Murakami’s Theatre of Dreams
Posted on 14 May, 2012
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
25-26 May 2012
Murakami fans will be thrilled as the first theatrical staging of a Murakami novel graces our shores as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. Wind Up Bird Chronicle tells the story of unemployed Toru Okada who loses both his cat and wife. His struggles to cope with their disappearances bring him on an eccentric adventure involving a fantasy-line worker, an overbearing prostitute, a death- obsessed teen, a war veteran and a sadistic politician.
This is the first novel Murakami ever gave permission to be adapted, and the privilege of staging Wind Up Bird Chronicle fell onto the lap of film-director Stephen Earnhart. And Stephen Earnhart is a man with a vision. Despite his expertise in film, Earnhart was inspired to stage Wind Up Bird Chronicle in the theatre. “It didn’t feel like film alone would do the book justice. It needed the full range of tools of a three-dimensional medium to properly create the multi-layered Murakami worlds”, says Earnhart.
While film and theatre are two genres that are drastically different, Earnhart saw the potential of synergizing his experience in film together with the impermanence of theatre. Earnhart’s experience of reading the novel was almost visceral, as he saw clearly how he could use video, sound, light, shadow and water to create the different layers of Murakami’s narrative.
“I was interested in creating a sensual, experiential theatrical experience that was more than just a play. I knew a novel of this complexity could never be translated appropriately solely in the medium of just film or just theater. It needed these different elements to do the novel justice”, he tells Muse.
It was a project seven years in the making. Not surprising, given Earnhart’s vision for a technologically serviced theatre of dreams. The painful task of transposing Murakami’s 600-page novel into a manageable script was the primary reason for the long developmental process. On top of that, there was the enormous task of imaging the aesthetic of Murakami’s hallucinatory world.
Expect an element of puppetry, which will blur the lines between prosaic realism and magical surrealism. Puppet director Tom Lee, who is interested in combining the worlds of puppetry and technology, approached Earnhart for a part in the project, and Earnhart never looked back.
At the core of Earnhart’s production is a shrewd synergy of technical elements and classical theatre technique to create a dream-like reality. Sound designers Jane Shaw and Bora Yoon worked together with Earnhart in the pre-production stages to craft specific soundscapes that deploy non-traditional musical instruments such as water, zippers, radio static, bicycle bells, bowed metal, emergency sirens and various other gadgets.
This technology supplements, but will never replace, good performance in theatre. Movement director Karen Beaumont worked with the actors to devise a consilient physical repertoire, blending the work of Le Coq, Grotowsky, mask and clown techniques. Wind Up Bird Chronicle was born a three-dimensional and cross-cultural collaborative piece, co-created by a group of writers, designers, actors, dramaturge and movement directors.
Fans amongst us will know that Murakami’s narratives may not be linear nor traditional, but Earnhart maintains that Murakami’s writing is accessible. “He writes for the guy on the subway, not the literary elite.”
So the end of the day, it was this principle of writing for the man on the street that propelled the staging of Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Earnhart believes that the production, too, has to be accessible and universal. “I wanted to make something unique and unorthodox, but not so conceptual that people couldn’t follow it. I wanted to take people on an emotional journey rooted in a story.”
TEXT BY HUISHAN APRILENE GOH
IMAGES COURTESY OF Wind-Up Productions LLC