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Beat Happening

ae watsonvilletaikoThird Friday lets kids interact with Watsonville Taiko’s thunderous drumming

California’s current drought crisis might seem like unlikely subject matter for the ancient art of Japanese drumming. But Watsonville Taiko artistic director Ikuyo Conant chose Tolstoy’s folktale “The Big Dipper” as a basis for their latest production precisely because the story takes place in a severe drought. With a combination of storytelling, prop-making and getting the children to interact directly with the performers, she saw it as a good way to entertain while also educating. 

The production is part of Santa Cruz’s third Friday, and it won’t just be a drum performance (taiko, which literally means “big drum,” is known for its thunderous sound). The group will expand their performance; there will a narrator, and kids will act, make sound effects and participate in every level of the production.

“It’s nothing like anything we’ve ever done before, and it’s wonderful that we’re having this opportunity working with the museum. It’s been interesting,” says community performer Joyce Smith.

In the story, a young girl sets out to find water for her mother in the midst of a drought. She takes a wooden dipper with her and lets it collect dew. Instead of drinking it herself, she lets others drink from it first. When she does, it first turns to silver, then gold, and finally into the constellation in the sky.

“The moral is, if you help somebody, something valuable appears,” Conant says.

Watsonville Taiko’s adaptation has the same basic story, but is set in California, with our native animals as part of the cast—the very animals that are being affected by the drought. The takeaway is that self-sacrifice is the value we need right now to deal with our own crisis.

The group would like kids to really get in and participate. Starting at 4:45 p.m., there will be a workshop where they can make fish, noisemakers, background props, or be cast in the production. At 5:45 p.m., they will do a rehearsal, and at 6:20 p.m., Taiko performs for the public. Participation is open to anyone, including adults, but it’s kids they are gearing the workshops for.

“Children like storytelling. Children should be able to be part of the process of learning, and be a part of the community. That’s what I stress. Not just being the audience, but being a part of the process,” Conant says.

Even people that just show up at 6:20 p.m. to watch the production will still have an interactive role.

“Everybody will be part of it. The audience will be doing the sounds of the wind. The sounds that will represent the drought, they will be drumming, being the coyotes, all these different sounds, using percussion instruments and hand movements. It’s not going to be Taiko up there doing a show, it’s going to be a story that involves the entire community,” says Smith.

As for the actual drumming, the most traditional piece will be at the very beginning of the production, before the actual story has begun.
“Taiko has a lot of different interpretations. It can be a musical experience, it can be a meditation tool,” Conant says. “Often they use it to gather people. It’s so noisy and loud, so people notice, ‘something is happening, let’s go.’ It’s a tool that brings people together.”


Watsonville Taiko will perform at 5.p.m. on Third Friday, Aug.15, at the Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz. $5. The Taiko performance outside will be free.

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