Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's Next

Noh Garden is a one of five Noh dramas by Ken Arnold that are intended to be performed or screened in sequence, either in a film or on stage. It is the first to be scored with original music (by Joan McMillen) and produced. The entire project is titled, for now, The Gospel According to Noh. Each of the pieces is based on a part of the Christian myth, just as traditional Noh is based on Buddhist stories. They mix spoken dialog with sung and, taken together, might be thought of as a Noh opera.

I will be screening Noh Garden as soon as the editing is completed and we find a suitable venue, probably not before 2012, however. One option is Headwaters Theatre in Portland (worth checking out anyway). I am also looking for interested partners to help develop the entire project.

The Gospel According to Noh consists of five pieces: Woman at the Well, Lazarus, Noh Garden, The Twin, and Emmaus. Each adapts a traditional biblical story, using movement and music, through a lens of what's often called the inner tradition of Christianity--that is, a more mystical, less "historical" interpretation. Woman at the Well, for example, which retells a story of Jesus meeting a woman at a village well who is clearly of "ill repute," is set in a strip club. The Stranger (Jesus figure) enters the club, which serves breakfast to patrons who come in the morning to watch strippers. He tells her, as Jesus tells the woman at the well in the biblical story, that she has had many lovers, including the bouncer in the club. Here's an excerpt that shows how these stories are adapted:

Woman: You're right about the men, five of them husbands and a bunch more passing through my bedroom. Like this lug. I thought one of them would make me whole or just more myself, but I kept losing track of me. Someone, I think, is out there who can bring me peace.
Stranger: I can.
Woman: Oh, great, another charmer. Well, you're not getting into my pants, even though I have to admit I think you're nice to look at. Maybe a quickie wouldn't kill us. How about a lap dance? On the house? And then we'll see.
Stranger: The flesh is doorway to the spirit. We begin where we are, in suffering or in anger, in joy or even ecstasy. It isn't that you have to leave your flesh behind, cease being human, but that flesh is enlightened by the spirit. I understand your pain. It's why I'm here.
Woman: Do you want the lap dance or not? A lot of guys, you know, would kill for a freebie. I'm not cheap.
Stranger: You are a pearl of great price.
Chorus: [Sung] I know that pearl.
             I've seen it.
             But this is interesting.
             She is flesh and he
             is flesh and yet they both
             begin to fade, like
             objects in a fog
             or faces in twilight.
             Nothing's really gone
             but nothing's as it was.
             These thoughts are not
             what I expect to think.
             Perhaps the eggs and
             beer bring on
             It's time for me to go.
             Business calls.

Well, stay tuned

Friday, July 29, 2011


It has been two weeks since the last post on this blog. The problem has been my (Ken's) eyesight, not the lack of progress on the film, Noh Garden. In fact, we wrapped the film Wednesday night, July 27, at about 9:30, following a long day that began with a scene shot just after noon at Elk Rock Garden, Bishop's Close, out on the Willamette River. The final scenes included the concluding dance, which we choreographed and shot first. That took an hour. We then had to pick up leftovers from the previous three weeks and retape a scene that was compromised by some digital corruption. We got it all done. The wrap party began before we finished the final two scenes and continued to about 11 PM. I now have about three-and-a-half hours of tape to edit down to forty or so minutes of film. This will take awhile. Fortunately, Jennifer Thomas, who handled sound for the shoot (and helped me pull focus when my eyes wouldn't work), will assist with editing. It will still take us deep into the fall before we have a DVD.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this has been a collaborative project from the beginning, and the nature of that collaboration is most apparent in the work of the chorus. Matt Smith served as music director for the project, and Joan McMillen, the composer, worked with him to direct at times. Here is a clip from our final night of shooting that shows how this collaboration worked. The discussion focuses on putting the chorus together with the dance in the film's last scene. The off-camera voice is mine. This clip also hints at the quality of music and voice in the production.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The chorus in Noh Garden is comprised of wonderful singers who have worked hard under the direction of Matt Smith (and with the support and additional direction of the composer, Joan McMillen). It has been a pleasure to watch this score come to life in their hands. And an even greater pleasure to hear the sounds that are coming out. Some of the members of the chorus are visible in this image (right to left): John LaFrentz, Mary North, Anne Kennedy, Rebecca Kelley. They are rehearsing before last week's shoot around the piano at St. Stephen's.

