Tokyo Theatres in May

It finally became warm in Tokyo and we are right in the middle of the Golden Week, so there is no soul wishing to stay indoors now. The world of the stage this month has some quite interesting events going on. Here is my pick up:

  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Theater is hosting this year’s edition of TACT (Theater Arts for Children and Teens) Festival between the 3rd and 11th of May. Taking to account the companies participating – Corpus (Canada), a unit directed by Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot (Switzerland), L’Immediat (France) and B-Floor Theatre (Thailand) – thought-provoking physical theatre intertwined with circus elements seems to be at the heart of the festival’s concept.

You might ask why I’m mentioning this event on a blog about Japanese theatre. To be honest, I think all theatre lovers here, Japanese or non-Japanese, might well use a breath of fresh air. The variety of theatre forms in Japan is amazing, but a type of performance coming from the outside that could generate a new kind of surprise and a new kind of thought about stage arts is more than welcome. Both for audiences and for local theatre creators the TACT /Festival 2014 promises to be a stimulating experience.

  • One of the most promising young theatre units of the moment, FAIFAI 快快, will present their latest work Henshin (kari) 『へんしん(仮)』(“Metamorphosis”) at the Komaba Agora Theatre from May 9th through the 19th. FAIFAI has been active under the present name since 2008 and has become known in Japan and abroad for pursuing an original type of theatrical expression, one that stays true to the reality of its generation. The unit’s work “My name is I LOVE YOU” has been awarded the ZKB Patronage Prize at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel in 2010 and its’ work Ringo received the 57th Kishida Kunio Playwrights Award. That is to say that their latest work deserves all our attention. For more information please visit the FAIFAI homepage (its English version is one of the clearest and most neatly kept up to date websites I’ve ever seen among Japanese theatre companies).
Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za, "Artaud 24ji ++"

Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za, “Artaud 24ji ++”

  • The string puppet theatre company Edo ito ayatsuri ningyō za 江戸糸あやつり人形座 will perfom Artaud 24 ji++『アウトー24時++』(“Artaud at 24 o’clock”) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre from May 29th through June 1st. The work depicts the last day of Antonin Artaud, the man who has played a key role in the history of modern theatre. For such a subject to be approached through the means of the three centuries old Japanese string puppet theatre is an outstanding feat that will demonstrate the actuality and the flexibility of this art. For reference, I described my first encounter with the string puppet theatre in Japan elsewhere.

Having stated my expectations for this month as far as theatre is concerned, I wish you all a pleasant time in May 🙂

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TPAM 2014 report

The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2014 took place from February 8th through the 16th. It coincided with the time of the heaviest snowfall that the Tokyo area has seen in several years. This complicated things a bit both for the organizers and for audiences, but luckily there was no need to suspend any of the shows in the program. I managed to go to Yokohama only one time during TPAM and tried to make the best use out of the few hours spent there.

RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.)

RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.)

The first performance I saw was RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.), directed by Tada Junnosuke in collaboration with choreographer Kitamari. Based on a previous work with the same title by Tokyo Deathlock, the dance version of RE/PLAY is an interrogation of the meaning of dance. A background song is repeated several times and the eight performers have to execute the same choreography each time the song is replayed. The opening and the ending songs were repeated three times each, but in between it was only The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di ob-la-da” (I’m sorry I wasn’t inspired enough to count the times that this tune was played, forcing the dancers to do the same set of movements over and over again, but it must have been around ten times.) The interesting part was that, though the choreography was indeed the same each time, there was actually a gradual increase in the speed of the movements. This hinted at the way that the human body reacts when forced to repeat the same action over and over again. Endless repetition is unnatural for the living body, which responds through exhaustion. To the spectators, who were seated comfortably while watching this process of usage of the human body, it was enough food for thought. There was actually a moment within the performance, when the dancers stopped and just stood and looked at the audience. Being stared at by the exhausted performers for about three minutes in silence was a chilling experience.

