The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Playwrights' Center of Minneapolis, encouraging US-Japan theater exchange as a resource supporting the development of playwrights
The Playwrights' Center
The Playwrights' Center
PWC’s office workstation
The Playwrights' Center
Backstage of the Waring Jones Theater, The Playwrights’s Center

*11   High degree of considering the whole context in which a part exists or a word spoken.
Please share additional insights regarding the difference between the Japanese playwrights’ experiences in the U.S. and the American playwrights’ experiences in Japan.
    When the Japanese playwrights work in the PWC Labs, since they can read English, they follow word by word and participate in the collaboration more fully as a result. Also, from the PWC perspective, because we are so used to playwrights being involved in the word by word, it fits very well into our process. Thus, I think that we are doing superior work in regards to the translation from Japanese into English than from English into Japanese. In fact, although there’s been some issue about letting the American director have some interpretive possibility in the room, the U.S.-Japan collaboration in the PWC Lab has been mostly very smooth and comfortable.
    Unlike in Japan, it’s a very segregated process (for a script to go on to a full production) in the U.S. There’s a playwright who lives in one place, and there’s a director who lives in another place, and there’s a theater that exist in another place, and they all come together to make a play. It’s not like Japan, where it seems to me that the playwright and director is one person, they have a company, they produce their own work, so everything exists in the same place. My sense is that the result of it is that each company has their own aesthetic, and they’re kind of known for doing work a particular way. So, what happens when you send a play over to Japan, is that it gets pulled into that aesthetic to a certain degree, and that is both challenging and interesting and sometimes problematic to the writer. Whereas the challenges or frustration for the Japanese writer when they come here, is that they have to get over “look, I’m the writer, I’m the director and the producer.”

Please talk about the Lab’s impact on theatrical scripts. For example, “Vengeance Can Wait (original title: Boryoku to Taiki)” by Yukiko Motoya, was first develop at the PlayLabs in July 2006, then returned to Minneapolis in the fall of 2007 for the second workshop and received another public reading at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. A playwright affiliated with Theater Mu, an Asian American theater company based in Minneapolis, attended the staged-reading, became very interested in the play and organized another public staged reading in February 2008 with the Theater Mu actors. Finally, as we talk now at the end of April 2008, “Vengeance Can Wait” is presented at PS122 in NYC as a full production. After much work in different Labs and staged readings, is “Vengeance…” a new play?
    I do think that “Vengeance Can Wait” is a new play and I love that about the translation. This is my own intellectual view point about translation, there is no such thing as word for word translation that makes any sense. I know that there are other people in the field and also other Japanese artists who would agree with me, but I think that a lot of English translation of Japanese plays has just been not good. It tried to be word for word, but then doesn’t make any sense in an American context and the result is that the work isn’t very theatrical. What we’ve done with these plays is we tried to be absolutely true to the spirit of the text, and in many cases, the word for word of the text, but we’ve also tried to create plays that are going to feel theatrical to an American audience.
    I feel like that “Vengeance Can Wait” is an example of a just brilliantly translated script in that it’s true to the original, and it’s also something totally different. Even the phenomena of the brother – sister relationship in the context of “Imoto-moe” that the Vengeance is based in, that kind of social phenomena doesn’t exist here. So, because it doesn’t exist, the play itself cannot be entirely true to the script. The American creative team had to bring some other element, “Daddy” in this case, to the script. It’s taken an enormous amount of time to find the connection, but I think we had some real success in finding our way.
    In every process we have learned more about how to do it better and we still struggle with some issues, for example, “Do we keep the Japanese names for performances in English?”, or “Are these plays only for Asian American actors or can a group of white actors or an ethnically mixed cast do these plays?” I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answers to any of those questions. As Japan is a high-context (*11) culture, I think it’s about context. I think that you have to figure out what your own context is, figure out how you want to perform the play. “Vengeance…” presented at PS 122 in New York City now is with all Asian American actors, and it’s a whole different experience from PWC’s staged-reading. Yukiko told us specifically that it does not matter whether “Vengeance…” should be performed by all Asian American cast or not.

Are you considering working with other countries on a similar playwrights exchange projects in the future?
    We have two more Japanese playwrights this year and we’re going to finish the playwrights exchange project with Japan. I’d love to keep some connection – maybe we do one playwright every year, or every other year, because there are such relationship and trust among the project partners. On a selfish level, I love Japanese culture and I love the work that comes out of Japan. I’m just starting conversations with other people to look at who might be the next, where else we might go, and I’ve been very careful. We’ve been very lucky on this project. The key with these kinds of projects is that there has to be such commitments on both ends. These things would not have happened without Kyoko Yoshida and the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network’s work, mediating between both sides and both cultures. I’m very interested in finding a project where I have the kind of expertise that we have in this project, and that’s not easy to find.
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