The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A world of the imagination overflowing from the everyday- Playwright Norihiko Tsukuda

B-kyu Yugekitai Two Hours to Self-destruction, Or How We Learned to Love the Doctor's Distorted Love (2005)
(c) B-kyu Yugekitai
You started the theater group B-kyu Yugekitai in 1985, in your 5th year of college, right?
Yes. I turned down the job offer I had gotten and stayed in college for another year. My parents were really mad when I said I was going to do theater instead of getting a job. It is certainly natural that they should get mad. Anyway, I begged them to let me do theater, boldly making the claim that I would do a play that would draw an audience of 1,000 people and do a Tokyo performance by the time I was 25.
At the time, our Shishi group drew the largest audiences of any Nagoya college theater group and people told us that what we were doing was interesting, so I guess I had a bit of a swelled head. I was also determined to make our theater even more popular, and I actually believed that I was the one to change the Nagoya theater scene.
Then, in 1987 I won the Nagoya City Culture Promotion Award for my play Shimpan – Horonigaki wa Caramel no Aji (Umpire – Bittersweet Is the Taste of Caramel). I had happened to see a leaflet soliciting entries for the award contest and I thought that if I won a prize my parents might not be so opposed to my doing theater. So, I wrote Shimpan on a whim, just for the purpose of winning the prize. I had thought that it would be interesting to write something about a baseball umpire after seeing a leaflet for a one-man play by Kenichi Kato titled Shimpan. The idea for the play came to me one day while I was waiting to meet my girlfriend for a date. So I got out one of my college notebooks and wrote the whole thing down in about two hours while I was waiting.

Was there any particular baseball umpire that you used as your model?
No. It all came from my imagination. I did like baseball and often went to games at that time.

Did things change for you after winning the award?
It was my mother who changed more than me. She wasn’t especially happy when I won the award, but when NHK called me afterwards and asked me to write a play for one of their radio programs, her attitude really changed. She had been dead set against me going into theater before that, but after the request came from NHK, she was suddenly very supportive, saying she wanted me to do my best in my theater work.

Shimpan won acclaimed when it was performed as a solo play by Ben Izawa from the theater group of Sou Kitamura. And it was performed in an actual baseball park and broadcast on NHK.
I’m really glad now that I wrote Shimpan. I was 23 at the time, and Sou Kitamura directed the Izawa production for me. He also told me to rewrite it as a dialog instead of a monologue. I learned so much from that experience.

After Shimpan you began writing new plays for B-kyu Yugekitai. Were there any other writers besides Takeuchi who influenced you at that time?
I am not the type that does a lot of reading. When Takeuchi wrote things about writers like Kafka and Kobo Abe, I would go and read their works, but that was about all. Of Kafka I read The Metamorphosis and The Judgment, and in Abe’s case, I liked his novels more than his plays. Abe lies with a consciousness of guilt and I like the way he goes into such detail about how to tell lies. I also like the grotesque images Abe uses, such as kaiware daikon sprouts suddenly coming out of one’s shins. And, I like the horror cartoonists Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino.

Are you not interested in writing novels? In the postscript of Nukegara you write that people who have something they want to write become novelists and people who have something they want to see become playwrights.
There are some playwrights who also write novels, but after turning 30 I realized that I couldn’t write novels. I don’t have the vocabulary to be a novelist.

Earlier you mentioned Sou Kitamura, who also bases himself in Nagoya. When did you begin seeing his plays?
I have been seeing his plays since his Suisei 86 period. I saw plays like Goodbye and Banka RA Blues, and I remember being really surprised by the actor Hiroshi Kanbe and the way he stutters through his lines. I also liked Kitamura’s other actors very much. But, as clear as the characters of the actors come out, I don’t feel that I was influenced at all by Kitamura’s writing style.
In my 4th year of college, One of the members in our Shishi group wanted to do a production of Kitamura’s play Hogiuta (Ode to Joy). But when I read the script and when I watched a video of Kenichi Kato acting it out, I still couldn’t really understand it, and I wasn’t really anxious to do that production at first. But, then I heard a tape of Kitamura directing T.P.O Shi-dan theater group in a production of Hogiuta, and I found that to be incredibly interesting. It was a legendary performance with Kentaro Yano, Senko Hida and Izo Okachi. I then I knew that I just had to direct this play, and I had to play the character Gesaku. So I ended up stealing the production from my fellow member (laughs) and staging it as an outdoor performance.

You are said to be the kind of playwright who writes to fit the character of the actor in a role. Kohei Tsuka, who influenced your early work, is said to be a playwright who values the individuality and character of the actors and works out the script by explaining the part to the actor verbally in rehearsal and then write down what comes out. Do you think that you were influenced by that?
Rather than calling it Tsuka’s influence, I would honestly say that it was the natural outcome of having to write plays for the actors you have at hand in the company. I am not one who believes that the work (the written play) is something that exists before all else. I am the one who can’t write until I see the faces and the bodies of the actors. That is even true when I write a play for a company other than my own. So, I always have them introduce the actors to me first and get to know them as best I can before I can start to write.

What is the most important aspect of the actor you look at?
Their voices are the most important thing. After doing a preliminary workshop with the actors I may go out drinking with them and such, so that I can listen to their voices and observe the way they speak, their physiques and the gestures they use. I also look to see the things they respond with interest to. But, the most important thing of all is the voice. A person’s ability to be convincing is decided by their voice. Listening to their voices tells you the important things.

When you were first working in theater, including your college theater days, you were writing, directing and acting. Lately you seem to have given up the directing.
It has become increasingly hard for me to handle both the directing and the acting. An actor doesn’t have to think about the entire storyline and how one scene will carry over into the next. For the actor it is enough to think about how to create their own presence in the here and now of a scene, but the director has to be thinking about more than that. I got tired of seeing the director in myself that was forcing me to hold back as an actor. Since I want to keep writing and acting for a long time, I have asked Shogo Kamiya to do the directing for our company. But, when I write a play for another company and am not involved as an actor, I will do the directing.

What is the appeal of acting for you?
Taking on the state of mind of a character. For example, in the role of a murder, taking on the state of mind where you are ready to kill. Of course, if the play is not going well, you do not always get into the desired state of mind.
Also, there is a completely different appeal when I am acting in one of my own plays and when I am an invited actor in someone else’s play. When I acted in a play by Atsushi Fukatsu, I couldn’t understand the part just by reading the script. But, during the course of the rehearsals that part I couldn’t understand naturally seemed to instill itself in my body. I like that strange feeling of not being yourself anymore. It doesn’t bother me at all. It is like enjoying the grinding of sand on your teeth when eating a clam that hasn’t been completely rinsed out.
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