Stage actors always fascinated me. As a shy person I admired and envied them: in front of a live audience they took on a new personality and pretended to be someone else: brave, silly, nasty, pathetic, noble, or tragic. How did they get the courage to do that?
Then I became a performing taiko drummer. In Odaiko New England (ONE) we have a large repertoire, and therefore need to project many characters and emotions: joy, ferocity, laid-back cool, rock-god intensity. If you are shy, you know that none of these comes naturally to a shy person, especially one with stage fright. Slowly and painfully, I taught myself to pretend: to act joyous, ferocious, cool, intense. Gradually I discovered that “acting” joyous on stage brought out silly, happy childish parts of me I never knew existed. “Acting” joyous freed me to be openly joyous. In the same way, acting ferocious frees the predator in me. I glare at the audience: they are the herd, my natural prey, and when I leave the drum I am going to leap off the stage and hunt them down like a tigress. Some roles are harder than others. The rock-god persona of one of my favorite ONE songs, Kashmir (inspired by the Led Zeppelin piece), is perhaps the most difficult. As a middle-aged woman with bad knees, it is hard to visualize myself as a rock goddess. So I call on my long-suppressed inner rock heroine: eternally young, arrogant, and wicked. And out she comes – glamorous, challenging, triumphant. Am I entirely convincing? Probably not, but my role in the troupe is not to be a star. My job is to support my ensemble, to help us transmit together as a group the message we are rock gods to the audience, and make them leap to their feet screaming at the end of Kashmir. Which, happily, they often do.
There is more to taiko performing, of course: transitions, backstage traffic jams, onstage surprises, offstage distractions, outdoor weather crises, transportation and equipment mixups, missed cues, flying bachi, free-running dogs – all of the haps and mishaps that create the stories we tell over beer and pizza. We are a troupe of performers, with a shared history and a shared identity: we are Odaiko New England.
But I’m still not really an actor…am I?