Each performer has elaborated their own movements, so there are no two alike. Although each one’s individuality has founds its own expression, the dancers relate by confirming each other’s position and timing in the performance space. The overall sight is of a world where each individual can be himself or herself while taking part in the larger story of the community. This spirit is in accord with the concept of Symposium, the previous Tokyo Deathlock work, and as far as we can guess it probably is the defining trait of the theatre that Tada Junnosuke creates.

After seeing RE/PLAY I hurried up to the Yokohama Creative City Center, where An Exhibition called “Play” was taking place. Three artists united their efforts for this project: photographer Hamada Hideaki, designer Takizawa Kai and theatre director Shiba Yukio (mamagoto). Their idea of a “Play” was to have the spectator perform – within the photography exhibition (with the motto: “photographs are gifts to the future”), the visitor is asked to take pictures himself with a set of cameras placed there in advance; one can wear the several clothes exhibited, imagining how it would be to live the life of their previous owner; in the third exhibition, the viewer takes part in a quiet exchange of questions and answers. This collaboration was based on an open, interactive concept, inviting us to reconsider the idea of “performance”.

I was so absorbed by the exhibition that I forgot to take pictures of it, although it was allowed to! When I realized it, I was already on my way to the next venue, so there was nothing to be done. Though it doesn’t have any connection to anything, I’ll just post this picture from that evening in Yokohama instead. As you can see, the amount of snow was not to be trifled with.

Yokohama in winter

Yokohama in winter

For the evening I chose the performance of mum & gypsy, “R and the weightless surges”. Although I mentioned this company several times on this blog, it was the first time I saw them on stage. “R and the weightless surges” is a story about the members of a boxing club. One of them commits suicide and it is suggested that he had been badly treated by the others. A very physical performance, with a high pace and a rhythmical choreography is used to describe the man’s loneliness and the ever growing darkness of the inner crisis that eventually annihilates his existence.

The already established trademark of mum & gypsy’s performance style is “refrain” – the repetition of movements and phrases. Upon receiving the Kishida Kunio Theatre Award in 2013, director Fujita Takahiro was criticized for his use of repetition within the script. However, as far as the performance is concerned, the “refrain” proves to be most effective in expressing a critical situation rising to a climax. The words and the movements might be same, but the degree of tension behind them and the way the repetition is executed differs each time, so in the end it is no repetition at all, but rather a spiral effect revolving with an increasing speed. It is within this spiral that human bodies and emotions are put under pressure, being constrained to change shape, whether they want it or not. The performance style of mum & gypsy is most impressive and I invite you to see it with your own eyes, by watching this fragment of a previous performance, K to mayonaka no hotori de “With K by midnight”:

 

I hope these few impressions about TPAM 2014 gave you an idea of how vibrant this performing arts festival is. I am already looking forward to the next edition.

Noh as a method – “The Maids” by Ren’niku kōbō

I first heard of this work about three years ago when it was touring Europe. Our professor of Japanese theatre theory presented it as an example of a stage where the “roles” are flowing from one performer’s body to another, with one role not being confined to one body. I confess I was at a loss to imagine such a performance at that time and a great question mark would have probably still remained in my mind I hadn’t had the chance last year to actually see the work.

Renniku kōbō’s signature style is defined by the use of Noh acting methods in creating contemporary theatre. While the great majority of their works is based on original scripts by founder and director Okamoto  Akira  岡本章, they also approach other plays, such as it was the case of Oedipus, performed last year in March.

The process of staging Jean Genet’s “The Maids” has undergone several phases before the variant I was able to see last year in August at Za-Kōenji. The three characters in the play – the lady and the two maids – have been previously performed by a mixed male and female cast, but this time the cast consisted of five actresses. Nevertheless, the concept of having several performers share one role has remained unchanged.

