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Artist Interview
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba
toi 4th production
Yonshoku no Iroenpitsu ga ArebaAyumi (short works)

(Jan. 2009 at Theatre Tram)
Ayumi (short version)
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
Until now, plays based on scripts and music theater have been completely separate genre with a different set of actors. But in Our Planet you had contemporary [script] theater actors performing rap. How do you make the rap?
I thought that there must be a unique kind of rap that could originate from actors as opposed to singers. If there is a rhythm playing but the person doing the rap ignores that beat, it becomes [an actor’s] lines, and if they do it in time with the beat it becomes rap music. If it is a skilled actor, they should be able to negotiate between the two in a mix that defies limitation to either category. If they have the ability to change the pause or quicken it at will, they should be able to go with the rhythm or against it freely. So, we began by having the actors do a workshop to learn about rap and, as I expected, they were very quick to master it.

Didn’t the actors have any qualms about doing rap?
For Our Planet we chose a few theme [rap] songs and did a workshop for about a week and most of them were able to master it. As with acting, the individuality of each actor comes out in the performing style. When you make actors who have never done any rap or singing do this kind of training, you find that each actor will perform with their own unique rhythm. These are rhythms that I would never have anticipated, and that’s what is so interesting.

Is it you that teaches them how to do rap?
I teach them the basic rules of the rap I have in mind, but after that I leave it up to them. Once they learn to play with the art, they make progress very quickly.

Compared to rappers from the music world, your actors definitely rap in a way that you can hear the words and they become the lines of actors in a play.
Yes, they do. And to ensure that they function in the course of the play, I will give director instructions such as, “Make it a bit clearer as lines in the play,” or, “Make it a bit more musical.”

The way you write the script must be quite different for a “rap musical” like Our Planet.
It is not as if I have a specific methodology for this. In Our Planet we had eight actors speaking their lines all at once to the same rhythm, so the result was that you lost track of who was saying what at any one point. In order to make it clearer, I borrowed a lot from the writing method of Tengai Amano of Shonen Ohjakan to clarify the timing of rap A would end and rap B would start at the same instant.

The lines themselves are also different from ordinary conversation.
The are, because they are written by me as I sang (laughs). I write the rap as rap, keeping to a rhythm and singing as I compose the words.

In the case of works like Hyperlin-kun, where the lines sound like reading from a dictionary and they are passed from one actor to the next, like surfing from one link to the next on the internet, it seems as if they are composed so that it doesn’t matter which of the actors takes the next line. In fact, how are the lines composed?
With Hyperlin-kun, I actually had the actors compose their own lines. The order in which the actors would deliver their lines was decided beforehand, and I would tell each actor something like, “At this point, you will talk about this portion of scientific history in rap form.” If I were to write all the rap, we would lose all the benefit of having ten different actors and all of it would end up being in the same rhythm, mine. So, we did a couple of weeks of rap workshops at the beginning and after they became able to compose rap to some degree, I had them write their own rap parts. When they came back with their results and I listened to them, I might say something like, “The words in this part don’t sound good, could you clean them up a bit?” Or, “That’s too straightforward, could you have some expression that is more interesting?” And then, I fit those results together.

How about with Our Planet?
With Our Planet, it was a longer play and I thought it would be OK to unify it all with my own rhythm, so I wrote all of it myself and then put it together like in a musical score. When the actors were given the script I told them which parts were to be done in rap and how I wanted it to be recited or sung. I gave them examples by performing it myself and having them learn it that way.

With Ayumi was the movement and who would deliver which lines all decided precisely from the start?
With Ayumi I first wrote a script as a lively conversation between two girls and then in the rehearsal stage I had the actresses walk around and I gradually decided the shifting points and who would deliver which part at which point. If I didn’t actually see them walking on the rehearsal stage, I wouldn’t be able to decide in the writing stage where to have someone stop and deliver her lines. In the 10-actress version and in the three-actress version I divided the parts in that way between the ten or three actresses respectively.

Watching it, it was hard to know who would speak which part next. Wasn’t it difficult for the actresses to remember?
I did hear some mumblings about how difficult it was to remember the order and the lines. They said it was hard to keep track of what part they were supposed to be playing, where they were supposed to be at any one time and who they were supposed to be talking to. I did assign then the specific roles and order of delivery and then left it up to them to learn it as we rehearsed [and revised it] in the studio.

Does that mean that the original text was different from the final play script that you had to work from for the actual performance after the work-up in the rehearsal stage?
In the cases of Hanpuku Katsu Renzoku and Ayumi, the words themselves did not change. But the assignment of who would speak at what point is something that can be followed physically by watching it but can not be followed in the script, so there is no way to know if it changed or not.

So, it would be quite difficult to do restaging of the plays some time later, wouldn’t it? In these works [with the shifting of roles] there is no concept of character development, and do the actors remember the movement?
Since I had them learning movements that had no relationship to any particular motive and almost no rationale whatsoever, it was quite difficult to learn at first. But when we had a restaging of the production, they seemed to remember most of the movement.
 Regarding character development, my belief in these works is rather that a particular actor should not let him/her self fall into any single character role. It is no good if an actor thinks only about his or her own role. In the case of the three-actress Ayumi version, it is structured in a way that each actress has to be watching the other two and thinking about what she has to do next. In other words, they have to have in their minds an image of the entire scene. That is also one of my deliberate aims, to put the actors in that kind of situation. If you can get them to the point where they are able to deliver their lines I that kind constant state of flux and tension, there is no room for them to doing any kind of superfluous “acting.”

Having won the Kishida Drama Award has surely broadened the potential scope of your activities. Will your theater methodology change in the future from what you are doing now?
Speaking honestly, I don’t feel that there is anything I have established within myself that could be called a methodology. Up until now, I have always been led by the desire to try new things each time and do things that other people haven’t done yet, and it has just been a process of one thing leading to the next without and real direction (laughs). In the course of it all, there might be some hint of a certain quality that runs through my works, or a certain atmosphere to them. It is not the case that I feel it is best not to be bound to any specific methodology, and I would be glad if I were to stumble on something that would make me say, “This is it!” But, on the other hand, I still have the feeling that I want to try a lot of different things.

What kinds of developments do you see lying in the future for Mamagoto?
Mamagoto only consists of myself and a few production people, it has no actors in fact. My working method is to take each work as a starting point from which to move in a slightly new direction each time, and there is no actor who has performed for me through this entire series of works. If my work produces actors who can walk and rap and deliver simultaneous, multi-directional lines, I feel that might open up new horizons and might lead to a fixed methodology.
 Calling ourselves a company even though we have no actors was not only an attempt to experiment with new methods but also because I felt that the stimulus from such actors could lead to the next developments, and also because I felt that I was at a stage where I had to think in terms of long-term experiments and accumulating results.
 
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