The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Bangkok Theatre Network An organization sparked by a Thai version of Akaoni
Bangkok Theatre Network An organization sparked by a Thai version of Akaoni
This work premiered in 1996 as a NODA MAP production. The following year the Japan Foundation’s Asian Performing Arts Exchange and Research Program was launched with the purpose of bringing together Asian and Japanese theater people to create joint productions. In 1997, as the first project of this program (organized in cooperation with the Setagaya Public Theatre), Hideki Noda held a workshop with Thai actors from Bangkok and to create and perform a Thai version of Akaoni. After that this Thai version was performed in Bangkok in 1998 and re-produced in Tokyo in 1999. In 2003 an English version performed by British actors and staff was presented. In 2004 the Japanese, English and Thai versions were presented in successive performances in Tokyo, winning that year’s Asahi Performing Arts Awards Grand Prix.
A strange person arrives on the shore in a boat and is mistaken for a cannibal “Akaoni” by the people of the village. It is discriminated against and eventually sentenced to be executed. But a trio consisting of “The Woman,” her dimwit brother Tombi and the liar Mizukane learn that the Akaoni doesn’t eat humans but only eats flowers and came to their shore in search of a utopia. Then they try to save Akaoni ….

See also “Artist Datebase” (Hideki Noda)
See also “Play of the Month” (Akaoni)
Would you tell us about the projects the company now has in progress?
There are so many, it makes me tired just thinking about them all (laughs). For example we have the production of Akaoni that we are preparing to take to Japan for performances. This work is being created under the theme of the “Art of Peace.” We hope that through this work we can make some contribution to easing the ethnic strife currently afflicting the southern region of our country. In it we use music from three of the southern provinces, Narathiwart, Pattani and Yala. The play’s underlying subject of discrimination toward the “akaoni” as a being that is different can be associated in a way with the current conflicts between the Muslim and Buddhist groups in the south.
 In another project we are working with refugees from Myanmar. We also have a project dealing with the problem of domestic violence through theater, with workshops and performances.

In the Myanmar refugee project do you just present plays, or do you have the refugees involved in acting roles in the plays?
Yes. We have the Myanmar refugees perform the plays themselves, and in the domestic violence project we have victims of this violence perform in the plays while searching for answers to the questions of why people can’t find happiness within the family environment and why the fathers turn to violence. By having these people playing the roles and working together with us in creating the plays provided opportunities for direct and meaningful discussion and for us to hear their first-hand experiences with domestic violence. Then I gather these stories and work them together into a play scenario for performance.

Why do you prefer to have them actually become actors in these plays rather than just having them watch plays?
Having them perform in the plays is similar to interviewing them. Rather than interviewing them verbally, however, we interview them through action. Also by actually acting out the parts themselves, they learn what kinds of actions communicate their message to a third person. Through the discussions and consultations that occur during the creative process for a play, they come to understand what cooperation means and what understanding the other person involves. Through these plays, the people involved are able to get the public to understand them and listen to what they have to say. In the end, they also gain confidence and pride in themselves. It also helps release stress that has built up within them. Through theater they look more deeply into themselves and in the process they can learn a variety of things.
 During the creative process, we come in and lend our hand in making the their stories into more artistic theatrical works. From their standpoint, seeing their life stories take the form of impressive dramas becomes another source of confidence in themselves. Meanwhile, from the standpoint of the audience, it becomes an opportunity to learn about and understand these people.

I would like to ask you about the 1997 Thai version of Akaoni. This production was the first to be developed under the Japan Foundation’s Asian Performing Arts Exchange and Research Program, which was initiated with the purpose of bringing together Asian and Japanese theater people to create joint productions. The production was the product of workshops held with Hideki Noda and Thai actors and was performed at the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, which some consider a landmark event for contemporary Thai theater. You were one of the actors who performed in that Akaoni production. Can you tell us what it was like working with Hideki Noda?
When I met Mr. Noda, my first impression was that of a somewhat distant person who was difficult to approach. As I actually got to know him I found that this was not true at all, but that was a natural first impression because, from the standpoint of Thai actors like myself, we looked at Mr. Noda as a very important director in the theater world. In general, for Thai actors, the director is a person of authority and we tend to treat them with an excessive amount of deference and even fear. And it was the same with Mr. Noda at first. However, I saw it as a great opportunity to work with someone like him, so I applied for the project. I ended up working with him through two full days of workshops, and during that amount of time you get a pretty good idea of the other person’s character. It was an opportunity to learn a lot from Mr. Noda, and for example, even if I were not chosen it would have been a chance to begin a lasting relationship. It was not just a case of being chosen through an audition. Watching Mr. Noda do the workshop was an experience that convinced me that he and I are people who think in very similar ways.
 As the word “play” implies, Thai actors never forget to enjoy themselves in their work, even though working on a production is a job. We believe that a performance is something that we should enjoy acting in, and we don’t like to look at productions simply as jobs that must be done. At first, we were disturbed by the fact that the Japanese staff couldn’t comprehend this attitude of ours. When the Japanese do a play, they work seriously in rehearsals and are very disciplined about being on time and obeying the rules of conduct. But that is not the case with Thai actors. Often we aren’t on time and we haven’t learned our lines completely. We always approach a play with a spirit of fun. And sometimes we play around too much, which can be a problem, too (laughs).
 However, because Mr. Noda is a very intelligent person, he watched how we worked and tried to understand us and our approach. One of the first things he asked me was what is the biggest problem I have when working with Thai actors. I answered that it is their lack of responsibility regarding their work. We also tend not to think well of people who let themselves get too serious about their work. That is something that foreigners have to understand when working with Thai people.
 That might be the reason why Mr. Noda would play some game with us Thai actors, football or basketball or some traditional Japanese game, before we began each workshop. I was very much impressed by that kind of understanding Mr. Noda had about how to have real exchange with people.

Have you worked with directors from other countries?
Yes. I have worked with directors of the West and have found that differences of opinion occur rather often. For example, there are aesthetic differences concerning the arts. I have found that Germans tend to be very strict about abiding by rules and once a script is written they never seem to have the flexibility to change it. I feel that the arts are different from science. Art is a matter of the actor’s feelings at any given moment, and the weather and the environment, so many elements are involved and that leaves the possibility for infinite changes and variables. As for American directors, my experience is that they are too concerned with technology and frameworks. On the other hand, they tend to place less importance on the contents of the script. I personally place importance on physical expression through body movement, and that sometimes causes conflict of opinions. As for Japanese theater people, I feel that their tendency is to want to reach a high level of perfection in a work.
 In contrast, Thai actors and directors, as is probably true with most Asian theater, we prefer exaggerated acting on stage. This is because the audience feels that exaggerated acting is more real and they find it more appealing. And because of this common way of thinking, I have always enjoyed working with people of places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I feel a special affinity when working with people of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. When we did a joint production with people from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, everyone was talking in their own language, without using any English at all. Of course, we had interpreters when necessary but I found that to an amazing degree there are words that we can all understand despite our ethnic differences.
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