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“When the show is over, the palpable pulsating silence of the audience continues … gradually easing into applause. Why the delay? The audience had been in the clouds with the gods – they didn’t know whether the earth remained below.” — Audience member
The Way of Washi Tales
Ibe Kyoko • Elise Thoron
ISBN 9781940965208 • 232 pages • 210 images
10 x 7 in. • $45.00 • 2023
This book chronicles the beautiful and moving story of Recycling: Washi Tales, a theatrical performance first conceived in 2009 by American theater maker, Elise Thoron, and Japanese paper artist, Ibe Kyoko. Inspired by washi (Japanese handmade paper), the authors set out on an ongoing exploration of its dynamic presence and harmonious spirit in theater. Working with a company of Japanese traditional performers and an American storyteller, Recycling: Washi Tales brings to the stage four folk tales centering around washi from different periods of Japanese history. Three Japanese musical traditions are also represented: Noh drum, biwa, and shomyo (Buddhist sutra singing). Performances of Recycling: Washi Tales have delighted audiences across the U.S.A. and Japan, captivated by Ibe’s dazzling paper art and costumes, the on-stage papermaking, and the artistry of each of the company performers.
The Way of Washi Tales tells the story of a collaboration across cultures, including how washi and the rich history of the craft informed the performances of the theater artists, while their ongoing work together as a company resulted in deep personal bonds and experiences. Through backstage scenes and over two hundred photographs, the book explores the fascinating process of long-term cultural exchange, including the complex challenges of bilingual performance and the rewards of building a “washi family.”
In personal essays, Ibe and Thoron reflect on how profoundly a simple natural material – washi – has shaped Japanese culture and influenced the trajectory of their lives. Recently, the authors embarked on a new washi adventure with Dwayne Betts, author of Felon: Poems (2019) and a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. Betts’ new solo performance, Felon: An American Washi Tale is a compelling story about the role that books and papermaking played in his life during and after incarceration. The sets for this new performance were created by Ibe from “prison” paper that Dwayne made from the clothing of his friends still serving time; directed by Thoron, Betts performs in prisons and theaters across the U.S.A.
Appendix A reproduces the script for Recycling: Washi Tales, and Appendix B is Claire Cuccio’s translation of Najio Gawa by Mizukami Tsutomu, a source for one of the Washi Tales. A glossary and bibliography follow.