The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A meeting of Eastern and Western classicsThe Noh-staged Shakespeare of Yoshihiro Kurita

Yoshihiro Kurita
Yoshihiro Kurita
Yoshihiro Kurita
Kensuke Yokouchi
Kensuke Yokouchi
Kensuke Yokouchi
Yokouchi: What about the specifics of the staging in the Noh theater series? What about the lighting, for instance?

Kurita: All we have is the lights built into the ceiling of the roof over the six meter square stage and a few lighting fixtures we hang behind the audience seating area. We can use colored lights, but all we did this time was to think about the brightness of the basic light setting.

Yokouchi: Did you decide on this as a rule?

Kurita: I didn't really decide it. I just had the idea that since we are staging this series in Noh theaters we will basically respect the rules of Noh and attempt to maintain the quality and dignity of the Noh environment. But, if a production comes along where I feel that I want to try some dramatic lighting effects, I may attempt to do that.

Yokouchi: How about music? You have collaborated in the past with Akira Miyagawa in theater musical productions.

Kurita: In the Noh theater series Miyagawa is performing live on a piano placed below the stage. In the Macbeth production he played something sounding like a children's song that you could hear all the while the witches were performing their rituals. For King Lear there were seven or eight pieces prepared originally but we ended up using only two. Since the shadow figures bring in a shadow world, I began to be concerned about using an instrument like the piano that plays clear melodies or progressions of notes. Perhaps since the Noh theater is a ceremonial or ritual space, instruments like the Japanese drum that encourage more imagination may be better suited.

Yokouchi: The feeling that a piano would fit the Noh stage or not fit it, the feeling that a drum would fit but not a shamisen, the feeling that you had about piano music not fitting King Lear, for example, do you think that these are common sensibilities that most Japanese share innately? Or do you think these are sensibilities only known to people who are particularly sensitive to spaces?

Kurita: Music is difficult. If I were to site one director who has pursued the problem of music with special sensitivity, I might say Peter Brooke. In his production of The Tragedy of Hamlet that he staged in a Noh style on a six meter square rug, there were musicians performing live and creating an instrumental effect. The lighting was yellow in tone and simply focused softly over one fixed area. I imagine that as the result of his studies he arrived at the conclusion that this was the kind of music to best accompany Noh style performance. And the instruments used were vague-sounding ones like bells and drums, not a piano.

Yokouchi: How about costumes?

Kurita: In King Lear the main characters are the shadow figures, so I had each of them wear a wisdom hat. In other words an eboshi. I drew pictures of what I wanted these hats to look like first.

Yokouchi: Where did the idea for eboshi come from?

Kurita: I based them on the eboshi worn by the nobility in Japan's Heian Period (9th to 11th centuries). And of course the designs also included the original touches of the costume planner. Considering our budget limitations, the types of old clothing (material) we could choose from were limited, and we took functionality into consideration based on different the types of movement we tried. Shoes are not worn on the Noh stage, only tabi. So we also had to take into consideration the balance with the footwear. What you have to be careful about when creating costumes like this that are neither kimono or dresses and mix Western and Japanese elements, is to make sure it doesn't look like a fashion show. This is a difficult job ...

Yokouchi: You must have learned some things now having done two productions in this [Shakespeare] series.

Kurita: It has indeed caused me to think a lot about the Noh stage. You know that there is a front and sides to a Noh stage. For example, in theater-in-the-round there is no particular front. But with Noh theater, when you face the front you are being seen in side profile from the sides, and if you stage a scene with the actors facing the side they will be seen in side view by the audience to the front. This is something you always have to be conscious of. It is more difficult than a round stage because you can't show a bad side from any angle. I would change the position of my seat when directing to check the different angles, but there would be times when a composition looked good from the front but didn't come together from the side.
Also, you have the dead zones of the entrance bridge and the four pillars. In our Noh theater in Niigata one of the pillars can be removed, so we don't have a problem there. How do you make an actor stand when they are behind one of these dead spots, and if you can't leave them there long, how do you then move them? In the case of the hanamichi (walkway) in Kabuki, there is an area between seven and three where the actor can be seen well from everywhere in the theater, and so you use that area in your staging. But if you have King Lear stand on the Noh theater's entrance bridge, there will always be some places in the audience where he won't be visible. I want to have him stay in that one position for some time, but I also feel it is unfair to do so for certain parts of the audience. Sometimes it makes me want to sneak in the theater at night with a saw and just cut out all the pillars. (laughs)
Staging for the Noh theater has been full of tough situations like this, but the more minuses I encounter the more strongly the pluses stand out too. One very interesting thing happened in the staging of Macbeth in the scene where the king is first killed. The guard is supposed to come just after the king has been killed, but in the Noh theater version I had the king turn instantly into the guard just after awaking from being killed by the witches. Because in the Noh theater there is no way to get the king off stage after he is killed, I used my imagination and had the king play the guard's role as well. As it turned out, that bit of staging unexpectedly worked to very interesting effect.

Yokouchi: Of course that is a device that you could also use sometime in a regular theater, but then the intention might appear too clear and it would end up bothering you. Perhaps it fits better in the Noh stage, however.

Kurita: If you think in terms of Mugen (Dream) Noh where all the characters are ghosts to begin with, everything is OK. No matter what characters may change into other characters, or how you have them leave the stage, or how you let them stay on stage after they have died, if the audience comes to the play with the image of a world of ghosts, you can do anything. It can succeed because this is not a realistic world to begin with.

Yokouchi: What it tells you is that there are plays that are enlightened by their stage.

Kurita: Yes. And, another thing is how you effectively use the silence of the Noh stage in your staging. The movement that is allowed in Noh theater is only a moment's movement. You need to stage the silence after that moment of movement so that it becomes movement that extends beyond that moment. It is a reversal of silence and movement. I think there is a wonderful degree of perfection in the way that this uniquely Japanese Noh theater uses silence and movement in "Kurozuka."

Yokouchi: Having worked in small theater where there is no master, I have known the nicer aspects of having the freedom to create your own style, but when I see the freedom with which you are working today, I sense the strength of someone who has polished his technique for 20 years in a particular environment. The strength of a person who has been taught what kind of a space this particular space this is. Because there is a lot that can't be learned just by watching.

Kurita: Our Shakespeare series is something that was born out of a chance encounter with the Niigata Noh Theater, but I now feel the potential in this series and definitely want to continue it. And I want overseas audiences to see it and see how they feel about it and hear their reactions.
(Edited by Tomoko Tajima)
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