming to a theater is usually Rakugo fan from before. They plan to go to see my performance and probably study about Rakugo in advance. Of course, those audiences are important to me. However, I have to say that they will like my performance no matter what. That’s great, but I wanted to try much more in this U.S. tour. For example, people on the street don’t even pay attention to my performance because they never heard about Rakugo. Seconds later, my performance draws their interests to the world of Rakugo. That’s my challenge, though it sounds crazy.

Today’s guerilla performance was taken place at camping area!

This time was also very tough, even though at least a little better than being on a boat like last show.

To make my stage, I have to put blankets on picnic tables and used car’s headlights as spotlights. It was so windy too…

There was no decoration but just a simple stage.

I felt like being a street performer.

Today’s audience: 20 adults, 9 children, and 5 dogs.

To make matters worse, we were supposed to have rainstorm that night. It was hard for us to concentrate on performance because winds blew all the fliers up and peeled off blankets from my picnic table stage.

In spite of our worries, nobody, not even a dog, left during my 1-hour performance. They even came closer to my stage and really paid their attentions to what I was saying.

After the show, many of them came up to my camping car. The funny thing is that every one of them wants to show off their own jokes to me. It is great that people get to know each other through “jokes” or “laugh” beyond nationalities. I love this feeling of guerrilla Rakugo!
by usarakugo | 2008-07-15 08:34 | diary
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