At the core of Genet’s “The Maids” – Jochūtachi『女中たち』in Japanese – stand the emotional conflicts between master and servant, the mixture of adoration and hate towards the master – psychological realities that are depicted with no intention of beautification. However, this play is more than about the hierarchical relationships of Western society that were on the brink of collapsing during the first half of the past century. It depicts the very subtle and painful interdependence between master and servant, between the adored and the adoring. The lady knows the two maids hate her and she keeps stimulating their hate, as if feeding on it. Genet’s style tends to be real to the grotesque, for there is a culmination of repressed hate just waiting to get manifest, reaching for a most dramatic climax.

Ren'niku kobo "The Maids" (Za-Koenji, August 27-28, 2013)

Ren’niku kobo “The Maids” (Za-Koenji, August 27-28, 2013)

The three roles are played by five actresses – Yokota Keiko, Maki Michiko, Yoshimura Chihiro, Tomosada Kyōko and Muramoto Hiroko. At first they take on the roles in turns, but as the tension gets higher, the speed of each role being handed over from one performer to the other increases. This results in a stiff exchange of lines that reminds of an automat. Behind it stands the concept of “a play within a play”, for the actresses are mimicking the maids who are mimicking the lady. Indeed, there is no attempt of “identifying” with the role. The distance between the actresses and their roles is obvious all throughout the performance. In director Okamoto Akira’s words the intention was to question the “role” and to dismantle the individual identity behind a role in search for the multiple selves that lie in the depth of the actor’s psyche. It was an attempt to revive the part of the “chorus” of ancient Greek tragedy, the collective voice that is supposed at times to take part in the action and at other times to take a critical stance towards the developments on stage.

This kind of conceptual theatre depends heavily on the imagination of the spectators or, to be more precise, it would not be possible at all without the participation of the audience. Taking to account that one role can be played in turns by all the actresses on stage, the spectators have to notice every change in voice inflexion or bodily movement, so that they can keep hold of which character is talking at a certain moment. Furthermore, apart from the red dress confined to its chair in the background, there are no other props used. Any other objects are suggested by gestures or only mentioned in the dialog. This is another point where the imagination of the spectators is called to fill in the gaps. In this sense, we are dealing with a very concentrated form of theatre, one that instead of dispersing the tension towards the outside – by making the characters’ conflict visible through suggestive objects and aggressive behaviors, it actually keeps the tension oriented towards the inside until the very last moment. The whole tension of the play, although latent, gradually rises to such a degree that it can only end up in murder. The killing of the mistress by the two maids was suggested on stage by an act of strangulation. However, in that single moment it was obvious for the spectators in which body resided the role of the mistress, such as it was obvious that the role of each of the maids was shared by two bodies. It seemed as if the hate felt by each of the maids towards their mistress had needed more than one body to be expressed accurately.

One of the most interesting aspects of this work is its relationship to Noh. What is the key element that connects Genet’s world of maddening passions to the world of Noh? If we look at the most popular types of characters whose stories are at the center o Noh plays, we find either restless souls of the dead (in case of mugen nō  夢幻能 “dream noh”) or monogurui – “desperate” or “mad” people (in case of genzai nō  現在能 “present day noh”). In both cases we deal with characters whose selves are alienated – they do not belong to themselves anymore, so to speak. This fact is expressed effectively through the chant of jiutai 地謡 – the chorus in Noh, consisting of eight performers who sing the lines on behalf of the main character at certain moments. There is an obvious attempt of director Okamoto Akira to establish a fruitful exchange between the role of the chorus in Greek tragedy and the one of the jiutai in Noh.

As far as the expression itself is concerned, the deep, powerful voices and the strict control of bodily movements are also connected to Noh acting techniques. The stiff, tension-filled choreography mentioned earlier reminds one of kata 型 – the fixed sequences of gestures and movements, which form the base of Noh acting. Keeping the tension of the conflict oriented towards the inside results in the restrained expression so often associated with Noh.

