The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The adventurous world of Toshiki Okada, a playwright who write in
Chelfitsch Cooler (Air Conditioner)
© non takagi
I believe that there is a fictional aspect to the work of writing a play…
In terms of the work of the playwright, the compositional aspect, what I am thinking about is continuance. I don’t create an overall scenario outline before I begin writing a play. That is because the most important thing for me is that there should be true continuity in the way one scene leads into the next.

At the start of your plays there is someone who delivers a line saying, “Now we are going to be doing such and such…” Is this like the opening line of the fairy tales that says, “Once upon a time, long, long ago…?” That fictional phrase that sets the stage for a story that is absolutely removed from everyday life?
That is not a part of my work as a playwright. It is more like a bit of service for the audience to make the play a bit easier to understand. If we say “Now we are going to be doing such and such …” then the audience thinks, “Oh, that is what they are going to be doing.” That’s all it is (laughs).

Do you consciously think about the rhythm of your scripts? When I read the script itself, it has a very rhythmical feeling to it.
That is not something I am conscious of when I write. A play is something that is intended to be spoken. So it should be something that you want to recite aloud and something that gains meaning when said out loud. To say that you feel a rhythm when you are just reading the text silently is nice to hear, but I reject any type of deliberate rhythmical bodily presentation of the script lines when the play is actually staged. I believe that the body of the actor should have a unique movement that is separate from the rhythm of the script. Whether or not you feel rhythm when you are reading the text silently or not has nothing to do with what I am trying to achieve when I write.

I hear that when the editors made a book of your plays, they went to a lot of trouble to add punctuation to the text. Maybe that is the reason that I feel that rhythmic quality to it.
In my original script I use almost no commas or periods (laughs).

In addition to the unique character of your scripts, we also see very unique body movement by the actors in your plays.
This goes back to the influence I received from Hirata, about diverting the consciousness of the lines by shifting consciousness to the body. In this respect I have continued to follow Hirata’s example. But, just as focusing too much attention of the words kills them, shifting too much attention to the body movement also kills the body presence. Therefore, you can’t shift the consciousness to the body either. So, where should you focus the consciousness…? To explain what comes next is very difficult, and we can speak in terms of image or signifié (thing to be signified), but in essence what I mean is that there must be something within the human being that precedes the script or the bodily expression. When you say something or make a gesture, there must be some underlying reason, something inside that is the origin. That is where I want to take the consciousness. That is what I am now encouraging the actors to develop within themselves in the studio when we practice and rehearse.

Is that image different from the “impulse” that Stanislavsky talks about? Or the “motivation” that Japan’s New Theater directors often speak of?
I don’t know Stanislavsky or Strasberg or New Theater well enough to answer that. In fact it might be the same. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it was the same. All I am saying is that having a source within where every word or movement originates is an extremely essential element of theater.
However, the image that I think is essential is not the image of the “recipient”, the person watching the play. If the image of the recipient is the sadness or joy that emerges after they read the play, that is not the image I am referring to. As far as I can see, I would say that the large majority of performances present the script from the image of the recipient. But I believe that acting in a way where the lines are spoken on the basis of an image gained from the script is completely wrong. What I am talking about is the image in the internal point of origin of all words and movements.

When you work with actors in the studio, you substitute the physical exercises that most theater companies use before starting a rehearsal with an exercise where you have the actors practice speaking by just talking on and on about things that have occurred during their day. What is the purpose of this unusual form of training?
Rather than thinking of it as practice in talking, the purpose is to get the actors to recognize how they actually move their bodies when they are speaking normally in daily life. And also to get them to be aware of the fact that those movements do not originate in the words they are speaking. To explain this a little further, this exercise gets people to see how difficult it would be to think up such complex movements if the everyday things they are talking about were written down and given to the actor as a script and the actor had to try to create those movements based on that script. So, once you understand this, my exercise is training that helps the actors create as fiction the same actions that fit the normal, everyday body use.
Another purpose is as a form of training to gain an appreciation of just how rich this that I am talking about is. In other words, how rich the origin before words is. By rich I mean that there is a much larger volume of information underlying any words that we speak. There is no way to put everything in that original image into words. The words are no more than the tip of the iceberg we see, and it is an attempt to create awareness of this. State from the opposite direction, for an actor to try to create the minimum amount of image necessary when delivering some lines from a script, that is a meaningless and uninteresting thing. So this is also a kind of training to get the actor to grasp what is happening within themselves so that they can create an image from that vastly larger well of information from which the lines of the script have originated.
I am always telling the actors that the body and the words are not connected or integrated. In reality, it is extremely rare for body movements to complement or reinforce the words we are speaking, and most of the time our movements are completely unrelated to our speech. I think that nature of the body is something very rich. And in that sense, I think that our natural, real body movements are richer than those of actors on the stage. That is why I want to get closer to the richness of the actual body by creating plays that are modeled on reality.

There is always a veil covering reality that makes it difficult to see in daily life. But watching your plays, we seem to feel that that veil is removed and we are seeing the raw face of reality. Don’t you think that is possible?
What I am often told with regard to that is that after seeing one of my plays, people will find that on the train going home they see a guy get on the train moving in the same oddball ways that our actors do (laughs). Well, that is just a side-effect and not what I am actually aiming at. But speaking in broad terms, I will be content if I get the same kind of effect as Juro Kara in his tent plays where at the climax the tent is suddenly opened up and you get a momentary glimpse of the real world.
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