Japantastick No. 5: Making music with total strangers

Note: This is Day 5 of our daily report from Japan, where members of Denver’s handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company are participating in a 10-day goodwill trip that will culminate with a performance of “The Fantasticks”:

Video above: Phamaly Theatre Company Musical Director Mary Kay Dailey leads four random Japanese students she met in a park in a song.

Taking a respite from rehearsals and workshops, Phamaly Theatre Company Music Director Mary Kay Dailey and harpist Barb Lepke-Sims took to the streets and quickly found themselves at a loss for words. Specifically a loss for Japanese words.

Phamaly in Japan. Mary Kay Dailey. “Barb snapped pictures of the station stops so we could backtrack our way home like leaving breadcrumbs in the forest,” Dailey said.
But if there is a universal language, it is music. As Daily arrived at her destination of Osaka Palace, she heard faint singing in the distance.

“Four young girls in proper school uniforms stood in a circle by the entrance to the park. They had sheet music in their hands and they seemed to be practicing,” said Dailey, who couldn’t help but ask to listen.

“Through an awkward game of charades, I found out that they were in a choir and their high school was right across the street,” Dailey said. “I explained that I am a music teacher.”

And then they communicated the only way they really could.

“I pointed to the soprano and alto lines of the four-part vocal score,” Dailey said. “They were all sopranos. I hummed a note, and we all sang the tune.

“My entire day before and after was a communication challenge, but for those brief 30 seconds, we totally understood and communicated in the same language – music. I am truly blessed to be able to share and receive the gift of music, for it has no boundaries.”

‘Frozen’ barriers melt away in Disney song: 

Video above: In case you wanted to know, here is how the monster hit song “Let it Go” from “Frozen” sounds in Japanese. Video by Jenna Bainbridge.

Back at the Big-I – headquarters for Phamaly’s week of cultural goodwill – actor Jenna Bainbridge discovered if there is one more universal language besides music, it is Disney music. As Bainbridge began to try to find a commonality with her assigned Japanese students, she discovered they all knew – and love – the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s global animated hit film, Frozen. And the teacher became student.

“They proceeded to teach me how to sing it in Japanese,” she said. “One girl was so helpful, that she wrote everything down phonetically so the Americans could sing it, too. We now know it all in English and Japanese, and are eager to perform it in the workshop.”

Lennon song still making, not imagining, a better world:  

Video above: Phamaly Theatre Company Artistic Director Bryce Alexander directing, interpreted first into Japanese, then into Japanese Sign Language. The final piece has no words but is still understandable to anyone watching. Video by Jeremy Palmer.

Jeremy Palmer is not only a Phamaly board member but also an actor, director and writer as well. He has headed the company’s now longstanding venture into creating original comedy performance opportunities for disabled actors through ongoing  programs called Vox Phamilia and dislabled. Palmer, Alexander and actor Robert Michael Sanders took three chosen “storytellers” from among the Japanese workshop participants and helped them shape their personal stories into original staged pieces.

“The first woman had a piece that was already so beautiful and expressive, we all understood it even though it was completely silent,” said Palmer, who plays El Gallo in The Fantasticks. “Bryce added and expanded her movement and it was done.” Later Bainbridge and Palmer added other choral singers at the end as the woman, named Hirowei (“But I can’t swear to that spelling,” he says) signed and danced to John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”

A young transgendered girl with autism named Syuyo asked for a script to read, so Palmer did what he has always done with new Phamaly actors back home in Denver. He let her talk – through an interpreter. Over lunch, Palmer formed his notes into a narrative monologue. The interpreter then read his words to Syuyo’s mother, who then wrote it out in Chinese characters – and then rewrote it again in Japanese characters Syuyo could  understand. A circuitous and successful journey toward communication.

At one point, Syuyo told her Phamaly group leaders she wants to help others like her, because she feels like she can’t express herself.

“Bryce and I explained that 26 years ago, that’s why Phamaly was founded,” Palmer said. “One can only hope that many years from now, Syuyo might look back on this week as a spark that started something just as significant as Phamaly.”

More observations from the day from Phamaly members in Japan:

Lyndsay Palmer
(The Mute in “The Fantasticks): “After a shaky start, I ended up working with my fellow cast members to teach my parasol dance originally choreographed by Phamaly’s Debbie Stark to a full room of workshop participants. And they locked it up in a snap. It brought tears to my eyes to see us all work together like that, in spite of barriers of disability and language. I’m so proud, and I know we will put on a beautiful show together tomorrow.”

Daniel Traylor (Matt): “I’m sitting among so much passion right now, it’s overwhelming. We’re breaking down language barriers and constructing a production in a matter of hours. I feel like I’m witnessing passions blossoming that have otherwise been stifled. Something has been awakened in them, and I hope that when we leave, we won’t be taking their only creative outlet away. Some of these performers will want to follow in Phamaly’s footsteps. Maybe Big-i will be a part of that.”

Jenna Bainbridge
(Luisa): “We went to a wonderful restaurant where our waiter handed us the translation app on the phone. It said, in very broken English, ‘You has pictures of all?’ I assumed the waiter was asking if we wanted a picture of the whole table, so I handed him my phone – and he ran away. He came back a moment later with a Polaroid camera and asked to take a picture of us all to put on a wall in the back. He was so helpful and eager to talk to us that he kept handing his translation app to us so we could communicate. We wrote on our picture: ‘Phamaly, The Fantasticks, March 2015. Wonderful food, Love Stewart, David, Lyndsay, Jeremy, Jenna.’ What a great time.




No. 1: Phamaly’s ‘massive moment’ in Osaka begins
No. 2: It’s raining yen​
No. 3: Boundaries created by war can be broken
No. 4: Overcoming barriers and finding commonality 



Phamaly to take The Fantasticks to Japan
Phamaly picks Bryce Alexander as new artistic director

Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson
DCPA Access-Ability Video featuring Phamaly actors



Phamaly in Japan.