With this work Ren’niku kōbō managed to present a very subtle form of theatre, involving the audience in a psychological play that kept them alert until the last moment. When the red dress spread on the chair in the background was replaced by a white one in the end, a feeling of relief spread through the audience. There is no redemption through murder, but a great load of hate had been certainly done away with. It is through meticulous concept, informed by explorations in the essence of theatre, that Ren’niku kōbō keeps pushing further the limits of dramatic expression.

The company’s upcoming project is the staging of a Noh play written by contemporary poet Naka Tarō 那珂太郎, entitled  Shikōtei  始皇帝 “Qin Shi Huang”. This stage will be a collaboration with nōgakushi Kanze Tetsunojō 観世銕之丞, himself a performer very open to expanding the possibilities of the art of Noh through experimental theatre. The performance will be hosted by the National Noh Theatre on March 20th.

Tokyo Theatres in February

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the main event in the performing arts world this month is TPAM – The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama, going on from the 8th through the 16th.

The TPAM Showcase consists of about 24 stages for audiences to choose from, presented by artists working in the front lines of contemporary Japanese theatre. Here are some performances which I personally look forward to:

  • Hanako nitsuite “About Hanako”, which is the 7th work in the series of Contemporary Noh Plays produced by Nomura Mansai. It comprises a Butō version of the Noh Aoi no Ue 『葵上』, a contemporary theatre version of the Kyōgen Hanako and a new take on Mishima Yukio’s modern Noh play Hanjo – all under the direction of Kuramochi Yutaka. (Theatre Tram, 5th -16th February)
  • RE/PLAY (DANCE edit). The highly acclaimed work by Tokyo Deathlock director Tada Junnosuke will be recreated in a dance version, in collaboration with choreographer Kitamari. (Steep Slope Studio, 14-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 - Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 – Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

  • “Happy Days” by theatre company ARICA. Beckett’s play will receive a fresh approach through the stunning stage art by Kaneuji Teppei and the performance of former Tenkei gekijō actress Andō Tomoko, which are the promise of a work definitely worth seeing. (Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse No.1, 3F Hall, 14-16 February)
  • “Noise and Darkness” 『騒音と闇』by Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker 革命アイドル暴走ちゃん. This new work wearing the signature of Nikaidō Toko, the mastermind behind the controversial Banana Gakuen, will give us the opportunity to experience at a very physical level how close is absurdity to our everyday lives. (Sotetsu Honda Theater, 14-16 February)

The festival features also an International Showcase with stages by performers from France, China, South Korea and Finland.

The weight given to choreography and bodily presence on stage and the tendency to rely less and less on the word of a script is not only the common feature of all these works, but the most recent trend in Japanese performing arts. TPAM is a great opportunity to witness all this in real time, so don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

New Year’s Resolutions

明けましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year, everyone!

Stepping into the year 2014, I cannot help but feel that it’s the best time for a new start, with new aims and plans. To be honest, what I like most about this time of the year is the holidays! Even one single day spent away from classes or work feels enough to put our thoughts in order.

My new year’s resolutions regarding this blog were clearly set even before the end of 2013, but I’ll post them here anyway. As you might imagine, nothing is more motivating than sharing one’s thoughts, so here I go:

  1. To update more often. (I bet you saw this coming, didn’t you? 🙂 )
  2. To find a better balance between quality and quantity when it comes to information on theatre events.
  3. To keep a closer eye on the work of young theatre artists.

