The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Sennojo Shigeyama
Sennojo Shigeyama
Sennojo Shigeyama is a Kyogen actor and director born in Kyoto in 1923 as the second son of the late Sensaku Shigeyama III. He was apprenticed under his grandfather, Sensaku Shigeyama II. He inherited the name Sennojo II in 1946. In 1948 he broke the Noh/Kyogen world taboo against working with artists from other arts genre and did radio dramas with other artists. He participated in the theater movement to revitalize Kabuki and other Japanese theater forms led by the director Tetsuji Takechi. He has performed in Kabuki, Shingeki (Modern Theater), films and TV dramas and earned a reputation as the Maverick of the Kyogen World. He has also directed revival productions of eliminated Kyogen pieces and new Kyogen plays, opera and Shingeki in his highly diversified activities. His son Akira and grandson Doji are also Kyogen actors.

Shigeyama Otofu Kyogen

3G Project experimental performance
“Commedia Dell’Arte and Kyogen”

Mar. 23, 2009 at Kyoto Art Center
Mar. 24, 2009 at Istituto Itariano di Cultura di Tokyo
3G Project
Sennojo Shigeyama (left), Akira Shigeyama (center), Alessandro Marchetti (right)
© mihoproject
* Akira Shigeyama
Kyogen actor. Born in Kyoto in 1952, he apprenticed in the Kyogen art under his grandfather, Sensaku III and his father, Sennojo. He leads the theater company Noho Gekidan with American Jonah Salz, a professor of Ryukoku University and has performed Becket and English Kyogen overseas as well. He devotes efforts to the staging of new Kyogen plays and reviving old plays no longer part of today’s Kyogen repertoire. He has also directed opera.
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Cross-over Kyogen master Sennojo Shigeyama’s quest for a new form of global comedy theater  
Cross-over Kyogen master Sennojo Shigeyama’s quest for a new form of global comedy theater  
The 85-year-old Kyogen artist Sennojo Shigeyama has set himself a task of creating a form of comedy that transcends cultural and linguistic borders. The effort he is involved in now is called the 3G (3 GREATS) PROJECT and brings together three artists from three different comedy traditions, Sennojo from Kyogen, Alessandro Marchetti of Italy’s Commedia Dell’Arte tradition and the Swiss clown Dimitri. Their aim is to give birth to a new type of global comedy for the 21st century that draws on both the Japanese Kyogen tradition that has been handed down since the Middle Ages and the European tradition of satirical comedy. The first full-fledged product of their collaborative effort has been staged internationally for the first time at the Sibiu Theater Festival in Romania in June 2009. Although Sennojo has always been a member of the traditional conservative world of Kyogen theater, he also staged Becket plays when he was young and has performed new contemporary Kyogen works and directed opera. In this interview we ask Sennojo about his latest activities in a career marked by new and innovative undertakings.
(Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe, cooperation: Miho Project Ltd.)

In the past you have gone beyond the bounds of your art of Kyogen. Now I hear that you are working with an Italian and a Swiss comedian to create a new kind of theater.
This project is actually an outgrowth of efforts by my son Akira [Shigeyama (*)]. Twenty-five years ago Akira took a year off from [Kyogen] performance responsibilities and went to Europe. From a base in Spain, he went around seeing all kinds of theater, old and new, and what especially caught his interest was the comedy theater called Commedia Dell’Arte performed mainly in northern Italy that has a very similar comic style to Kyogen. Akira went to performances of Commedia Dell’Arte numerous times and got to know the performers. From that time he got the idea that he would like to perform with them some day and he kept that idea simmering all these years. He also kept in touch with the performers. A few years ago I also went to visit their theater and studio in Switzerland and I did several Kyogen performances while I was there. At that time we performed on the same stage, but it was alternating performances of Commedia Dell’Arte and Kyogen, which was still far from what Akira was dreaming of.
 Now for the first time we are doing a collaboration where we perform together in the same work. Rather than saying that we found a point in common, I would say that we stuck together with a determination to create a production together. This is called the 3G Project. 3G stands for “3 Great Performers,” implying Alessandro Marchetti of Commedia Dell’Arte, the Swiss clown Dimitri and myself representing Kyogen, but I would say that it could actually mean “3 geegee” (meaning in Japanese “3 old men”). I am 85, and the other two are 78 and 73. I want to see us to work in a direction these three old men can create works and perform together on the same stage.
 But, that said, at our age the time we have left isn’t long (laughs), so those around us have been anxious to see it done quickly. As a result we did experimental performances at Verbania in Italy and then in March in Kyoto and Tokyo. In these performances, Dimitri wasn’t able to take part, but Akira prepared a Kyogen version (Japanese) of the comedy Three Tobacco Containers from the Commedia Dell’Arte repertoire and Akira and I performed it in old Kyogen style Japanese while Marchetti and his wife Luisella Sala performed in Italian. I would say a line in Kyogen style Japanese and Luisella would answer in Italian.
 From now on we three old men are going continue climbing this staircase, first in three steps then in five. It will by no means be a process of reviving old plays. We will surely be using old traditional devices and methods as our working base to create contemporary plays, and hopefully plays for the future. I’m sure that Marchetti and Dimitri are thinking the same thing. Because the audience is people of today. Our approach is to use a variety of styles and contemporary stage technology and know-how to create contemporary stages.

What is the meaning of initiating this “3G Project” at this time?
Kyogen is an art that has been handed down from about 550 years ago, and has been performed constantly down through these centuries. However, the Commedia Dell’Arte art was lost at one point and only revived through the efforts of Marchetti’s grandfather based on the remaining written records he was able to find. And Marchetti has carried on that revived tradition. Dimitri is one who has been working to open up new artistic areas based primarily on the circus clown tradition, and he is already recognized internationally as an artist. We speak different languages and come from different historical backgrounds and different societies, and these factors have naturally produced differences in our styles of stage performance. Nonetheless, theater is universal.
 Furthermore, unlike in the past, the world we live in today is one in many ways. We are able to fly anywhere around the world today, transmission waves spread information everywhere and even new influenzas spread globally. In such a world, if we form our own separate sect and do our own separate styles of theater, they will end up being performed only within the confines of our separate regions and ethnic groups, and eventually become narrower and narrower in scope with the passing of time. If theater is a universal art form, won’t the future be one in which where people of different backgrounds collaborate to create new types of theater? We want to try to work in that direction and spread that spirit while we’re still able to perform.
 Also, when you think about it, comedy is an area of theater that is well suited to collaboration. In all parts of the world, the scenarios of comedy are relatively simple and the number of characters involved in a comedy play relatively few. What’s more, the characters appearing in comedy are quite clear nature. There are men versus women and masters versus servants. For example, in Kyogen we have the common “Taro-kaja” character who appears as a servant of the lord (daimyo) of the local fiefdom. In this case the lord is always trying the servant Taro-kaja to do some kind of work and the Taro-kaja is always wants to slack off and be lazy. This situation is the same in Kyogen and traditional Italian comedy. In the case of a man vs. woman Kyogen, the husband is always lazy, a drinker and lecherous. It is the same in the West too. The wife, in contrast, is eloquent and resourceful. In Kyogen this is called the wawashii (noisy) woman. She chides the husband and tries to get him to work. I believe that this man-woman relationship, husband-wife relationship is universal in East and West, in olden times and today.
 Another common characteristic of the comedy theater of the East and West is that it deals with the lives of the common people. You don’t see great figures appearing in comedy and you also don’t find bad characters either. All the characters are good in nature. And there are no fools either. The clown is traditionally a character in which some weakness of human beings are exaggerated, but they are not fools. The daimyo lords as they appear in Kyogen are easily manipulated by their servants almost as if they were fools, but in fact they are acting politicians who have achieved their status through actual accomplishment as such. But all humans have some weaknesses. For example, they may be lacking in knowledge. Those are the qualities that are exaggerated to create characters in a comedy. There are many comedy plays built on this formula in both the Kyogen and Commedia Dell’Arte repertoires.
 Now we live in an IT world overflowing with information that makes it easier to get to know and understand each other, and this should surely make it easier than in the past to create things together.
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