Strutting the (Kyogen) StageGAMBIER, Ohio (May 11, 2009) One of the best pieces of advice Eric McEver got as he embarked on his junior year in Japan was to "keep my eyes open for opportunities that were outside of the box." Little did he know where that lesson would lead: come June, he found himself on stage, performing a Japanese "reimagining" of Hamlet on a seven-city tour.
"I was the only student in the cast," recalled McEver, who graduates this spring with a major in Modern Languages and Literatures and a concentration in Asian studies. "It was humbling to perform alongside actors who had studied kyogen [a traditional, stylized form of comedy] their whole lives." The challenge went beyond language fluency and stage finesse. "I spent a lot of time working on my intonation, breathing in the right rhythm to achieve the correct musical flow."
Drawing on the encouragement of his Kenyon advisor, Professor of Japanese Hideo Tomita, McEver made the most of his year at Waseda University in Tokyo. He joined a student film club (in which he was the only foreigner), took a course in paleontology (one of his passions), and regularly sought out his professors for informal conversations. The result: cultural boundaries blurred. "It was my interests and my identity as a human being," said McEver, "and not my identity as a foreigner, that defined my relationships."
His theatrical adventure grew out of a "spur-of-the-moment" decision to take a drama history course with Sekine Masaru, a writer-director who created the new version of Hamlet and who welcomed McEver's office-hour visits. When an actor had to drop out of the production, the professor invited McEver to step in. "I had a couple of juicy scenes," he laughed, including one (created by Sekine and grafted onto Shakespeare) in which "I played a rather lewd Venetian chef, half-flirting with and half-harassing a pretty fish monger."
Next year, McEver heads back to Japan for an intensive, year-long program at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama, the premier American program for the teaching of advanced Japanese. His goal is to pursue a career in film or theater, ideally in Japan.