I guess a short explanation would be appropriate here. There are artists whose work was known to me before I came to Japan. To see performances by Seinendan, Chelfitsch, Ninagawa Yukio, Kara Jūrō, Suzuki Tadashi, Noda Hideki, Matsuda Masataka and many others who were mentioned in the theatre theory classes I used to attend was on top of my priority list. I was able to start writing about theatre by using these artists’ work as a reference, because it is obviously easier to write when you have some prior knowledge. However, after spending some time here I realized at some point that what’s happening outside the mainstream in Japanese theatre might be as interesting and important as the work of established names. In most cases it’s about companies with a performing history of less than three years, unknown outside Japan, who are nonetheless doing ground-breaking work. Even local critics are struggling to find a “language”, i.e. proper concepts to use when discussing these young people’s creations. I hope to be able to introduce the work of theatre companies like mum & gypsy マームとジプシー, lolo  ロロ, Okazaki geijutsu-za 岡崎芸術座、hi-bye ハイバイ, mamagoto  ままごと, Arata Mino  三野新, Siberia shōjo tetsudō  シベリア少女鉄道, Wasshoi house わっしょいハウス and others.

4.  To expand the geographical range of the column on upcoming events. (This is a tough one 🙂 )

One of the latest and most positive trends in contemporary Japanese theatre is decentralization – the work of artists who are active outside of Tokyo is attracting much attention towards the theatre scene of other places than the capital. At the same time, performing arts festivals like KYOTO EXPERIMENT, Toga Festival (Toyama) and Edamitsu Theatre Festival (Fukuoka) have reached a scale and a quality that can no longer be ignored by discourses on Japanese theatre. To travel outside the metropolitan area, see theatre and report from the spot is one of my objectives for this year.

5.  To manage doing all the above without neglecting my main research project! Or else I’ll be in big trouble… Well, reporting regularly on this blog on how research is going might also be a good idea. Would anyone like to read about Zeami’s view on incorporating the literary tradition of the Heian period into Noh theatre? 🙂

I’ll stop here, while the list is still within reasonable limits. Of course, I’ll be open to any new ideas that particular circumstances might bring in. Let me just say that I’m very excited to see what this year brings.

This and that at the end of December

After the end of this year’s Festival/Tokyo it took me longer than I thought to “move out” from Ikebukuro, so I have to begin again by apologizing for not updating in a while. F/T absorbed our attention until the last day with very good performances. The winner of the F/T Award in the Emerging Artists Program went to Chong Wang and Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental for “The Warfare of Landmine 2.0“.

At the same time until December 15th an international Ibsen Festival had been going on at the Owlspot theatre, focusing on contemporary interpretations of “A Doll’s House” with artists coming from Belgium, Norway, Romania, Japan and Chile. This was also quite an engaging event, demonstrating once again that creative reworks of Ibsen’s play can emphasize the actuality and the artistic potential of this work.

On December 18th the theatre world around here was taken aback by the sudden announcement about the administration change of Festival/Tokyo. From next year F/T will have a new director (see official announcement here). The news was all the more surprising as it came with no official statement explaining the reason for this change. From its inauguration Festival/Tokyo has been organized six times under the supervision of curator Chiaki Soma, whose efforts and vision have shaped this event into the most eagerly awaited performing arts festival of each year. We all hope and expect that Festival/Tokyo will keep its high standards under the new leadership.

"Ground and Floor" (Chelfitsch) 14-23 December 2013, KAAT

“Ground and Floor” (Chelfitsch)
14-23 December 2013, KAAT

Meanwhile, from December 14th through the 23rd Chelfitsch performed their most recent work Jimen to yuka 『地面と床』(“Ground and Floor”) at the Kanagawa Arts Theatre. They are dealing with the theme of life and death in this work – to be more exact, with the living and the dead – and the work has been praised both for its take on the subject and for the performance style. It is a work appealing directly to the conscience of the people living nowadays, bringing up subjects like the responsibility we have towards the society we live in and verbalizing exactly the kind of guilt feelings and uncertainties that people around here avoid talking about. Although I have seen an open rehearsal of the stage back in April, I failed to see the performance now in December and I really regret it. To the initially announced number of performances two more were added, but tickets were sold out immediately.

I plan to update once more before the end of the year, so I’ll keep my best wishes until then 🙂 Have a great time!

