The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The theater world of Seigo Hatasawa, with its unique focus on “communities” and “schools”
uThe theater world of Seigo Hatasawa, with its unique focus on “communities” and “schools”
Watanabe Genshiro Shoten
Senaka kara 40 pun (40 minutes from the Back)

(Oct 2006 at Komaba Agora Theater)
Photo: Nagare Tanaka
Senaka kara 40 pun
Play of the Month

*Tori no Gekijo (BIRD Theatre Company TOTTORI)
Tori no Gekijo in an NPO involved in theatrical activities and theater management with a theater facility renovated from a former elementary and nursery school facility in Shikano-cho, Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture. Director Makoto Nakashima is the theater’s leader. The theater is involved in a year-round program of activities in the performing arts based on the four pillars of “Programs to Create,” “Programs to Invite,” “Programs to Participate” and “Program to Experiment.”
The story in your play Senaka kara 40 pun (40 minutes from the Back) has been performed repeatedly after that seems to be a bit different in impression from the other plays we have talked about up to this point. It is a story set in a hotel room at night involving a man who seems to have a secret and a female masseuse, and the scenario unfolds during the course of the massage. The story starts with the identity of the characters and the things they are struggling with unrevealed and the development of the plot is not one-directional but one that jumps between concurrent storylines.
The fact that I wrote this play with the Kenji Fukushi and the actress Miyuki Moriuchi in mind is the same as the writing process for my other plays, but with this play Senaka kara I tried something different by taking the act of massage and using it as the medium for repetitions of multi-layered storylines.
 The point of departure with this play was my interest in the concept of soothing people or relieving their pains and burdens. When you have stiff shoulders, you can massage them yourself, but then your hand gets tired, doesn’t it? I call it the “principle of stiffness retention.” (Laughs) And if that is the case, a masseuse is someone who soothes other people’s fatigue or stiffness or grief by absorbing it into their own body. If so, where does the fatigue or grief of the people who have been massaged actually go? As that image developed in my mind, I got the idea of depicting the changes that take place in the person who is being soothed and the person doing the soothing during the course of a massage.
 However, that alone would not be enough to make a play, so I added the aspect of the love liaison between two people intending to commit suicide together. This act of committing suicide together [shinju in Japanese] and in the [Kabuki] plays like Shinju Ten no Amishima (Double Suicide) and Sonezaki Shinju (Love Suicides at Sonezaki), there is always a scene of a love liaison before the suicides, isn’t there? Although I have no idea how they get their statistics, when you read books on the subject they say that some 80% of couples involved in love suicides have sex before they commit suicide. So, in Senaka kara 40 pun I thought of using the massage as a substitute for that act of sex. In fact, it seems that people who work in jobs that involve soothing people’s pains are actually the ones who are seeking to be soothed the most. This play is one where this “transmission or connection of soothing is played out along two lines, the line of the progression of the massage and the line of conversation between the guest and the masseuse.
 Still, nobody understood that I was writing this play as a tribute to “love suicide plays” and [the great 17th century playwright and master of love suicide plays] Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Actually the first time it was pointed out was at a drama reading in New York, where someone in the audience said, “This is [like] Chikamatsu, isn’t it?” So, I’m thinking that this play might be a success if it were performed in Europe under a title like “The Chikamatsu.” (Laughs)

Now I would like to ask you about your activities with Watanabe Genshiro Shoten. The company is based in Aomori city and from 2008 you are managing a facility called Atelier Green Park that includes your rehearsal studio and theater space. For a small theater company like yours to have your own performance space is something that is unthinkable in the Tokyo area.
I believe that one of the few advantages there are to being a regional theater group is the relative ease of getting a place to do your creative work. Atelier Green Park is the rented second floor of a building that used to be a restaurant, and it is a completely hand-made studio space that we created from scratch, beginning by having all the company members get together and punch the holes in the perforated sound-proofing board. In addition to being the space for our performances, I want to make it a “site” where people can experience all aspects of theater. Just like I felt no need to go to Tokyo because of the existence of Hirosaki Theater, I want to make Green Park a site where people know they can do theater without feeling the need to go to Tokyo.
 For some people it may be just a place where they come to find play scripts or back numbers of theater magazines, and for others it is a place where they can participate in performances or workshops. The reason I chose a location in seaside area a bit removed from the station is so that there would be enough parking space for bicycles for events that gathered large numbers of middle or high school students.
 Since last year we have begun workshops at Green Park for middle school students. This is because I know there is here is a limit to what can be done in high school theater alone and I wanted to provide the opportunity for children to experience theater and an even earlier age. And it is also because of the need I feel to engage in outreach efforts to increase people’s knowledge of theater. As the first workshop under this new program last year I use Shugaku Ryoko and titled the workshop “Peace Education for the Mind and Body - Doing Shugaku Ryoko in Seven Days”. It began by having them learn how to read a play, and I also had them do research on things like the Taepodong-2 missile and the Middle East Conflict that appear in the script. By having the students do their research together about the background of the play setting, they become able to give a presentation and discuss the terms that appear in the script while interjecting their own background knowledge. At the end of the workshop we also did a performance, and because the students parents also come to see it, I think this is a fantastic thing.
 We will also do a workshop using Shugaku Ryoko in Sapporo this summer. And in the latter half of August we will have our second workshop at Green Park, which is titled “Thinking about Discrimination with the Mind and Body - Doing Kappa in Seven Days.” We are now negotiating to rent the first floor of the Green Park building as well, and eventually I want us to be making full use of both floors as studio and performance spaces.

So, you are working not only as a theater company but also as a group involved in education using theater and also human development.
That’s correct. I was influenced greatly by meeting Makoto Nakashima, who leads the Tori no Gekijo theater in Tottori Prefecture (*). I just returned from a visit to Tottori in February and Nakashima told me that he is working on establishing a network of regional theater companies that doesn’t have Tokyo as its hub and enables regional companies to deal directly with each other. The aim is not to create a bond between the weak but to build a network of groups aiming toward activities with shared conviction.
 Tori no Gekijo has advanced experience in dealing with public agencies and the processes for getting grants and they are one rank above us in terms of budget size as well. In the case of Watanabe Genshiro Shoten, where I, its leader, am a civil servant (teacher) and don’t have an address in Aomori city myself even though the company is based in Aomori city, there are a number of reasons like these that are obstacle to our getting grants. But, in a case like this where there are “no precedents” [for support], I believe that those barriers can be broken down eventually by continuing to make appeals for our value as a theater company and the public nature of what we do. I want to continue to expand our range of activities but strengthening ourselves as a group in that way, one step at a time. There are still lots of things I want to do, like holding study groups for high school students to learn to read and interpret plays, and holding workshops exclusively for people over 60.
 But that doesn’t mean I am thinking about quitting my job as a teacher at this point. But I believe it is right to have a job in the community to make ones living by and do theater at the same time, and I also believe that there are plays I can write exactly because of the time I spend working as a teacher and the fact that I am involved in high school theater. It is true that the world of the teacher and school are closed, narrow worlds, but the things I see there and the things I feel as a teacher are my point of departure and the original source of inspiration for many of my ideas. So, for as long as possible, I want to continue to have my feet in the four different fields I’m involved in now.
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