The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Giving expression to dissected texts  The new possibilities of compositional theater pioneered by Motoi Miura
Giving expression to dissected texts  The new possibilities of compositional theater pioneered by Motoi Miura
Atashi-chan, Ikusaki Itte (Little Me, Say Where You’re Going) – from the full text of Shogo Ohta

(Sep. 2009 at Kyoto Performing Arts Center-studio21)
Atashi-chan, Ikusaki Itte
Photo: Toshihiro Shimizu
You did a production Atashi-chan, Ikusaki Itte (Little Me, Say Where You’re Going) in which you used not only a play by Shogo Ohta but also all the texts of critiques and the like. It seems to me that your work is fundamentally similar to the way Ohta-san directed plays.
In the case of Suzuki-san, I was able to see his productions live, but in the case of Ohta-san, his Tenkei Gekijo company was already dissolved when I came along, so I never saw one of the stages he directed. The first work by Ohta that I saw was Sarachi (Vacant Lot) and I didn’t understand it at all. I wouldn’t say that it was boring, but I didn’t find it was interesting. Then, when I saw Mizu no Eki (Water Station) in video, I couldn’t keep from watching it over and over. I thought it was truly amazing. In the sense of time it created, the way the plot was developed …. I feel that Suzuki-san is short-tempered, or has a talent for creating short but exceedingly intense moments of concentration. In contrast, I realized the Ohta-san’s work is more magnanimous, but possesses a single point of frustration that he is able to maintain at an extremely high level.
 That is why Ohta-san is a mysterious entity for me. He has passed away now, but he was someone who was always so interesting to be with and I always felt that the things he was thinking were much more progressive than my thoughts. When he came to see the production of Jericho (by Masataka Matsuda) in Kyoto, he was all excited, saying to me, “That was fantastic!” Although I may sound presumptuous, he didn’t have the aura of a great master of playwriting but was young in spirit and we had a relationship like a pair of young theater freaks who could watch a play together and poke at each other’s weaknesses. I was never able to see one of his Tenkei Gekijo productions live, but I was able to witness first-hand his principles concerning theater, including the things he had doubts about. And, in fact, it was Ohta-san who saw my production of Three Sisters and told me that I should do all four of Chekov’s masterworks.

Could you explain to us more about why you take the texts of plays apart and restructure them?
I don’t think I have ever read a play with the intention of restructuring or recomposing it. It is rather the case that when I read it I get the desire to do the parts that I get stuck on. That is why I have no answer when I am asked what my purpose is in restructuring plays. It is not a case of restructuring because of some particular effect I want to achieve based on some particular interpretation. In one sense it is a matter of intuition. If it were possible to do a play based on the prerequisite that it was forbidden to change the text in any way, I don’t think anything could be easier than that. But that is not the case. The problem is that it is just too much of a struggle for me to do the play as it exists.
 When I think about why that is true for me, I believe it is because the most important thing for me is the essence behind the words. I believe it is because of my nature that makes me like Chuya Nakahara or that made me want to become a poet when I was an adolescent. To me literature is poetry. That is why I can’t keep from taking apart a play and restructuring it. It is because I believe that in some sense the script is like a poem.

So it is intuition and not a case of having a particular theme for the recomposing.
That’s right. I am picking out the words that I get stuck on. But, of course, there is some tendency toward the types of words that catch my attention and hold my interest. Because one of my hidden themes is Beckett and there is an underflow of Beckett in my philosophy of theater, I unconsciously get caught on Beckett-like things. That is connected to the question of what contemporary theater is or should be. It has to do with “the absence of story” and with existentialism and with a questioning of independence as expressed in such words as, “That is not me.”

So, there are things that you get stuck on, and that is then put into something of a collection of words through a process involving interaction within a certain group of people [staff]. What then is the final process involved in putting that result before an audience [as a play]?
That is the gray zone, and the aspect that involves the greatest struggle and questioning. The set and words go through a process of “assimilation” that I call affordance. What is necessary is a process in which the words and the [stage] space come to accommodate each other, or come into “affordance” with each other. I just said earlier that for me the script is a poem, it is a song, and if that is true it would mean that it would be enough just to recite it or tell it as a story, wouldn’t it? But it isn’t that way, because there are live human beings acting it out there [on the stage]. Because it also involves the physical presence of the actors, there needs to be a formula of accommodation, like a “multiplication involving the set.” And when that process [of staging] reaches a certain level of completion, most of the problem words that I was stuck on at the initial stage have now been resolved. And in the most fortunate of cases, by the time they are forgotten, in some sort of absurd resurrection the words will pop up again with a comment like, “That was interesting after all.” And when that happens those words will stand out with a shining resonance. They stand out again in some completely different flow of context. That was the case with Chekov.

Although you use the word hatsugo (delivery, pronunciation), you don’t use the word katari (speaking, recitation, story-telling), do you?
Since katari becomes a matter of reciting a story, I deliberately use the word hatsugo (delivery) in order to make a distinction from recitation. In my book Omoshirokereba OK ka? (Is just being interesting OK?) I use the word katari when I write about “speaking to the audience.” But that is because the word “audience” is the object of the word “speaking” (kataru). However, it is not story-telling. What the actor is actually saying is “aa…” or “uu…;” that is how far I believe we have dissected the text. So there is no “story” being told. And so, when I say “speak to the audience” I mean, “Get deliberately involved with the audience. I mean, use “aa…” and “uu…” to force involvement with the audience.

Does that mean that various feelings or meanings can be expressed with “aa…” or “uu…”?
Going to extremes, it means that you can do Chekov using just the word “is.” You can’t do it with just “aa…”, but I believe that in the case of Japanese you can do Chekov with just the word desu (is) or the particles “wo” or the “ha” of “watashi ha” (I am). In that sense, the theater I do may be like the extreme of trying to talk to a foreigner whose language you don’t know (laughs). Perhaps I want to believe that even if you don’t know the meaning of the words, you can still show something just through the involvement of the actors.
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