The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba
Mamagoto Swing By
(Mar. 2010 at Komaba Agora Theater)
Swing By
Swing By
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
In both Our Planet and in Swing By, which premiered in March this year, you are telling stories of life-sized people but also adding much larger, more universal, framework of time and expansiveness in which to treat the life and death of human beings. As I watched that, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town came to mind, and I felt that you ad created a very new version of Wilder’s work.
I am very happy if you felt that way. Wilder has had a very big influence on me, but in fact I didn’t really begin to read Wilder in earnest until after I began doing my own plays. One of the big reasons was that someone who saw Ayumi said to me that it was as if watching a new work by Wilder.
 I had been interested to read Wilder before that, so I read Our Town and found that here was a playwright that had already been doing the kinds of things I was trying to do. Of course, he had done it in much more skillful methods than me. But, I found that I had a lot in common with Wilder, in the way he created very common characters and portrayed them in ways that anyone could identify with, and also in the way that he didn’t use any specific sets or props and forced the audience to use their imagination to fill in the scenes. Also, the use of a single common person placed in the context of great historical events and large time scale are all there in Our Town and his other works. That discovery started me reading the works of Wilder.
Our Planet began with my idea that if Wilder were writing today, he might write a play juxtaposing a person’s life with a planet rather than a town. Compared to Wilder’s day, you might say that thinking in terms of the Earth as a planet is more familiar to us today. For example, we find out immediately when a war breaks out on the other side of the world today, and we feel the effects of the US on Japan’s economy and, thanks in part to the internet, it has become natural for us to think of things on s global (planet) scale.

I would like to go back now and ask you about when you first got involved in theater. I have heard that your first influence was Koki Mitani.
Yes. I joined our high school’s theater club thinking that I wanted to do theater, and Koki Mitani was the playwright that I wanted to emulate. So, I was most interested in pursuing situation comedy. I was living in Aichi Pref. (Ichinomiya city) at the time, so I rarely had a chance to see any actual plays. But I was able to watch television dramas and other video performances and read books with commentary about the plays.

The play Do-Domino that you wrote for a 2003 production by the theater company Baumkuchen when you were at university won the “2nd Sendai Theater Town Drama Award” in 2004. The “Drama Doctor” that instructed the rewriting of the winning script for that production was Oriza Hirata. I saw Do-Domino at that time and found it to be a comedy of chained errors employing a bizarre concept. It used the device of falling dominoes involving thousands of pieces, and in addition to the story line in which a number of human relationships are destroyed in a chain of events, in the end the dominoes actually fall as well. At that time, I found it to be a very well-made work, perhaps with the influence of Koki Mitani.
I’m impressed that you remembered that (laughs). You are correct. When I came to Tokyo to attend university, I began to see performances of works like Keralino Sandorovich’s nonsense comedy and situations set like theater of the absurd, and my own writing began to change from around that time.

After graduating from university you worked for a while at a television production company and then returned to the theater and from 2006 began to write and direct for the company “toi” led by the actress Miyuki Kurokawa.
At first my intention was to get a job to support myself while continuing to be involved in theater. But the work at the production company was so demanding that I had no time whatsoever for writing plays. So I quit the job after six months (laughs). After quitting my job I did a few short works with Baumkuchen. It was then that I got a request from Kurokawa-san saying that she wanted to do something in the manner of a drama reading.

After that, in 2007, you joined the directing department of the company Seinendan. How did that come about?
After the breakup of Baumkuchen, I didn’t have enough confidence in my methodology or style as a writer to start my own company. But I needed to create a situation where I could do my own works. It was just at that time that I happened to learn about auditions for Seinendan.
 From around the time I won the Sendai Award, I had been watching the plays of Seinendan and its linked companies and found them extremely interesting. I also thought they had amazing actors. I used the internet to research Oriza-san’s writings and theories on theater, and that made me decide that I definitely wanted to audition to join the company. So it wasn’t my connection with Oriza-san from the Drama Doctor program but the usual front-door audition route that got me into Seinendan where I am today.

What has been good about being in Seinendan?
First is being close to people who want to do the same kind of theater as I do. The Seinendan directing department has people who are on the cutting edge of the small-theater scene dong a variety of experimental works, and if I ask them they let me watch their rehearsals, and they will also come to watch mine [and give advice]. Also, Seinendan has outstanding actors, so just being in that environment makes you more serious and intent. What might take you three years to learn on your own can be absorbed a year in that kind of environment. It makes for very full, high-quality time, and that is what I appreciate most valuable about being there. Also, it is very reassuring in my work to know that I can use the Komaba Agora Theater and the rehearsal studios.

In the last few years a number of talented young people like Shiro Maeda, Shu Matsui and Junnosuke Tada have come out of the Seinendan directing department. Is that because Seinendan is such a good environment for nurturing young talent?
Rather than the nurturing environment, I think it is that Seinendan gives them a place where they can work productively. By providing a place where it is easy for people who want to do something but lack the space or don’t have enough people around them to work with productively, Seinendan is able to support these people [indirectly]. Whether or not the quality of the works produced improves depends eventually the efforts of the individual. The real value of being at Seinendan I believe is that it provides you with a stimulating working environment and the doors [of opportunity] are always open.

At toi you did a number of short and longer works. Was it from that time that your writing style began to change?
When I had Do-Domino rewritten for me [by Oriza Hirata] I was beginning to feel my limitations regarding situation comedy. I began to think that no matter how hard I tried it would be difficult to go beyond what Mitani-san was doing. In 2007, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Geki Oh” (Theater King) event of a series of short plays organized at Nagakute town Bunkano Ie in Aichi Prefecture. For that I decided to try writing in a different style that employed a device of repeated time loops in a one-person play I titled of Hanpuku Katsu Renzoku (repetition and continuation), and that play won the Geki Oh [champion] award.
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