Tonseisha tells the tale of Yukiko, a Japanese woman haunted by the loss of two men: her father, whom she barely knew, and Beat writer Richard Brautigan. Inspired by Brautigan’s life and work, multidisciplinary Tonseisha weaves karaoke into opera and dance into theatre across dreamscapes of Tokyo and Montana.

Tonseisha is a play written mostly in haiku verse. With the support of the playwright, we’ve been working with opera composer Kim Ashton to merge music and song directly into the piece. Key to our aim in introducing music and song is that it will be integral to the work and developed with the performers through a rehearsal process. Our aim is to ultilise many of the elements of traditional opera in conjunction with the original script, to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts.

As part of our ongoing R&D process we will reach out to artists in both Japan and America to examine the nature of and clash between their respective cultures whilst at the same time exploring how we can develop the multi-media elements that will be used both within the work itself, and to create an immersive environment within the performance space.

Read our Director’s Note about the vision behind this project here.

As part of our open creative process, we set up an informal public pinboard a while back, where both our team of collaborators as well as the public could share ideas, questions and inspirations. Have a look here.

We are working towards producing the world premiere of Tonseisha – The Man Who Abandoned The World based on the play Tonseisha by Erik Patterson. Given the scale and potential of this project, are actively seeking a producer and a partner organisation. We are very pleased to announce that we have been awarded a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England. Tonseisha has been developed through the Open LAB scheme at Barbican Guildhall, with support from Second Movement’s Rough for Opera, Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival, and Literature Wales.

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Photo above by Lucas Padilla, image by artist Daniel Davidson.

saltpeter selects and builds each project from the ground up. This process is driven by the team of artists drawn to the primary material and the ideas it inspires. We recognise and harness the team’s skills and interests as part of saltpeter’s goal to support artistic development through creating work. The resulting unique piece of work is a result of this style of collaboration.

The following individuals have all played a part in the development of the Tonseisha project since 2011:

Kim B Ashton – Composer

Kim’s work has been described as exploding the boundaries between traditional and modern composition. He is interested in combining text, physical theatre and modern opera forms, which is precisely why saltpeter has brought him on board. Listen to examples of his work here.

After graduating from Cambridge University’s Pembroke College in 2004 with a prize-winning double-starred first in music, Kim B Ashton almost went to the Royal Academy to study the oboe. Instead, after an internship with leading Swedish composer Fredrik Hogberg, and a residency conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Myanmar he returned to live in Cambridge, supervising at the University whilst writing his PhD in composition at King’s College London under the supervision of Silvina Milstein and George Benjamin. His pieces have been performed at the Nyland (Sweden), Athelas (Copenhagen), Soundwave, Sampler and Spitalfields festivals. The premiere of his first chamber opera was deemed ‘one of the most exciting new music events in Cambridge for twenty years’, while his second, the boy the forest and the desert, in a recent revival at The Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn Festival (2011), was thought ‘miraculous’ by a leading musicologist.

Commissions have included a song for Juliet Fraser of EXAUDI with funds from the RVW Trust and Britten-Pears Foundation, and a solo oboe piece for Professor Melanie Ragge (RAM). More recently, his bassoon concerto, written for his sister Nina (who recently played guest principal with the LSO) and one of the university orchestras, was premiered at Cambridge’s West Road concert hall, his string quartet was played by the Solstice Quartet at LSO St Luke’s, and his quintet LINES was played by the Lontano ensemble. His recorder piece DOTS, performed at King’s Place, forms part of a Nonclassical label CD which was voted No.1 Best Classical Album 2010 in Chicago TimeOut.

Philippa Boyle – Soprano

Was a choral scholar at Clare College Cambridge.  She trained in Rome at il Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia and Opera Studio Accademia Nazionale Santa Cecilia, where she studied with Renata Scotto.  She has a busy career divided between Italy and the UK, and is delighted to be collaborating with Kim B Ashton and Vera Chok again after the success of the boy the desert and the forest for the Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival last summer.

