The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The world of director, Osamu Matsumoto | Staging Kafka with his unique style with workshops and composition cards
The Man Who Disappeared
The Man Who Disappeared
The Man Who Disappeared
Setagaya Public Theatre production
Shissosha (The Man Who Disappeared)

(Nov 15 – Dec 8, / Setagaya Public Theatre)
Written by Franz Kafka
Directed by Osamu Matsumoto
Photo: Katsu Miyauchi
We hear that in your workshops you act out scenes based on a variety of materials, such as a fragment of a newspaper article or a scene from a Chekhov script.
    Yes, for example, in our play Kaisha no Jinji (Company Personnel Affairs), we took the final lines of an illicit love affair between a female office worker and her boss, in which the woman finally dumps the man, and made it the episode to work on in one of our workshops. We borrowed the setting of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to create a scene. In the early years of MODE we would change that roles that the actors played every day so that the actors had to have the entire text in their mind all the time. That required a lot of rehearsal time.
    There was one actor who had only acted in Shogekijo (small theater) plays in the past and he had trouble delivering Treplyov’s lines from Chekhov. Then I drew on his own experience and told him that these lines are the same as rebelling against the present theater world, so with that in mind, try saying it all in your own words. After that he said, “Until now I have just been memorizing the script verbatim, but now I think I understand.” And then he was able to speak the lines wonderfully.

Does “wonderfully” mean naturally?
    You could call it natural, or I would say it is when it sounds like the actor himself is speaking. Not like he is speaking as Chekhov’s Treplyov is but as if he is borrowing Treplyov’s words to speak his own mind. That is what I believe acting is about. The function of the workshops is to get the actors to speak as themselves and that is what the workshop space is for.

Can we consider the workshops you were doing at Setagaya Public Theatre to be an extension of what you had done at MODE?
    There is a continuity but the participating actors are different. The fact that what we are doing at Setagaya are productions produced by a theater has brought in a new group of actors who are interested in participating in workshops even if they don’t know my work. I was glad to see actors who have had a career in the so-called Angura Small Theater coming to participate. It is a fact that many of the people who started the Small Theater Movement in the 1960s had training in New Theater before that. For example, the butoh artist Akaji Maro spent some time in the New Theater company Budo no Kai, and when he has had a few drinks he will say, “Hey, I’m not an Angura actor, I’m a New Theater actor.” It is easy for me to work with people like that. Easier than it is to work with people who have no New Theater experience, actually.
    At Setagaya Public Theatre I first directed Chekhov’s Platonov and then Brecht’s Life of Galileo. Because there were some very busy actors taking part in these productions, even if I wanted to do workshops, it was hard to get everyone together. We continued to do workshops with the actors who could attend, but what we did in them was not to work with the actual text for the play but things like working on a scenario by Godart. We played around with typically philosophical Godart text containing a direct connection to acting theory, such as, “You are an actor aren’t you? Say the lines you said in yesterday’s play again now. How are they different from when you said you loved me?”
    Of course there will be cases where we could do workshops for a year and we still couldn’t bring out the best of a given actor with this method. When that happens, we have to make sure that that actor doesn’t stand out as different from the rest. It was during the workshops that I came to think about the necessity to make certain allowances in the composition and directing of the play in order to make sure that the actors can be in the same unified world as much as possible.
    And it was as an extension of this working process that the idea of doing a Kafka play, as I had originally proposed, came to mind again.

Can you tell us in specific terms what kind of things you tried to do in your workshops while preparing to do a Kafka-based play.
    We took a year working on Amerika and that included four or five workshops of a week to ten days. Rather than working intensively over a short period, we adopted a method with intervals in between where everyone would return to their own companies for a while and then assemble again to pick up where we left off in the previous session. In the Japanese theater system, no matter how finely you cut. So, I think it is meaningful that we were able to do that.
    Actually, with Amerika there was an actor who had been decided on to play the part of the young Karl, but just at the time when the workshops were finished and we were ready to begin the serious rehearsals, we got word that he would not be able do the part because of an injury. In the workshops six or seven people, including some women had been doing the part of Karl, so it occurred to me that we could change the approach and have several actors play the part. And I believe that in the end it turned out to be a more interesting staging than if only one actor had been playing the role.

A case like this where a mishap can lead to fresh new ideas, we are reminded once again just how fascinating an art form theater can be. How did you conduct the auditions for Amerika?
    First of all I gathered a number of actors who had worked with me before. Then we held open audition. We reviewed all applications about 200 people who came first, and we reduced the number of potential candidates until we had about 50 people. Then we divided them into small groups and had them begin actually acting out of fragments of Kafka’s novel. The purpose here was not to check the quality of their acting but to see if they were suited to our working method or not. We wanted to choose actors who could find interest in the process of reading the original text and then imagining ways a scene could be staged and then trying a number of different patterns of acting it out, rather than the usual process of memorizing a script where the conversation is written out as spoken lines and the rest is described in stage direction notes. In such a method, the more patterns they can come up with the better. We were not looking for a correct answer, we wanted people who were not afraid of failure and were willing to expose themselves to uncertain situations and try new things.
    When I say “expose themselves,” I mean allowing themselves to get into a particular mode they are trying. No actor can really expose their naked self completely. I often say that it is OK if everyone in a group that is trying out one of these etudes finds it’s not interesting. The important thing is that the actors are aware of what has happened and share a consciousness of it with the others. At the end of the audition process we selected 26 people to go into the final series of four workshops.
    Another requirement for the actors was the ability to read the original book. In the case of Shakespeare, you’ll get by because everything is there in the words of the dialogue, even if you don’t read it with much emotion. But Kafka is different. There is no single interpretation in Kafka’s writing. For example, Josef K. may say one thing, but then his actions show something else, so there is an element of contradiction. What we needed was actors who could find delving into these ambiguities interesting.
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