- 7(x1) Samurai
When Jacques Lecoq first opened his L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 1956, he envisioned a school where students would learn to use their whole selves to create dramatic works—dramas that would rely primarily on the actor’s voice, body, and imagination to tell the story of the play, the type of production that Lecoq labeled a “theatre of movement and gesture.” A key component of this training was immersion in the gestural language of mime—not just the Marcel Marceau–inspired mime seen on Parisian street corners, but a storytelling mime comprised of three components: white pantomime, figurative mime, and cartoon mime. In 1977, David Gaines, along with fellow Lecoq graduates Paul Filipiak and Toby Sedgewick, created a company called the Moving Picture Mime Show that developed plays using this form. One of the company’s most notable pieces was The Seven Samurai and Other Stories (1979), a forty-minute adaptation of Akira Kurasawa’s three-and-a-half-hour film The Seven Samurai. In 2008, Gaines expanded the piece into 7(x1) Samurai, reinventing the show as a one-hour-solo tour de force that utilized all three components of storytelling mime.
The audience entered a simple black-box theatre with a stage empty except for a small wooden box with two masks sitting on it. These were kabuki in style, one in white and black representing the good Chief Samurai, the other white and black with red stripes representing the evil Chief Brigand. Wearing a white and tan gi, Gaines entered to the sound of a strong wind blowing and a mournful bell tolling, aurally setting the tone for the uneasy peacefulness of a Japanese village and foreshadowing the impending conflict. Gaines deftly transitioned between each character, telling the story of a small village beset upon by brigands who steal the crops, beat the people, and wreck the town. One of the villagers goes into the city and seeks out the aid of ronin, or masterless samurais, to defend the village. Because the villager cannot pay these ronin for their services, he is turned down repeatedly until he meets the Chief Samurai, who agrees to help. The Chief assembles a band of six other warriors, each with a unique specialty, to fight the brigands. In a hilarious sequence, they train the villagers to fight using hoes and bows and arrows. Finally, the day comes when the brigands attack, and what follows is a huge battle sequence, complete with booby traps and flashing swords, and ending with the grateful townsfolk safe and the Chief Samurai striding off into the sunset.
White pantomime—the mime technique most commonly associated with street performance—is used to translate what normally would be spoken dialogue into a common gestural language. Gaines used this technique most effectively in the sections of the play that required dialogue between characters. Rather than speaking lines from the source material for these moments, he employed gibberish that sounded like Japanese, along with specifically articulated gestures. Surprisingly, this method resulted in no loss of understanding of the story by the audience. One of the best examples of the use of this technique was when one of the peasants went from bar to bar in the city, telling the story of [End Page 116] how he had been trampled by horses and his town had been destroyed, begging the samurai for help, only to admit each time at the end of his tale that he could not afford to pay them—and each time being thrown out of the bar on his ear.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Eliminating the need for an elaborate set or multiple costume changes, Gaines used figurative mime to create all of the scenic elements. Figurative mime has the actor draw in the space all the scenic elements and properties represented, and Gaines did so with gestures and whistles, creating everything from a beard on an evil brigand’s face to a...