Cameron University's School of Liberal Arts Week concludes on Friday, November 7 with a one-of-a-kind puppet troupe and an award-winning Oklahoma author. Rilla Askew, award-winning novelist and Oklahoma native, will read selections from her critically acclaimed novels, which include "Harpsong" and "Fire In Beulah," at 7 p.m. in the Shepler Ballroom, and the Bunraku Bay Japanese Puppet Theatre will perform at 8 p.m. in the University Theatre. Both events are open to the public at no charge.
Askew uses Oklahoma as the canvas on which she depicts stories that are quintessentially American in nature and in which she explores the complex forces of race, class and societal opinion. Known for the energy, emotional range and formal complexity of her work, Askew writes with vivid dramatic assurance and rich compassion. A fifth generation descendant of southerners who settled in the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800s, Askew's roots go deep in the Sans Bois country, where her family still lives, but she grew up in Bartlesville. It was there she first encountered the complex forces of race, class, and societal opinion: elements she continues to explore in her fiction.
"Strange Business," her collection of short stories, received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1993; "The Killing Blanket" was selected for Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards. Her first novel, "The Mercy Seat," inspired by stories about her family's migration into Indian Territory, received the Oklahoma Book Award and the Western Heritage award in 1998. The book that fulfilled her determination to write about the Tulsa riot, "Fire in Beulah," received the American Book Award from the Myers Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in 2002. Her latest novel, "Harpsong," received the Oklahoma Book Award and the Western Heritage Award for Best Novel of 2008.
Bringing the artistry of the Japanese puppet theatre to the CU stage, the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe astounds audiences with poignant stories, amazing live music and life-sized Japanese puppets. Originally created before the year 1600 when oral narrative, music of the samisen (a three-stringed instrument) and puppet manipulation was combined in a dramatic form, Bunraku involves fully visible puppeteers dressed in black robes manipulating lavishly costumed large puppets. A single chanter recites all the characters' parts, altering the pitch when switching between various characters.
Sponsored by the Japanese Studies Program at the University of Missouri, the troupe is the only traditional Japanese puppet troupe active outside of Japan. The performers have been trained in Japan by artists from the 170-year-old Tonda Puppet Troupe and the Imada Puppet Troupe and Kuroda Puppet Troupe, both more than 300 years old. Under the direction of Professor Martin Holman, the troupe has performed in Japan and across the U.S., including venues in Florida, Virginia, New York, as well as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The performance will feature short programs from the traditional Bunraku repertoire, including "Sanbaso," a dance piece; "Yaoya Oshichi," a scene from a popular play inspired by a tragic romance; "Hidakagawa Iriaizakura: Watashiba No Dan," based on an ancient story of spurned affection; and "Keisei Awa No Naruto: Junrei Uta No Dan," the most frequently performed piece in the traditional puppet repertoire depicting the tearful reunion of a woman and her daughter.
This performance of the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe is made possible through generous funding by the Cameron University Lectures and Concerts Committee.
November 4, 2008
Bay Puppet Troupe - photos by Nicholas Benner, Illumination Magazine, University of Missouri - Columbia