The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A meeting of Eastern and Western classicsThe Noh-staged Shakespeare of Yoshihiro Kurita
Niigata City Performing Arts Center "Ryutopia"
Opened: Oct. 1998
This culture complex built by the city of Niigata includes a concert hall (1,900 seats), a theater (900 seats) and a Noh theater (380 seats). Ryutopia is administered by the Niigata Municipal Foundation for the Promotion of Arts and Culture as one comprehensive facility along with the adjoining Niigata Municipal Music Culture Center, which includes specialized music practice rooms and a performance hall. The Center's theater division is led by the producer Hiroshi Sasabe as artistic director, with the director Yoshihiro Kurita serving as associate director. The artistic director for the dance division is Jo Kanamori. The total annual budget for the Center is about 400 million yen. The Music division has a Junior Orchestra for young students of music which is based at the Music Culture Center and it also operates a music school for elementary and middle school students and produces original musicals. The Center also creates original productions to tour Japan and has presented a Shakespeare series at its Noh theater featuring famous quest actors.
Yokouchi: When you actually started trying to stage Shakespeare on the Noh stage, what problems did you find?

Kurita: The biggest problem was the play itself, as it is written. In a regular theater you can use the script as Shakespeare wrote it, but works for Noh theater are only about 30 minutes long in the case of Kyogen and at most an hour in the case of a Noh play. You can't put on a 3-hour play in a Noh theater.
Also, the Noh theater is in a sense a place of ritual or ceremony, so you need to introduce texte régie and find ways to make it ceremonial and stylized. To do this you create an outside framework to the world of the players and then you come up against the problem of who is dictating or narrating the events taking place in the world of the players.

Yokouchi: What do you mean by that?

Kurita: Since the Noh theater is a ceremonial world there is no way to just put on a realistic straight-out-of life type play. For one thing, you only have the [single] entrance bridge as an entrance to the stage, so you can't even have characters make entrances and exits from the wings like in a regular theater. You need to stylize the play so that it becomes enclosed in a particular world-frame, and to do this you need to create the "eye" that watches over this world you have created and dictates or narrates its events.
In the case of the first play of our series, Macbeth, you have the three witches who are manipulating the world of Macbeth and his wife. But I felt that just having three witches didn't give enough 3-dimensionality to the staging, so I introduced "mirror direction" for them and had them take on the aspect of six witches instead of three.
In King Lear I introduced three shadow figures for the king and in turn eliminated the appearances by Kent, Glouster and Edmund, having their information supplied instead by the shadow figures so that the play could be reduced to a story of just Lear and his three daughters.
For our third production, A Winter's Tale, the style is one in which a mother is relating a tale to her children, so I want to use a stylization where the children appear as kotodama, or spirits of word, who tell the story of the play. In other words, you simply can't put on a play in a Noh theater unless you clearly create this kind of external [narrative] framework. To do this I make use of texte régie or perhaps directorial restructuring is closer. What I do is to rewrite the script by putting the scenes aside and by taking out just their core, with which to create the world of the play.

Yokouchi: (With a big nod) I see. But why does there have to be someone to dictate or narrate what goes on in that world? That is something that doesn't apply in Kabuki, does it.

Kurita: That's right. The Noh theater, as a theater (stage) itself is different from what we usually think of as a theater. This is because its roots are the ceremonial platforms of ancient Japan where ritual dances were performed to summon up rain or appeal to the gods for a good rice harvest. That is why you cannot marry it easily with the plays that seek dramatic realism.

Yokouchi: So, what can an audience get from a play enacted on the Noh stage?

Kurita: Before considering what the audience can get, I think it is important that the audience bring imagination to the viewing of this kind of play. The audience of a Noh theater comes to it knowing from the outset that they are entering a boldly created fictitious world, and this should constitute a different set of rules applying to the people of the audience themselves compared to those of proscenium theater.
For example, if there is a real chair on the stage in proscenium theater, one centimeter of that chair is the same one centimeter as that of the chairs the audience are sitting in. But on the unadorned Noh stage the same one centimeter can imply one millimeter, or one kilometer. The lighting on the Noh stage is mostly just the natural or fixed lighting of the theater space itself, so you can't use lighting effects in your staging. The only tools you have are the bodies of the actors and how they are directed or how they act.