Tilly Brooke – Producer/Actress

Trained as an actress at The Poor School and has an MA in Drama & Theatre Studies from the University of Kent, taking time out to study at the University of California, Berkeley. She has travelled extensively around South America and Australia exploring and evaluating local theatre. In 2009, Tilly co-founded Art Saves Lives, a company dedicated to giving a platform to people marginalised by society. For saltpeter, Tilly co-produced the sell-out success & UK premiere of Berlin piece, Diadem, and brought The Brautigan Book Club Trilogy to the Dinefwr Literature Festival 2012, featuring live events with US writer Ianthe Brautigan and UK popstars Gruff Rhys, Martin Carr and H.Hawkline. She is currently based in LA.

Vera Chok – Producer/Actress

Vera founded saltpeter in 2010 as a production company with a difference. All projects are long-term, socially relevant investigations, emphasizing a new way of working with cast and crew to build great, multidisciplinary live art out of strong collaborative networks. For saltpeter, Vera has mounted a host of international, cross-art productions.

At Oxford, Vera successfully produced a sell-out run of David Edgar’s multilingual political piece,Pentecost, co-produced the Oxford New Writing Festival and was consultant to the Experimental Theatre Company.

Satoshi Date – Costume Designer/Musician/Composer

Satoshi’s philosophy is all about communication, hand-crafted care, and the possibility in people which ties in to how saltpeter creates work:

“If we make things carefully, everyone involved in the work will have this feeling implanted into their soul..To make clothing mean more, we must invest in everyday life and make a beauty that impresses and touches people…This way clothing becomes a form of interaction.”

Born in Tokyo, the Central Saint Martins graduate, now creative director of the art and design label Satoshi Date now lives in London. He blends art and music into clothing with social and environmental themes. His clothing has been used in a popular Sony web commercials and featured at Selfridges in London. Not only has he participated in London Fashion Week but also in fashion shows and exhibitions across Europe. He has been acclaimed by the Japanese Top 10 Music Group ‘Ikimonogakari’. Most recently he has lectured at prestigious Kyoto Art University, Nara Women’s University and Toho Music University.

Ilze Ikse – Flautist

Was born in Riga, Latvia, and began her musical education at the age of 11 at Emils Darzins Music School. In 2007 she was awarded a scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music to study her PG Diploma under Professor Clare Southworth and Patricia Morris. Ilze continues her studies with BBC Symphony Orchestra co-principal flautist Michael Cox and appears as a soloist and a chamber musician with great success. Ilze recently played Gruff Rhys’ concert at the Royal Festival Hall after we met at Dinefwr Festival.

Cheyney Kent – Bass

Cheyney performed for us at Rough For Opera in 2012. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and King’s College, London University where he held a choral scholarship. For more than twelve years Cheyney has been involved in a comprehensive range of operatic engagements both in the UK and abroad. Recent projects have included Donizetti Caterina Cornaro and Dvořák Jakobín with the BBC, and the world premiere of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht for the Birmingham Opera Company. Cheyney’s previous opera roles are Colline (La Boheme, with The Lambeth Orchestra), Superintendent Budd (Albert Herring, with Surrey Opera), the Italian Waiter (Death In Venice with the Philharmonia), The Madhouse Keeper (The Rake’s Progress) and The Nightwatchman (Gloriana). Future projects include covering Rocco (Fidelio, for Midsummer Opera) and performances of Donizetti’s Belisario and Grieg’s Peer Gynt with the BBC.

Anna Sulan Masing – Associate Producer

Produced The Death of Tintagel for saltpeter and runs her own successful multi-disciplinary arts collective, behind the bikeshed. Her own work investigates emotional landscapes, she organises large-scale, big budget corporate events on a regular basis. Anna is currently writing up her Phd in Performance and Gender Studies.

Gary Merry – Director

Is also a founder member of The New Factory of the Eccentric Actor. He has directed/co-directed the majority of their productions. Most recently for The New Factory, Gary directed their acclaimed production of To Moscow To Moscow, about the life & loves of Chekhov, at the Conway Hall in London with a cast of 38. He is taking a bi-lingual version of Chekhov’s Jubilee to Bohemia this summer. Gary is interested in large-scale work in spaces not usually used for theatre, and in making theatre available to the public free of charge where possible.

Paul Mooney – Actor

An actor with a wealth of experience, Paul took part in the very first weekend workshops on the project.

