of the Fifth Generation and the Latest Trend
The fourth-generation leaders during the 1990s included two who had a significant
influence on the following generation. These were Keralino Sandorovich (Japanese
playwright and director) of Nylon 100°C, a troupe that adopted a wide range
of materials to develop its comedy with a serious side, and MATSUO Suzuki (playwright,
director, and actor) of Otona-keikaku company, who was the most highly rated talent
since NODA Hideki.
The presently active leaders of the fifth-generation small theater scene include
NAGATSUKA Keishi, KIDA Tsuyoshi, MURAKAMI Hiroki , MATSUMURA Takeshi , and CHIBA
Masako. Born from the late 1960s to the 1970s, these talented people are often
referred to as the 'Matsuo children' and 'Kera (short for Keralino) children'.
One common factor in this fifth generation is that they have very little of the
collective group quality that was a formative element in earlier small theater.
Japanese small theater had been characterized by the exploration of distinctive
styles within the group activities carried on by the various exclusive ways, and
by their expansion of the possibilities of performing arts for the small theater
as a whole. On the other hand, however, that collective group quality also meant
that almost all of these companies, although with some exceptions, had no choice
but to disband in order for their members to progress beyond the amateur level.
The times changed, however, and growing numbers of young companies appeared that
did not depend on this kind of collective group quality and that were not differentiated
by any major differences in performance style. In recent years, therefore, there
have been many activities on the small theater scene that have not been restricted
by the troupe framework, such as specially produced performances and ensemble
activities by artists who feel compatible with each other.
One trend in the new generation that must be noted is the rise of regional theater.
Where the small theater scene had been overwhelmingly concentrated in Tokyo, a
shift started to take place from the late 1990s. A series of new playwrights emerged
in Osaka and Kyoto and gave a fresh impact on theater scene.
Various background factors from the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s led to
this happening. For example, many theaters that opened in the Tokyo metropolitan
area organized programs of specially produced performances that highlighted the
talented small theater members who were popular among young audiences. Creators
and producers of small theater who disbanded their companies also formed production
companies that ended up being involved in producing many of the performances of
Major roles in this were played by the Ogimachi Museum Square (closed in 2003),
a theater that served as a base for small theater in Osaka, and the Itami Ai Hall,
a public theater established by Itami City in Hyogo Prefecture. Both of these
theaters concentrated on supporting young artists, and the OMS Drama Award, established
in 1994, encouraged the development of playwrights. Winners of this award include
MATSUDA Masataka, SUZUE Toshirª, IWASAKI Masahiro, and TSUCHIDA Hideo. MATSUDA
and SUZUE went on almost immediately to win the Kishida Kunio Drama Award, which
is the door to success for Japanese playwrights. The tendency for the regional
theatrical scene to be energized was also stimulated by the construction of many
public theaters throughout Japan during the 1990s. New talent has already emerged
and achieved nationwide recognition, although the link with local regional theater
has been maintained as a base for these activities.
Two other new movements in the small theater scene are the great rise in popularity
of workshops and the appearance of open auditions in small theater. The workshop
boom occurred in large part because new needs emerged that Japanese society had
not previously experienced. As a result, for instance, education programs were
started at the public theaters constructed throughout Japan, and a movement began
to put stage performance skills to use in children's education. Small theater
directors were provided with a place to use their skills outside the creation
of a theatrical performance, and this represents an enormous change that will
no doubt influence the theater environment of the future.
Small theater started holding open auditions because the fall in real estate prices
due to the collapse of Japan's economic bubble resulted in a rapidly growing number
of vacant buildings and other such unused facilities in city centers. Many small
theaters that rent such spaces can today be found throughout cities, providing
bases for amateur theatrical activity. It will be very interesting to see how
the small theater movement will reflect these changes in the creative and performing
environments ten years from now.