6th Gring production Strip
Jul. 2-7, 2002 at Shimokitazawa Geki Theatre
Written and directed by Go Aoki
Photo: Hiroshi Kato
Bungaku-za Atelier no Kai produce
Esperanto – A Night on a Student Trip for Teachers
(at Bungaku-za Atelier, 2006)
Written by Go Aoki
Directed by Yoshisada Sakaguchi
Photo: Kenki Iida
|From the very start of Gring did you have the same style of play that you do now with, a number of people delivering lines at a good tempo in a tone of realism as a number of interwoven episodes develop?
In fact, I had my eyes opened when I saw Hideki Noda’s—Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita and I wanted to write plays like that. But, when I tried and found that I couldn’t, the pressure of it all had me hyperventilating (laughs). I wrote until I had about 800 pages, but it wasn’t working. Still there was one part about three pages in length where a cram-school teacher is rambling on and on, and I thought I had written that rather well and enjoyed it. Sakuma-san read it and said “You may want to write like Hideki Noda, but you are not that kind of writer. This rambling style looks more interesting.” So, our first play became one about a group of cram-school teachers talking about doing something entertaining at the celebration party for their students who pass their college entrance exams.
Your Gring plays seem to be the complete opposite of Noda’s plays from the standpoint of action of stillness and of fantasy and realism.
I have tried to analyze that difference myself. When I watch Noda’s plays, I get the feeling that he is the kind of person who thinks that running faster than others is beautiful—the fact that Noda was on the track team in high school may have something to do with this. So, his text runs, and it has to be running for those kinds of lines to come out. If people all stand on different grounds, then I think my ground, or perspective, is something like “fixed-point observation.”
My family used to run a delicatessen and box lunch business in Yokosuka for three generations. When they would make me sit at the cash register I would watch the working women and people from the neighborhood come in to buy something and say some really heavy things without batting an eyelash, like: “It looks like that coffee shop owner became a thief after he closed down his shop.” I think I have an almost inexhaustible stock of scenes like that where people say some serious things in the same tone of voice as when they are just chatting about meaningless everyday stuff. So, when I create that type of scene the words just pour out. That is what made me realize where my plays should be coming from.
It also happened that the first theater I rented was a pretty large one of the type that—and this gets back to what Mr. Ninagawa said to me that time (laughs)—if you stop the action and have someone deliver some long lines the audience is going to go to sleep. Or, to keep the action moving, I had to have people coming and going rapidly on stage. This is part of the reason why I got into the pattern of having seven or eight actors moving in and out and carrying on several different story lines at the same time. I believe that this writing style was born from my actual life experiences.
I’m also a type how easily gets tired of things, and if there is single story line playing on and on I tend to get tired of it. But, I have also worried that I should not be that way, so I think I will try writing a two-person play once. A play where one story played out by two actors takes one turn after another. The playwright Ryo Iwamatsu once advised me that it is a good experience to write a play for just two actors because you can’t make an hour and a half play with just two characters unless it is a pair that are in a very dramatic situation or relationship.
I have heard that you have a rather unique way of writing in which, when you get stuck you back to the beginning and start writing the play all over.
Although I don’t know how everything will turn out, I do think about a general plot when I write. When I start writing there will be three or four story lines playing out at the same time, and I know what scene it will start from and I have an idea of how it will develop through the middle stages, but I don’t know how everything will end up. I write gradually, while thinking about what order the episodes should be told in and what movements of the characters should make to get me to the middle stage as I envision it. When I get stuck I go back to the lines at the top and look at them one line at a time to see where they stop. I ask myself at length what development will lead to what results. When I finally find a line that is problematic, I take out the laptop that I am writing on and erase all the lines after that one and save it with a new file name and begin rewriting from there. In this way it goes from the second draft to the third, and by the time it I finished I usually have about 40 drafts. Things come together between the 30th and 40th drafts. Once I get past the 30th I begin to feel that things are coming to a conclusion. It usually takes about a month and a half to write the first hour of the play, and the rest usually only takes about two days.
Can’t you do something like writing the episodes and the characters’ appearances out on cards at the plot level and try rearranging them to work out the right flow and then write the whole thing when you have found the right order, for example?
I have tried that, but it keeps ending up the way I originally had it in my head, so nothing interesting comes out of that process. I don’t feel like I’m making any breakthroughs, it becomes boring to write and the work dies. Not knowing how things will turn out while I’m writing is more stimulating and more fun.
Until now, you have written plays set in places like a zoo that’s going out of business, or a hotel where members of a school trip are staying, or the back-stage of a strip joint, or a barber shop. Are there some kinds of places that you find especially appealing to write about?
Yes, there are. One is the kind of place that the playwright and director Oriza Hirata has called “semi-public places.” If it is a private space it is hard to have people making entrances and exits. So, it is easiest to write if it is a place that is half public and half private.
Also, in my case, there is usually a place right next to the setting that I want to write about. For example, in our first Gring production it was an empty lot next to the cram school. The cram school is the place where the students and teachers meet and it is the place where the students’ mothers come to complain; all the important events happen in the cram school. Then there is the empty lot next to it where the teachers practice their skit for the students’ acceptance party. The important meetings take place in the cram school and the people who don’t want to be involved in those confide their real thoughts in the empty lot.
In the case of the strip joint, what I really wanted to write about was what was happening on stage and, since it was a work that dealt with the Mito nuclear power plant accident, I wanted to write in the atmosphere of a town where the people have to live with a nuclear power plant. So, I chose the back-stage as the best place to show all of these elements came together from time to time. What is appealing is a place that is just a bit removed from the where the central events are occurring. Not completely removed but just a bit removed.
I hear that you always write in notes to the actors.
Yes, that’s right. Since I wanted to be an actor myself, I want to do plays that make the actors look good. That is not a process of creating extensions of the innate individuality of the actor or trying to expand on it. The things I write for the actors are lines that I think would be interesting to have a particular actor say or actins that it would be interesting to see them do.
I am also told that you have a particular play or book that you refer to when you write.
That’s right, I always have one. It may be proof of how little story narrative there is in my plays (laughs). I think there is some resignation about the fact that I can never write something that is completely new. For example, my most recent work Niji (Rainbow) is built around Ibsen’s Ghosts. Ibsen’s is a story about syphilis, so I think things like making it contemporary by writing about HIV. For my play Kaizoku I thought about what would happen if I used the main male protagonist of A Streetcar Named Desire. The play Esperanto that I wrote in the Bungakuza Atelier was based on Mantaro Kubota’s Ohdera Gakko. The main reason for using modern drama works as my idea notes is that it is possible to take pure examples of human relationships out of the drama and rearrange them.