Jason Osterman – Lighting designer

Created the world of Tintagel and The Fever (London) for us. Having trained in fine art, photography and lighting, he’s also a fully qualified LX designer. Jason is a professional theatre consultant for Theatre Projects Consultants, an exciting firm that creates extraordinary theatre spaces worldwide. Jason works collaboratively to create exciting theatre and has credits at the Young Vic, Bolton Octagon and across America, where he’s from.

Erik Patterson – Playwright

We are extremely grateful to Erik for his involvement and support. Erik’s plays include TONSEISHA; YELLOW FLESH/ALABASTER ROSE (winner, Backstage West Garland Award, Best Play); RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT (2004 Ovation Award nomination, World Premiere Play); THE MAKING OF MARY KELLY; HE ASKED FOR IT (nominee, 2009 GLAAD Award, Outstanding Theater; 2008 Ovation Award nomination, World Premiere Play); and SICK. His plays have been produced by Playwrights’ Arena, the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Evidence Room, and The Actors’ Gang, and developed through the Lark Play Development Center, Moving Arts, Black Dahlia, Naked Angels, and the Mark Taper Forum. He has had monologues published by Heinemann and Smith & Kraus.

Erik has written for a variety of television shows, including The Zula Patrol, World Poker Tour, and Balderdash. With Jessica Scott, he co-created the television series Out There for Vh1. The writing team has written screenplays for ABC Family, the Disney Channel, Warner Premiere, The Hatchery, and Universal. Their film ANOTHER CINDERELLA STORY won the Writers Guild Award for Best Children’s Script (long form) and was one of the highest rated cable movies of 2009. They are currently writing a screenplay for Warner Bros.

Erik is a graduate of Occidental College and the British American Drama Academy.

Sean Patterson – Actor

Trained at RADA and has performed in London in the West End and at the Riverside, Kings Head and other Fringe venues. Last year he performed with saltpeter in Wallace Shawn’s The Fever at the Brighton Festival which made the Outstanding Production list, and won 5 stars – Fringe Review.

Jack Robson – Production Manager

Jack lit and production managed Tonseisha’s trip to Dinefwr Festival in Wales, and helped us develop at Open Lab at the Barbican. Jack has many years of experience as a lighting designer, stage and production manager, live sound engineer, musician and director. As well as working for large companies such as Sadler’s Wells, National Theatre, Theatre Royal Bath, Bristol Old Vic and Cheltenham Everyman, Jack has specialised in small and medium scale touring with companies like Travelling Light, Dr Foster’s, Futures Theatre, Green Candle Dance, New Perspectives and choreographer Jacky Lansley. He was a founder member of BareBones Theatre and plays in the Celtic dance band Sturdy Beggars.  Jack is based in Devon.

Jonathan Swain – Designer

An artist, set designer, curator and maverick creative. Jonathan Swain uses current art world trends to highlight evidence of contemporary urban decay and commercial deception. His work sits in an uneasy balance between documentary, art and community activism; often using public discussions and talks as complements to his visual imaginary.

Kate Whitley – Pianist/Composer

Is a 23 year old pianist and composer. Kate graduated from Kings College Cambridge University in 2011 with a Double First in Music and an MPhil in Composition with Robin Holloway. Her piano concerto performances include Bartok Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion, Rautavaara 1, Bartok 3, Berg Chamber Concerto, Shostakovich 2, and Brahms 1. She has studied at Margess International of Switzerland, Dartington International Summer School, and Prussia Cove IMS master classes, with Thomas Ades, Charles Owen and Rolf Hind. Her Wigmore Hall debut recital with clarinettist Mark Simpson is taking place in October 2012.

Jamie Wood – Actor/Deviser

Is a performer and theatre maker specialising in clown, devised performance and dance theatre, interested in creating work for a wide range of audiences. Recently he performed in Pina Bausch’s Nur Du and with internationally acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre. Icarus 2.0 in 2009 was shortlisted for two awards (Total Theatre Award- Best Devised Show and The Stage Acting Award- Best Ensemble) and his sell-out piece,Paperweight received a Fringe First in 2008, Edinburgh.

We are pleased to welcome the following artists who will be performing with us at Tete A Tete 2012 festival:

Yshani Perinpanayagam, pianist

Sophie Rivlin, cellist

Austin Spangler, actor

Chris Webb, bass