Episode from My School Days in Kyoto: A Japanese Girl Found Her Own Way by Hidemi Woods
As the school play of the drama club approached, I had prepared for my first role vigorously. Once I remembered all the lines, acting itself actually felt much easier than the backstage work I had done for three years.
The difficult part was timing for some action. In one scene, I threw a bowl at the heroine but she had to show her back to me when it happened. I sat with my back to her and couldn’t see her positions. We made the sound of her knees tapping the stage floor a signal that she had turned her back to me. Because the sound was so subtle, I was afraid of missing it.
Near the end of the play, an evil stepmother, who was played by me, killed a heroine with a poker. It was a custom of the club that the club members would visit a shrine together to pray for safety before the play if it had a murder scene. We did that after school, with me standing right in front of the altar because I was the murderer. Now, I had everything ready for my first play, and the day had come.
Since it was a Japanese period play, I had borrowed kimono from my grandmother as my costume. My role was an old woman and I drew lines on my face and sprinkled talcum powder over my hair. While I was waiting for the play to start in the wings, I got tensed up and my hands began to tremble. There’s an old trick in Japanese show business, that tracing a Chinese character that means ‘human’ on a palm with a finger three times and pretending to swallow it removes tension when you’re nervous. I threw myself on the trick but it didn’t work at all. Suddenly I lost self-confidence and told one of the juniors that I was so nervous. Although she would also appear in the play as a bit part, she was surprisingly calm. She suggested the trick placidly and said that she couldn’t help me because she had never been nervous in her entire life. As I doubted if she was a human being, the play started.
Following a heroine’s monologue, the curtain was raised and I was standing in the center of the stage. The unexpected happened: before I uttered a word, the hall got engulfed in an explosion of laughter. The audience burst out laughing at the scene in which a stumpy girl was standing with old makeup. Although the play was a serious drama, my first ever appearance was laughed away…