The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A glimpse of the
Kyogen and Hogaku (Japanese traditional music) programs of the Setagaya Public Theatre
Founded in 1997 and under the artistic direction of Mansai Nomura since 2002, the Setagaya Public Theatre continues to present a variety of productions with the theme of a fusion of traditional and contemporary Japanese theater.

+“Contemporary Noh Plays Collection” series
The theatre’s “Contemporary Noh Plays Collection” series is the result of a proposal by Mansai Nomura and he serves as supervisor for the series. Series productions until now have included AOI/KOMACHI (written and directed by Takeshi Kawamura) based on the Noh plays Aoinoue and Sotobakomachi, a contemporary version of the Noh play Motomezuka (written and directed by Tatsuo Kaneshita) based on the piece by the Muromachi period (16th century) writer Kan-ami, known for his continued influence on modern literature, and NUE, a contemporary version of the famous Noh play from the Heian Period (written and directed by Akio Miyazawa).

+“Kyogen Theatre”
The theatre also presents a “Kyogen Theatre” series that presents Kyogen plays not as traditional theater but as “performing art” for the contemporary audience in productions performed by Mansaku Nomura and members of the Mansaku no Kai using an innovative Noh stage constructed at the theatre with three hashigakari entrance runways.

+“MANSAI Kaitaishinsho”
This series is one that proposes to search for a new “Japanese theater identity” by dissecting a variety of elements composing today’s world of contemporary art. Mansai Nomura invites guests from a variety of genre for this series to give talks and performances.

+Nohgaku Genzaikei” (Nohgaku in the Present Tense)
This new series attempts to explore the full possibilities of Nohgaku, Nomura invites leading Noh protagonists with his peers like the Noh flutist Yukihiro Isso and Noh otsuzumi drum performer Hirotada Kamei to tackle the present and future possibility of Noh. By presenting a theater performance in the Setagaya Public Theatre’s specially constructed Noh theater under the title “Nohgaku Genzaikei Theater version@ Setagaya.”
On the occasion of my appointment as artistic director, by Mansai Nomura:
From PTex interview, July 31, 2002 edition

As of this August I will assume the post of artistic director of the Setagaya Public Theatre. While maintaining the best of the accomplishments of this theatre in its five years, I hope that some of my own color will gradually appear in the theatre’s activities.
Noh and Kyogen have a history of flourishing as an art under the auspices and support of the samurai class of the Ashikaga Bakufu government in the Muromachi Period (15th-16th centuries) and, although the scale may be different, isn’t it a similar situation in terms of the public nature and public funding from Setagaya Ward? The wonderful thing is that thanks to this kind of public support it is possible to engage in artistic creative efforts that are not possible for commercial theater with its time and monetary restrictions. However, there are also responsibilities that go along with using public funding. To clarify those responsibilities, I have prepared the following three action policies.

1. Community relevance, Contemporary relevance and Universality

In taking this post, I have chosen the words “I am of this neighborhood” (Kono Atari no mono de gozaru) as one of my key phrases. These are the words that a character in a Kyogen play speaks in way of self-introduction when first appearing on stage in a play. By saying, “I am of this neighborhood” instead of using a personal name—like Hamlet for instance—a unique aspect of the tradition is revealed, I believe. Why would a character use such a form of introduction? By speaking these words, the character is telling the audience that he is the same type of person as them and the play they are about to see is based on a world-view similar to theirs. At the same time, it is a phrase that indicates that Kyogen has a universality that speaks to people of all eras in all places.
In choosing these words as my key phrase in my post here at the Setagaya Public Theatre, I want to show that I intend to live as a person of Setagaya and value the views of its citizens. Through workshop activities and institutions of the local society like its schools, I hope to return to the people the identity of Japanese culture that was born of the Kyogen tradition, and through performances I hope to create works with the universality to that will speak to people of the contemporary world, no mater what region or nation they live in.

2. Fusion of Traditional and Contemporary Theater

I come from a traditional performing arts tradition and I naturally want to make use of the ideas and philosophy of the traditional arts. However, that doesn’t mean that I want to color everything with the style and look of the old traditions. I only want to make use of the knowledge and creative thought that has been nurtured in the traditional arts and use it as a source of new ideas.
Noh-Kyogen has recently received designation as a World Heritage by UNESCO. This fact can be interpreted in several ways, but I believe it is a mandate to return the 600-year-old heritage of a sophisticated theater form and its methodologies to contemporary society as a living tradition. Through the creation of new works and workshops, I hope to see contemporary artists make use of the traditional ideas in ways that we learn from one another and discover new possibilities that will lead to the creation of new Japanese performing arts.
For example, from performing with contemporary theater actors, I feel that they are skilled at depiction of story and expressing psychological aspects of characters, but I feel that they are not as skilled at creating “place” and situations. This is only one small example, but I believe that in the rehearsal studio it is possible to convey heritage of Noh-Kyogen to the contemporary performing arts. And just as Yukio Mishima wrote his collection of “Modern Noh Plays,” I want to commission contemporary playwrights to write a collection of “Contemporary Noh Plays” based on works like that. And in the same way I would like to have contemporary directors try creating stage sets that make use of the concepts of the Noh stage.

3. Comprehensive performing arts - Total Theater

I believe that the traditional theater arts of Noh, Kyogen and Kabuki retain a “total-ness” that has been lost from other forms of theater since the modern period. Although there are separate names for the arts of narration (katari), dance (mai) and chant (utai), they are all integrated into one seem-less “total” world of expression in the traditional theater forms.
Although my knowledge is limited, it appears to me that when looking at the contemporary performing arts of Japan and the West as well, the cutting edge arts are increasingly interdisciplinary and hard to categorize. The physical arts of dance, circus, street performance and the arts based on words, including drama, literature and poetry are increasingly combined with media arts bringing together live music and video to create works that cross the conventional boundaries between artistic genre. Good examples of this trend are the works by Peter Brooke and Simon McBurney that have been performed at the Setagaya Public Theatre, as well as numerous contemporary dance works. The production by Robert Lepage scheduled to be performed at the Setagaya Public Theatre this autumn is another leading example of this trend.
It is no coincidence that I, a practitioner of the traditional theater, should be taking the post of artistic director of the Setagaya Public Theatre at a time when such contemporary artistic trends are so strong. It is because I believe that the strength of traditional performing arts, which are originally “total theater” disciplines, is a necessary asset in the work of reuniting today’s contemporary performing arts genre. From now on, as a policy of the theatre, I want to make efforts to revive the skills and wisdom of the performing arts that have become fragmented since the advent of the Modern Era and attempt to reunite them in new forms.

The Setagaya Public Theatre is fortunate to have a large and supportive audience. I want to work hand-in-hand with all of the theater staff to make our theatre one that can set an example for other public theaters and even play a leadership role.
I ask everyone for their ongoing support and encouragement in these efforts.
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