Yokouchi: And language.

Kurita: Yes. You only have the body and word. So, you can make it a joint effort between the actors, with the images they project, and the audience, who bring the imagination with which they receive those images.

Yokouchi: So, that is the kind of space a Noh theater is.

Kurita: Yes. I believe that is the kind of space it is.

Yokouchi: Are there any other types of plays besides Shakespeare that could possibly be performed on the Noh stage?

Kurita: That's difficult. When I think about it, it might be possible to stage Greek tragedy on the Noh stage, but I don't imagine it would be more effective than Shakespeare.
I think Shakespeare's plays are ones where the director and actors can create very original performances. Whereas many playwrights write down everything about how they want the play to be staged, there is actually very little notation of that type in Shakespeare's scripts. So a director or actor can feel that they are being left free to take it from there and present it as they please. This incompleteness is appealing. Although researchers and translators might say that this is not true. (laughs)

Yokouchi: In Shakespeare, the relationship with the play's structure is often very loosely defined, but each word of the dialogue supports that looseness and adds something on top of it.

Kurita: That is why I believe we should leave the research to the scholars and allow ourselves to enjoy working freely within Shakespeare's world. And I feel it is the same with using the Noh theater.
In this sense, I think your play The King of La Mancha's New Clothes*, where you stage a play with just a single bed on the empty stage, is a work of imagination that connects to Noh/Kyogen. Because you built the whole world of the play within that one context.

*Written by Kensuke Yokouchi (Premiere 1991)

Yokouchi: But that was because I had created a meta-theater work specifically to be performed in the limited small-theater space of The Suzunari, which has no wings and there is no way to change the set during the course of the play. It is true that a specific space can set a story in motion, and I can see how there is a kind of drama that the unique Noh theater itself demands. That is why it would surely be meaningless to try to stage Chekhov in a Noh theater, wouldn't it? And it seems that someone might plan a production for the Noh theater from Yukio Mishima's Kindai Nohgaku Shu (Modern Noh Collection), but it wouldn't work, would it?

Kurita: Actually there was a proposal to stage The Cherry Orchard but it just couldn't be done. (laughs) I read Mishima with the idea of possibly staging it, but I found it wouldn't work. I also found that Dazai's New Hamlet was undoable. I guess it is the ambiguity in Shakespeare that makes it suitable for the Noh theater.

Yokouchi: Even if you depict human relations, the play doesn't get off the ground without a sense of universality, or a worldview.

Kurita: Yes. But that doesn't mean that I have any intention of using the Noh theater as a place to expound philosophy. Still it is difficult if you don't have a play with a universality that contains those kinds of ideas.

Yokouchi: I noticed that for your Macbeth and King Lear productions you held your auditions in Niigata and most of the actors you chose were young people that you have been teaching. It would seem to me that it would be necessary to teach young people like them the kind of stylization the Noh theater demands. Even if it would be impossible to give them a real training in the techniques of Noh/Kyogen, some training in acting technique was necessary wasn't it?

Kurita: The training of actors is the problem I am most concerned with right now. Once a production has been decided on and the auditions are complete we begin with the training, including voice training, which continues for about three months before performances begin. It would be ideal if we had an ongoing training program in place that the actors would work constantly in and we could have a Noh professional come in and give real lessons in the basics of Noh performance. But for now, all we can do is this training period for each production. One of the difficult things about the Noh theater is that the voice doesn't reach throughout the theater with normal stage voice technique.

Yokouchi: For example [director] Tadashi Suzuki has made an effort to develop his own style and formats of training called the "Suzuki Method" that is used for training actors. Are you interested in doing something like that?

Kurita: I have never considered the idea of creating my own style that could be developed into a method. I am interested in the kind of work-by-work creation that interests the audience. So, although there might be some specific rules for the performances of Macbeth and King Lear this time when they are being staged in Noh theaters, there is not necessarily any staging or directing style that these productions will have in common. The Kurita-ism that you see in Macbeth may not be applicable to King Lear. The important thing is to look at each individual work in its own context.
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