The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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Artist Interview
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech (2009)
(Oct. 2009 at HAU/ Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin)
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech
© Dieter Hartwig
How does the audience’s experience change? For you, the strongest and best media for effecting that change is the actor’s body, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. If the actor is just as a symbol, that role could be performed by a cup or anything.

Watching Who Knows We Are Not Injured Like the Others? I got the impression that you were putting even more of a load than ever before on the actors’ bodies. As a result, I felt that the strength of what was communicated to the audience through the medium of the actor’s body was stronger than ever. To create that physical presence, have you changed the way you work in rehearsals?
In a talk session we had with Tim Etchells (leader of Britain’s progressive theater company Forced Entertainment) at a recent open rehearsal, there was something that the interpreter suggested as an effective way to explain it in English. That was that the audience doesn’t “perceive” things that are on the stage, they “conceive” them. It was a tremendous surprise to realize how these two words could be juxtaposed. The Japanese word I had been using until then in our rehearsals was jusei suru (conceive in the sense of being impregnated). You impregnate words and space in the audience. You create something that will be born in the audience. So, in the rehearsals for this latest work I had been repeatedly saying things like, “That hasn’t made it to the level of impregnation,” or “That didn’t reach,” or “It hasn’t conceived,” or “This time it was impregnated.”
 I thought it was amazing that there was this word “conceive” in English that expressed exactly what I was trying to say, as if they had seen right through me from the start (laughs).

In that power to cause a change the audience, I definitely feel anew potential for theater. From a different perspective, you could also say that without that kind of strength it is becoming hard to maintain a unique quality to theater that other media can’t offer.
That’s true. In the end, theater is a medium that is not well suited for “representation.” For example, when an actor is lying on the floor and supposed to be dead, you can still see the rise and fall of their breathing in the stomach area (laughs). But it can’t be helped, because until just a minute ago that actor was engaged in a violent life-or-death fight scene. And if the director makes it worse by saying, “Don’t let your stomach move!” that is seen as the negative side of theater, isn’t it?
 But, it shouldn’t be that way. For example, if you are representing death, you at once have the material aspect of the actor’s body in front of you and the representation of “this person is dead” both existing at the same time. And, although it is not representational, the potential to use these two to be used in compliment to create an effect is what distinguishes theater as an art form. So, I believe that, “Don’t let your stomach move” is not the kind of direction that should be done in theater. It is an art where you can create the presence of a person lying dead even if there isn’t actually an actor lying there playing dead. If you don’t use it in that way, you will not be able to bring out the full potential of theater.

How is it possible to do that with just the physical presence of the actors, without relying on the narrative “story”?
It is best when you can achieve the feeling that such “story,” or situation or feelings—in other words the representation—comes to the actor at the very end. The impact will be weak if the actor is immersed in those elements from the beginning.
 In short, if the things like the feelings involved in the actor’s role are made the focus of the performance, it becomes a personal performance. What I am concerned with is not that kind of personal performance but what you could call the “public” aspect of performance, which is the aspect of performance that implants something in the audience. Recently, I am thinking first and foremost about how to integrate the meaning of the word “public” on the creative level, so it is realized in the performance. Because that is something that we have to think about—the social realities and the directions the world is moving. And, in my eyes, for a work to be “public” means that it is a strong work. I think we can say with certainty that doing theater as something public is a consciousness we have clearly been lacking in. Doing theater as a public art shouldn’t mean that we have to focus on social themes, or that we can’t do overly experimental things. On the contrary, it is perfectly acceptable to do things that involve highly individualistic concerns or obsessions. The measure of whether a work is “public” or not should be how powerfully it is realize, or whether it is being realized at a high level or not. This is the kind of thing I want to concern myself with now.

When you say “public” in Japan, we tend to associate it with the highest common denominator, and unfortunately leads to conclusions like, “Since you are using public funding, you should present something that everyone can understand.”
That is the worst kind of trap to get caught in. So, we have to fight against that kind of entrapment. And, toward that end, the only thing I do is to try to create works that are so compelling and so convincing that people will have to say, “This is truly public.”
 To do that, it is necessary to spend a lot of time in the creation of each work and then bring the works to full maturation through repeated performances over a significant period of time. That is why I want the theaters and producers to provide us with the kinds of conditions that enable us to create truly public works. Or, the other possibility is for us to engage in theatrical activities in a way that allows us to secure those conditions by ourselves. In either case, the most practical way for us to achieve those conditions at this point is to continue our activities overseas.
 
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