Most of the members of the chorus also sing with the St. Stephen's choir, under the direction of Matt Smith. Mary North sings with the choir at St. John the Baptist in Raleigh Hills, Oregon. Rebecca also plays the role of Martha, one of the disciples who goes to the tomb to confirm that it is empty.

For those of you who have considered attending tomorrow evening's shoot, we have had to move it because of equipment problems. It is likely we will be filming Friday evening. Check with Ken Arnold at for an update if you want to watch.

Finally, for today, thanks to all of those who have contributed to Noh Garden by purchasing a DVD in advance for $50. It takes a community to make a film, and all of us are grateful for those who have stepped forward at this critical time to show your confidence in our work. If you wish to contribute, contact Ken at the email mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


In a previous post ("Makeup"), I talked about the makeup for Noh Garden, which is an adaptation of traditional Kabuki white face. Erin and Andy--respectively Mary Magdalene and Jesus--here are putting on their white makeup, using the altar at St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish as a station. The reason for the white makeup is the nature of these two characters: not realistic portraits of Mary and Jesus but rather interiors, if you like. These are mystical presences. Also, on stage and film, they are not "acting," in a traditional sense. They are icons of a sort. The white faces help to preserve that sense of distance between us, who are in the "real" world, and these beings, who inhabit a space between the realistic and the mystical, a transitional place also known as liminal. The ritual quality of the scenes is enhanced by the mask-like faces. In traditional Noh, of course, they would be wearing masks.

This was our first day of shooting, last Thursday, July 7. In the background, you can see the screen painted for the stage by Pam Racs. It's a version of the traditional pine tree backdrop used in Noh drama (see an earlier discussion of the pine tree from last month).

Our next shoot is this Thursday, July 14: two disciples visit the empty tomb where the dead body of Jesus had been placed. They race to see who will get inside first and know the truth. The truth is as elusive as the body of their friend and teacher.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Thursday, July 7, we shot our first scenes of Noh Garden. It was exciting to be filming after a year of composing and rewriting, planning and assembling a team. Cast and crew were fantastic, and we got some wonderful footage. Some photos from the set to come after our shoot this coming Thursday, July 14. For now, here is a photograph of the team that has been working together for the past year: Matt Smith (music director), Joan McMillen (composer), and Ken Arnold (writer/director).

The three of us have worked remarkably well together. The ease with which we communicate was clear on the set Thursday evening, when we each went about our tasks independently of one another as we set up and then meshed almost seamlessly during the shoot itself. One of the facts of life in film and theater, as most of you surely know, is collaboration. Nothing happens on its own or because of one person. It takes all three of us to make this work--and, of course, the other eleven people on the set in front of the camera and behind it. For example, Wednesday afternoon one of the actors, Rebecca Kelley, came by the church to help me, the artist (Pam Racs), and Joyce Lew (script supervisor) figure out how to hoist the backdrop to the rafter twenty feet above the stage. Rebecca climbed the VERY LONG ladder and tossed the rigging over the rafter (perfect aim!) and then figured out how to tie off the ropes. No way I was going up there. When we hoisted it for Thursday's shoot, a member of the chorus, the actor playing Jesus, and I did the heavy lifting. It's a party.

Anyone interested in dropping by to watch us film is welcome. July 14, 21, and 27 we will be at St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish, SW 13th and Clay, from 6:30 to about 9:00. If you want to come, please arrive by 6:30 so that we are not interrupted while filming. (You'll be able to leave, however, whenever you like!)

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I have not posted to this blog in a week because of the loss of sight in my right eye. It's not fully recovered but I can see somewhat better than before. The timing is not great, since we begin filming Noh Garden today! At last week's rehearsal, I filmed a brief sequence between Mary Magdalene (Erin Walker) and Jesus (Andy McQuery), which gives you a hint of the music and performances to expect in the film. I hope you enjoy this clip.