Theatre as a dialogue – “Symposium” by Tokyo Deathlock

“Theatre is a dialogue with the audience”, states director Tada Junnosuke in the brochure of “Symposium”, the latest work by Tokyo Deathlock. Not by chance, the title of the performance was inspired by Plato’s dialogue on love. Performed at ST Spot in Yokohama (July 13th –21st) and Kirari Fujimi (July 27th – 28th), “Symposium” is a rare form of communitarian theatre, relying on the participation of the audience to such a degree that each performance is inevitably different from the other.

No matter the theatre genre involved, as I mentioned elsewhere, my own position regarding the role of the audience is that the spectator is no way a passive entity, even if all what he does is to watch the show from his seat. Theatre does not only require imagination from the side of the audience, but it also calls on to the spectator to be its witness. Looking, interpreting and figuring out become a hermeneutical process that infers meaning to the performance. It is a process without which theatre cannot come into being in the first place.

However, from the point of view of the performer, the spectator’s stance is privileged in its “passivity”, being too safe and uninvolved. Contemporary theatre, oversensitive to any kind of unequal relationships, has set out to developing methods of involving the audience in a more active way.

The reason why theatre creators themselves want to do away with the imaginary barrier between them and the audience is their conviction that the problem with the spectators’ passivity is a political one. Overwhelmed by historical events unfolding before eyes, we show the tendency to hide away, thinking that it doesn’t concern us. The idea of becoming an “active agent” is indeed terrifying, as it implies a certain degree of responsibility towards the community we live in. The attempt to turn the spectator into an actor, which we so often see in contemporary theatre, is backed by the belief that if people can get involved in a fictional setting, then they could probably take action also their real lives and in the public sphere, bringing a change into better to their environment.

However noble their intention may be, performances that involve the audience tend to be intrusive, relying too much on aggressiveness and on truths that bother. It’s enough to mention performances like those of Marina Abramović that changed theatre history once and for all, in which the performer hurts herself so bad in front of the audience, that the viewers are impelled to intervene and put a stop to the performance by calling the ambulance. Or a theatre containing such a display of violence that the spectators are instantly filled with terror – it is not their imagination that’s called for, but the memories that nobody wants to remember, memories of violence caused by the society they live in (see the works of Societas Rafaello Sanzio). Or a half naked Hamlet stepping down from the stage into the audience, making his way through the seats packed with spectators while shouting his lines (see Thomas Ostermeier’s “Hamlet”). Or a performance that involves the audience through popular songs and energetic choreography, ending with the stupefied, baffled spectators singing on stage, while the actors leave the hall through the doors behind the audience seats (see Banana Gakuen’s performance at Festival/Tokyo 2011). The list could continue on and on, with examples from both East and West.

Although radical and to some extent even traumatizing, all these methods have a point and a statement to make. With some variation, it all goes around the fact that man does a lame job in managing his own aggressive instincts. In criticizing social aggression and military acts of violence, or even more subtle acts of aggression going on in society, so common that people are not even aware of anymore, this is the theatrical version of fighting fire with fire.

In this theatre landscape where differences between actor and spectator tend to be blurred, a performance that involves the audience without resorting to some form of violence is a rare sight.

The keyword that seems to guide the latest work of director Tokyo Deathlock is “community”. Director Tada Junnosuke aims for a theatre that engages everyone present, performers and audience. This reminds me of Ranciere’s statement that theatre should be a “communitarian act” (see this essay on the “emancipated spectator”).

In “Symposium” the performers use their own names, acting with their own persona. Not only do they come from different places (Tokyo, Seoul, Kyōto, Aomori, Yokohama), but they also belong to different professional groups, more or less related to the theatre. It is only for this performance that they gathered here.

