The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Cross-over Kyogen master Sennojo Shigeyama’s quest for a new form of global comedy theater
Cross-over Kyogen master Sennojo Shigeyama’s quest for a new form of global comedy theater
3G Project
© mihoproject
Do you have a stronger feeling now that you can transcend national and language boundaries to work together?
Yes. And that feeling is getting stronger with each [3G Project] performance.
 I, of course, and Akira as well don’t speak any Italian, and they [the Marchetti and Dimitri] don’t know any Japanese at all. What’s more, in the plays you have moments when we ad lib. Still, when our lines are finished they know when and how to answer [despite not understanding the actual Japanese]. That is because “language” is inherently something that communicates not just “word meaning” but the “will and intent of the speaker.” For example, there are cases where the will of the speaker is communicated even if the specific word meaning of what he/she says is not. Taking this further, language communicates religion and philosophy. And that is why we are able to work together [despite speaking different languages], I believe.
 However, in my view, what many Japanese today don’t believe words until they see them in print. I feel that they depend too much on the written word today.

Does that mean that people are depending too much on the communication of word meaning rather than the communication of will or intent?
Yes. I believe that today language has become flat like a board [without accentuation] and that is resulting in a tendency toward the communication of word meaning only.
 For example, consider the words “I love you.” This expression is made up of three linguistic elements, and the will of the speaker is communicated differently depending on which of those elements the accent is placed, isn’t it? If the person accentuates the “I” and says, “I love you,” it means “I don’t know if you love me, but I love you.” If on the other hand the “you” is accentuated in saying, “I love you,” it means “It is you and not any other that I love.” And in Japanese, where the verb can stand alone without a subject or object when the latter are clear in context, if you are alone with the one you love, you can simply say the verb conjugation “Aishitemasu” [(I) love (you)]. Thus, the simply expression “I love you” can take on completely different nuances of meaning [will/intent] depending on where the accent is placed.
 But in what I call “flat board language” the same stress is put on all words evenly without accentuation. In that type of flat communication, even if you understand the word meaning of “I love you,” it doesn’t communicate to the listener what kind of love it is.

Is your form of “communication of will” one that has been nurtured in the Kyogen tradition?
Both Kyogen and Commedia Dell’Arte are oral traditions that have been handed down verbally from master to apprentice, generation after generation. The master says a line in old Japanese such as, “Kore wa konoatari ni sumaiitasu mono de gozaru,” (I am a man residing in this area) and the apprentice recites it in the same way. It is an oral process that doesn’t use the printed word. Also, in Kyogen this teaching begins when the apprentice is still a child and before they begin to use the right hemisphere of the brain. I don’t even remember my own first stage performance because I was just a child of 2 years and 8 months. My training must have begun when I was about 2.
 In my case my master was my grandfather. He would sit down facing me in a room and there would be some sweets in between us that I could eat when I got the lesson right (laughs). It is the same method used in training a monkey. It is a method that makes learning relatively quick. The movements are also learned by copying the movements of the master until you memorize them. In this method the forms and lines are learned first and then the meaning and expressive content come later.
 This method is the same for all the traditional Japanese arts, from Kabuki to traditional Japanese dance. The European methodology may be different, but I believe that the tradition arts have been passed down in the same sort of way. There are similarities in this aspect, too. Whether we perform in Japanese and Italian there in meaning conveyed by the sound of the spoken word. And actors are by nature and by their training very sensitive to spoken language. Especially to rhythm and interval in the delivery of their lines that we call ma in Japanese. When we perform together in 3G, the interval (ma) in delivery is very clear to each other [even though speaking in different languages]. The reason for this is the distinctive way an actor ends the last words of a line, and that is what creates the interval. In short, there are special ways of ending lines, and I feel that these are the same in Japanese and any other around the world. It is a kind of verbal magic. The first requirement of a skilled actor and a good play is that this verbal magic that is not based in the written word comes from the mouths of the actors.

Is your desire to communicate “the power of words to convey will” part of the purpose you bring to the 3G Project?
That is a part of my purpose. I believe that the Japanese have to see more live stage performance. We are now engaged in a program called the “Kyogen Delivery Service” that takes Kyogen performances to schools to be performed in their gymnasiums or theaters, but in recent years the number of theses performances have decreased. Thirty or forty years ago we were doing ten school performances or so a month. Now it is my grandchild’s generation that is doing it and that number is smaller. One of the reasons for the decrease is of course Japan’s decreasing birth rate. There are also economic reasons, I believe. But there is also the problem of parents complaining when their children’s schools plan things like live performances Kyogen or Noh theater or music. They say, if the school has that kind of time they should have the children studying to pass entrance exams. The mothers call it a waste of time. But I want to see the children being exposed to live stage performances more so they can experience power and appeal of words and the inherent function of language.

Since you have mentioned school Kyogen, I have heard that your Shigeyama family has long been very dedicated to the spread of Kyogen through school performances.
During the Middle Ages Kyogen was like the television dramas of today, in that they presented new stories every day and they often included seedy songs. In short, it was contemporary theater. However, in the Edo Period (17th to mid-19th centuries) Noh and Kyogen were labeled ceremonial entertainment and came to be performed only during ceremonies of the samurai class that dominated society. So, Kyogen was almost never performed except in combination with Noh performances. In its place, Kabuki became the contemporary theater that provided entertainment for the common people. Even after the Meiji Restoration at ended the Edo Period, the concept of Kyogen as a ceremonial theater continued, and breaking that rule of performing Kyogen only with Noh was considered a degradation of the art.
 Up through my grandfather’s generation, Kyogen performers weren’t even permitted to go see Kabuki plays. They were told that if they went to see such vulgar plays as Kabuki it would degrade Kyogen. My father says that when was a child he used to disguise himself to go see Kabuki. During that era when Kyogen could only be performed with Noh, my grandfather defied that precedent and would perform Kyogen anywhere and anytime there was an opportunity. My grandfather was what we called a “high-collar” of that time, he liked Western style suits and I hear that he was the first among the Kyogen actors of Kyoto to eat beefsteak. He wasn’t one to cling to the old for its own sake. If he received an invitation, he would perform Kyogen, even if it was as a side-event at a garden party. The other Kyogen actors who didn’t like that attitude used to ridicule him, saying, “Shigeyama’s Kyogen is like tofu (bean curd).”
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |