The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Toshiki Okada
Toshiki Okada
Born in Yokohama, 1973. Graduated from Keio University, Faculty of Business and Commerce. In 1997, Okada began theater activities as the one-man unit “chelfitsch.” The name chelfitsch was created to represent a child’s mispronunciation of the English word selfish. In order to create “works with the potential to go further” Okada uses a methodology, but he makes a point of “not holding on to the methodology to the point where it holds back the work but quickly letting go of it,” which may be strange sort of methodology in itself for creating plays. With the release of the work Karera no Kibo ni Mihare in March of 2001, Okada changed to a style using “super real” Japanese language. This produces works that have a slow-moving and noisy physical aspect. The Yokohama ST Spot became the base for his theater activities.

In 2004, Five Days in March was the winner of the 49th Kishida Drama Award. The judges of this award praised Okada’s work for the strong sense of questioning it brings to the systems of theater and the fresh ideas he uses to turn that doubt into creative impetus. The work was also acclaimed for the skill with which it brings out the insubstantiality of present conditions in Japan. The physical presence and movement Okada brings out in his actors have also been recognized as dance, with his dance work Cooler being chosen as one of the finalists in the TOYOTA CHOREOGRAPHY AWARD 2005. In 2007, his play Five Days in March was invited to the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Belgium, which led to increased activities overseas.

In 2007, Five Days in March was performed in Brussels and Paris and in 2008 Okada created the work Free Time in a collaborative production with three international festivals (KUNSTENFESTIVALDESARTS/Brussels; Wiener Festwochen/Vienna; Festival d’AUTOMNE/Paris) In 2009 his overseas activities continued, including a performance tour to nine cites in North America.

Overseas Performances
Five Days in March performed in 14 cities in 9 countries (*2010 performances scheduled for 4 cities in 4 countries)
Free Time (international collaborative production) performed in 3 cities in 3 countries
Cooler performed in 4 cities in 3 countries
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech performed in 2 cities in 2 countries (including preview) (*2010 performances scheduled for 9 cities in 8 countries)

Kunsten Festival des Arts
This festival is held every May in Brussels, Belgium. It is a contemporary arts festival focusing primarily on the performing arts. Known for its avant-garde program, it is recognized as one of the “antenna” festivals of the international contemporary arts scene. In contrast to France’s Avignon Festival with its program of mainstream European theater, KFDA strives to present a program with more experimental works and a variety of artists reflecting the wider diversity of arts from around the world. With its own initiatives, the festival seeks to discover and support the production of works by young artists not only from Belgium but throughout Europe and also artists from developing countries that lack arts support systems. In addition to these many productions of young artists’ works, KFDA works to encourage the careers of these artists from a long-term standpoint by involving them in multi-year collaborative production efforts. At the same time, the festival produces new works with established artists from Belgium and the rest of Europe and provides the venues for their world premieres. As one of the epicenters creating new trends in the world’s performing arts, KFDA enjoys strong brand equity. More than 50% of the KFDA program consists of works produced by KFDA or created through KFDA-led collaborative efforts, and half of these will be world premieres in any given year. The founder of KFDA, Frie Leysen, retired as artistic director after the 2006 festival, after which the post was taken over by her assistant artistic director, Christophe Slagmuylder.
Artist Interview
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada  
Insights from international activities—The latest interview with Toshiki Okada  
The performances of chelfitsch employ rambling dialogue that often sounds like private mutterings and a “noisy” style of physical expression that has also been recognized as contemporary dance, to depict the elusive and nondescript state of today’s young people in Japanese society. Since being invited to Belgium’s Kunsten Festival des Arts and coming to the attention of the world’s festival directors in 2007, chelfitsch has been increasingly active on the international scene. To date, its representative work, Sangatsu no Itsukakan (Five Days in March) has been performed in 14 cities in nine countries and its director Toshiki Okada and his group members have created new works jointly with international festivals and toured overseas. These efforts and opportunities have brought about a search for environments to enable further artistic experimentation. In this latest interview with Toshiki Okada, he talks about the insights that have come from performing overseas.
(Interviewer: Chiaki Soma, Program Director of the Festival/Tokyo)

This is your second interview (first interview, Oct. 2005) for Performing Arts Network Japan (this website) and this time we would like to focus on your activities since beginning to work overseas. I would like to ask you in some detail about the types of environments and creative situations you have been working in. Could we begin by having you tell us how chelfitsch came to start performing and working overseas?
It all started when the director of Belgium’s Kunsten Festival des Arts, Christophe Slagmuylder, came to see a re-staging of Sangatsu no Itsukakan (Five Days in March) in March of 2006 and invited us to perform at his festival the coming year. After that we were fortunate enough to get offers from other festivals that took us to a number of other places. In 2008, we got offers from Kunsten Festival des Arts, the Vienna Art Week and Festival d’Automne a` Paris to do a collaborative work, and that partnership led to the creation of Free Time. Last year, at the invitation of Berlin’s HAU theater we had the premiere performances of Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech, and, if I may speak honestly, it sold well (laughs) and our overseas activities have continued to increase.
 All this has had great significance for us. First of all, it is helping us financially. It is true that our activities have gone international, but that doesn’t mean we are performing worldwide. It is almost exclusively in Europe. There is a high level of interest in the performing arts in Europe and, as a result, there are numerous high-level festivals presenting progressive, experimental works. That is where we are performing mainly.

As of now, Sangatsu no Itsukakan (Five Days in March) has been performed in 14 cities in nine countries, Cooler in four cities in three countries and Free Time in three cities in three countries. After performing in all these countries, do you feel there have been any changes in your works or in you yourself?
Speaking first about my own creative work, the biggest change has been that it has now become a natural thing for me to be creating works for audiences that don’t share much common cultural background with. Five Days in March is a work that was not created with the intention of showing to foreign audiences. Nonetheless, it seems to have communicated something despite that, and I feel that it has been accepted as such. I believe that can be attributed to the fact that the theme and motifs were in some sense universal; that war and sex and such are things that everyone can identify with.
 From that point on there were a lot of difficulties and conflicts to overcome. For example, what should be our approach to using very local, Japanese subjects and motifs? Should we not use them because they will not communicate anything to overseas audiences? No. Isn’t putting such self-imposed limits on ourselves a reversal of the natural order? Shouldn’t we deliberately use them? I am the type who can’t help but deliberate on questions like this. There are surely some people who can just go ahead without wasting time on such questions.
 Looking back, I realize that Free Time is a work that was created in the depths of that questioning. But I feel that I have overcome that in the work Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech we did last year and the work Who Knows We Are Not Injured Like the Others? now running, and I feel that I’m in the clear now and free of that quandary. For the last two or three years I had been struggling, you might say, but it was not as if I was struggling against someone. It was just struggling with myself (laughs).

What has changed for you as a company?
Stated simply, I believe we have grown a lot. First of all, because each of our works is now being performed numerous times, the actors have definitely acquired greater strength as performers. What they gain from repeated performance experiences and the increased number of performances that our overseas activities have provided compared to performing opportunities in Japan has definitely been significant. In the case of Five Days in March, the total of domestic and overseas performances was about 80.
 Also, performing overseas involves frequent staging at different theater, which has helped strengthen the plays as well. For example, we did a re-staging of Five Days in March at the Super Deluxe in Roppongi, which is a space that I really like. But, of course, we can’t take Super Deluxe with us when we tour, so we naturally have to stage the work at a number of different theaters. There are times when we are performing in theaters that seat 500, which is something that will never happen in Japan. That means that the actors have to project their voices much farther and we have to accommodate other changes case-by-case. I believe these experiences have definitely strengthened chelfitsch in the last three years or so. And, I think I have also gotten a little stronger as a writer and director (laughs).

I would like to ask you next about your collaborative projects overseas. In such projects, the ones like Oriza Hirata do involving joint creation with overseas artists and there are also ones that involve collaboration on the production side.
In our case, we mostly engage in the latter type, in which we receive production funding from our partners. I do talk with them about the themes involved in the work, but they do not become involved in or influence the creation of the work itself. Our work Free Time was the product of a collaboration with three festivals, since we received funding from them, we naturally had performances in their localities/festivals, but the creation was done in Japan at the Steep Slope Studio (Kyunasaka Studio) in Yokohama.
 I am interested in collaborations, but the idea of working outside of our chelfitsch context and creating a strong work is a bit daunting for me right now. So, I am not anxious to depart in that direction at this point. Rather, I am more interested now in placing works dealing with local Japanese issues in front of foreign audiences who don’t know Japanese and have different cultural backgrounds and seeing what their reaction is. So, even without doing a creative collaboration, I think that is happening in such encounters with foreign audiences.

What are the merits and demerits for your company in international collaboration projects?
There are no demerits. Of course there are some tiring aspects of touring overseas, but this is our job and we are simply happy to have so many opportunities to perform. And it also strengthens out works. Another big merit is the fact that we are able to spend more time in rehearsal working on the productions. In short, we are able to put rehearsal time on our budget with international collaborations and get paid to do it (laughs). That is something we can’t do under the current Japanese arts aid system.
 Thanks to this difference, we were able to spend quite a long period of time working on Free Time. With our new work we weren’t able to spend quite as much time that way, but on the whole these collaborations have made it possible to work as I want without having to set up the production framework myself for each and every production. Or, you could say that the overall process has become much more linear for me. We owe it all to the strength of the euro (laughs). Or I could say that thanks to the European theater environment where there is such vitality in the field of stage art, working there has given me access to an excellent creative environment.
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