From the start, the spectators knew that this was not going to be a usual night in the theatre. We were asked at the entrance to take our shoes off. The room we entered was entirely white, with no objects in it apart from some chairs close to the walls. Projector screens showed images of the ones present and a joyful tune helped relieving the thrills of the wait, creating a cozy atmosphere. Nobody noticed when the actors came in – there was nothing differentiating them from the ones who had came to see the play. It was only when they took their seats that we knew the performance had started.

With the spectators in the middle, the actors started talking about what they had done in their free time. We soon realize that these were not lines written in some script, but that the performers were talking from their own experience. Their discussion flows naturally like a talk between people who don’t know each other very well yet, which helps the audience get acquainted with the actors. Moreover, it seems that especially the ones who came from outside the Tokyo region, whether they need a translator or not, have a lot to tell, so the discussion gets more and more vivid. Gradually, their thought exchange leaves the individual level, embracing topics that concern them all as a group and Japanese society as a whole – such as the coming elections (it was a few days before the government was elected) or the cultural exchange with other countries, the opportunities and the risks that a vivid international communication entails. Subtle gestures of the actors, like standing on their chairs, indicated differences of opinion among them. In spite of the tension, it was obvious nonetheless that they respected each other’s opinions.

When at some point the direction gave the signal that it was time for a break, the performers brought in cookies and soft drinks that they shared with the audience. The tension that we were all feeling until a moment ago was suddenly relieved. During break time the actors left their chairs and started talking to the members of the audience. By the time the screens showed a direction that we should all talk about SNS, we had already formed small groups. We all use Twitter or Facebook or both, so the group chat flowed naturally, while we were still nibbling our cookies.

For about twenty minutes a festive atmosphere filled the room, reminding of a real banquet. As the break ended, the subject of the performers’ talk turned to “love”. Each one of them was called to the moderator’s seat to tell their thoughts on love and the most puzzling was the five minute long discourse of the Korean actor, who spoke all the way in his native language without translation. Although no one in the room understood what he was saying, we all knew what he was talking about. In the end the translator came only to summarize his discourse in a sentence: “Wouldn’t it be possible for us to love each other in spite of our differences?”

Toward the end director Tada, who had been watching the performance all along, delivering directions through the projector screens, came himself to the moderator’s seat. His discourse was short, mentioning that there are things we can speak about and things that we shouldn’t try to put in words. This is when a five minute long silence was installed. We all knew that this silence was also about love, so there was nothing more that we needed to know.

In the interval of approximately one hour and a half, we had been guided from reality into fiction and back. The process of becoming familiar with the performers and the other members of the audience ran so smooth that, before we even realized it, we were already within the fictional setting of the “Symposium”, chatting friendly with people that we may never meet again.

Actually, the strength of this work lies in that each performance would be different from the other. First, the members of the audience would never be the same, and second, the talk that breaks the ice in the beginning would surely start each time with a different topic. For the spectator this means he has experienced a once in a lifetime event. This is only possible in an “open theatre”, where the script doesn’t contain lines, but only the broad contours of a framework within which actors and spectators are supposed to perform together.

In this process, not only the spectator’s status, but also the actor’s status is put into question. The freedom to choose the extent in which one should share personal experience in a performance, the freedom to choose one’s own words and to share one’s real thoughts (as long as they are relevant to the work), is something that an actor could only enjoy in an open theatre like the concept suggested by Tokyo Deathlock.

As long as the theatre world is still marked by the prejudice that there can be no drama without conflict, there is a real need for variation when it comes to performer – spectator interaction. The answer to what is theatre, what differentiates it from other art forms and what can it bring to enrich our lives is in direct relationship with that need.

Tokyo Deathlock’s “Symposium” responds to that very need for a variety of forms in which the audience helps shaping the theatre performance. As far as I’m concerned, the simple joy that I had the chance to take part in the “Symposium” is doubled by the revelation that I encountered a theatre work in which audience and performers are treated like equals.

In the video below you can see a previous performance by Tokyo Deathlock, “Love” (2010) – shown at the TPAM Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama: