The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Mansai Nomura
Mansai Nomura
Born in 1966, the Kyogen actor Mansai Nomura is a son of the Kyogen actor Mansaku Nomura, who has been designated and Important Living Cultural Entity (“Living National Treasure”) by the Japanese government. He made his stage debut in 1970 in Utsubozaru. In addition to performing with the “Mansaku no Kai” Kyogen company, Mansai has also led the “Gozaru no Kai” since 1987 which presents biannual productions of “more familiar and easier to appreciate Kyogen.” He works to spread the art and appreciation of Kyogen by performing in halls and taking productions to festivals in Japan and overseas. At the same time he has worked to encourage a new fusion of traditional Japanese arts and contemporary theater through direction of highly acclaimed works like Yabu no Naka (In a Grove), Rashomon, Machigai no Kyogen, Atsushi – Sangetsuki, Meijinden and Kuninusubito. In 1994 he studied in the UK as the Agency for Cultural Affairs Overseas Study Program for Artist. As an actor he is active in television dramas, movies and as a stage actor he has performed in Jonathan Kent’s Hamlet and Yukio Ninagawa’s Oedipus Rex. Since 2002 he has served as artistic director of the Setagaya Public Theatre. In 2006 he won the Kinokuniya Drama Award for direction and composition of Atsushi – Sangetsuki, Meijinden.

Written by Shoichiro Kawai, directed by Mansai Nomura, premiere: 2007

This play is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. With the main character, the infamous Akusaburo (=Richard III) (played by Mansai Nomura) who plots murders in order to claim the throne, this play tells of the battles between the White Rose and Red Rose clans during the War of the Roses. Staged in a style different to some degree from Kyogen and cast with contemporary theater actors as well as Kyogen actors, this work represents an attempt to define a new type of contemporary theater.
Photo: Katsu Miyauchi
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
A glimpse of the total theater that Mansai Nomura envisions as a Kyogen actor alive in the contemporary world
Born into a family of Kyogen actors and having trained in the traditional arts since a young age, Mansai Nomura has also studied abroad and is now part of a new generation of Kyogen actors with the knowledge and concepts of their traditional and the desire to attempt new ways to make that tradition live in the present day. In 2002, he accepted the position of artistic director of the Setagaya Public Theatre and is now in the fifth year of his program to present a fusion of traditional and contemporary theater. With productions such as a Japanese-language adaptation of Richard III titled Kuninusubito now marking a new starting point in his career, we talked to Mansai about his “total theater.”
(Interviewed by Kazumi Narabe, July 8, 2007)

I believe that you must be the first artist from the traditional arts to become artistic director of a public theater. What has been the reaction of the people around you?
Concerning my relationship with the Setagaya Public Theatre, it is a theater that has held Kyogen performances and workshops ever since it opened, so they were a familiar theater for me and I also felt an affinity for a lot of the theater’s other programs, so I think there was a mutual familiarity on both sides. Of course there was surely some concern about working with people from a different art world, but I feel that the sense of expectation about what we could do was even greater.

You are now in your fifth year as artistic director. At the start of your term three official principles of artistic policy were announced (refer to “Nomura’s inaugural address” on page 4), including “Community relevance, Contemporary relevance and Universality,” “Fusion of Traditional and Contemporary Theater” and “Comprehensive performing arts - Total Theater.” Have there been any changes in those principles in the five years since?
These were the principles of the Setagaya Public Theatre and also my own personal principles, so nothing has changed regarding them. It is the fate of someone like me born into a traditional arts family to be always concerned with the “Fusion of Traditional and Contemporary Theater,” and I believe that it is also relevant when I think about what it means to be “public” in my role as the artistic director of a public theater. In other words, being public means having both a viewpoint that reflects the contemporary world we live in and being able to reflect a universal viewpoint that transcends the contemporary. And, isn’t this in fact the same attitude that someone involved in the traditional arts must have?
This is the policy I follow in my activities outside of traditional Kyogen performance, and among these, our Machigai no Kyogen (“Kyogen of Errors”) that was based on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors has been performed not only in Japan but in the U.S. and London. Apparently in London the audiences were a bit shocked to see a Kyogen style production of Shakespeare, but it was very well received in America.
Since I became artistic director at Setagaya Public Theatre, we have done a production titled Atsushi – Sangetsuki Meijin-den using only Kyogen actors which is based on novels by Atsushi Nakajima and adapted to include elements of the world of the author’s novels set against a backdrop of his life. And, in our current production of Kuninusubito, which is an adaptation of Richard III, I have used not only Kyogen actors but also Japanese New Theater actors like Kayoko Shiraishi and a variety of other actors and performers known for their different physical styles of acting.
Actually, we have been making changes continuously in the production since it opened. I play Richard III, named Akusaburo in the Japanese adaptation, and I also direct the play, which means that it is taking some time for me to be able to see the play from the audience perspective. This is because in Kyogen there is no director and the performing style is one in which you face the audience and communicate with them to shape your performance and staging, and I wanted to use that style of actor-audience relationship in this production of Kuninusubito. When creating a theater work, it can be very important to have the ability to work impulsively and intuitively, but at the same time I feel that it is necessary to have the time to let it mature through interaction with the audience.

Your Machigai no Kyogen that premiered six years ago and the current Kuninusubito are both based on Shakespeare plays. Is there something in you that is drawing closer to Shakespeare or are you drawing Shakespeare into Kyogen theater? Also, I would like to know if you feel any difference between your approach six years ago and today.
I would like to think that I am getting closer to Shakespeare. When I did Machigai no Kyogen it was an experiment and I didn’t know at first how well Shakespeare and Kyogen would go together. We did it only with Kyogen actors and I staged it in the way it would be approach from a Kyogen standpoint, but I didn’t know at first if it was successful from a Shakespeare standpoint until I began looking at it from that perspective and got the feeling that I was getting closer to Shakespeare.
In the case of Kuninusubito, I was looking at Shakespeare not only from the standpoint of Kyogen but also through a variety of other filters. I believe that the result involved a birth of such originality that you can’t really say what the prime perspective or style is. Since it is being directed by myself, as a Kyogen artist, there are certainly elements that represent a Kyogen approach to a Shakespeare work, but as I mentioned earlier, the roles of Ms. Shiraishi and a variety of veteran New Theater and Small Theater actors as well as young actors and even performers, all with different styles, and the fact that we use Kabuki musical accompaniment, I believe this has a production that transcends all former categories to become a completely new work.
However, due to that very fact, it is hard to decide what context to fit it in, what the X and Y axes are. I guess I just have to believe that it is all within myself (laughs). Of course, when I did [Machigai no Kyogen] as a Kyogen production, I think everyone expected that they had to do it as Kyogen, but this time that was not the case, as I sent it out on all kinds of vectors and finally we seemed to come up with X and Y axes that everyone could share.

What was the most important thing you focused on in order to create that common context that all the actors could share?
They say that Richard III is a brutally tragic play, but as I read it, I didn’t feel that. There is a lot of play on words and there are funny situations in it, so I don’t understand why the British can’t laugh at them. According to the Shakespeare scholar Shoichiro Kawai who did the Japanese adaptation into Kuninusubito for us, the final monologue in Richard III is written with a consciousness of the post-Renaissance “modern self,” which made me think that such an interpretation is a factor along with the “realism” and furthermore the “naturalism” of British theatre that keeps the British from finding laughter in Richard III.
So, I decided to approach this odd side of Richard III using the traditional Japanese situation-comedy theater form of Kyogen. However, I knew that only accentuating the funny side of the play, people would come away with little more than a feeling, “That was fun.” So, in order to have contemporary actors perform this play you have to delve deeply into the characters’ souls (psychological development), but if you pursue this aspect too much you run the risk of causing the opposite reaction of “How dark, heavy and cruel.” A performance like that leaves no space for audience to enter the play and it will not be interesting for them at all. So, I believe that you have to first of all create scenes where you can interact and communicate with the audience and then bring in the modern self to deepen the play in ways that the comedy cannot and achieve a good balance of the two.
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