The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Yukio Shiba
Yukio Shiba
Born in Aichi Pref. in 1982. Shiba is a member of the directing department of the Seinendan theater company. He won the 2nd Sendai Theater Town Playwriting Award for Dodomino, a play written in 2004 while Shiba was a student in the Nihon University’s College of Art. In October 2009 he formed the company “Mamagoto” as an internal “Seinendan Link” company under the Seinendan umbrella. His works for this company are characterized by subtleties of the seemingly unexceptional happenings of everyday life expressed in carefully selected words and then brought to stage with concepts from non-theatrical sources, such as the employment of loops and samplings. Representative works such as Ayumi (Walking), a play in which the actors walk continuously throughout the performance and Hanpuku katsu Renzoku (Repetition and Continuation) in which a mechanism of looped monodrama is employed to portray a large family, are examples of the new perspectives and methods he uses to depict people’s everyday lives. Shiba and his company are also active in regions throughout Japan as exemplified by recent performances and workshops in Aichi Pref., a playwriting seminar in Kani City, Gifu Pref. and directing at the Iwaki Sogo High School in Fukushima Pref., etc. The play Wagahoshi (Our Planet) won the 54th Kishida Kunio Drama Award.
Mamagoto Wagahoshi (Our Planet)
(Oct. 8-12, 2009 at Mitaka City Arts Center, Hoshi no Hall)
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
toi presents 3rd Ayumi
(Jun. 2008 at Komaba Agora Theater)
Ayumi (Long version)
Photo: Dragon Ya
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba  
Playing theater like playing house  The new approach of Yukio Shiba  
In February 2010, Yukio Shiba won Japan’s prestigious Kishida Drama Award for his play Wagahoshi (Our Planet), a rap musical played out on a bare stage with a white circle painted in the middle of the floor space to represent the Earth and telling the life story of a girl named Chii (= earth) who lives there. In his plays, Shiba has employed techniques from music such as sampling and looping and introduced a number of innovative new concepts and devices that transcend the conventions of traditional theater, such as having one actor play only one role, and with them he succeeds in creating everyday situations and characters that the audience can put themselves into and identify with. Among these works are Hanpuku Katsu Renzoku (Repetition and Continuation), in which a single actress performs multiple roles to act out a scene of a large family at breakfast, and Ayumi (Walking/Stepping/Progress), where a conversation between two girls is acted out by a group of ten actors while walking continuously. We spoke with Shiba about the new creative methods he pursues in each work in projecting kaleidoscopic images of the commonplace on the stage, and what he means by his theater concept of adults “playing house” (mamagoto).
(Interviewer: Akihiko Senda)

Congratulations on winning the Kishida Drama Award. Your winning play, Our Planet drew attention for the extremely original style it was created in, and winning this award at the age of 27 is especially young considering the winners in recent years.
 While being a member of the directing department of the Seinendan company led by Oriza Hirata, you have led your own company Mamagoto, for which Our Planet was your first production when you presented it in October 2009. Your company’s name is also extremely unique. Can you tell us why you chose it?

Even if you can’t become a professional painter, anyone can paint or do graffiti. Even if you can’t become a professional singer, we can sing karaoke or hum a tune freely. Yet, even though we can enjoy art and music with familiarity in those ways, I feel that in the case of theater there is greater distance between the people who create theater and the people who watch it and the people who aren’t interested in it to begin with.
 But, when you think about it, everyone has “played house” (mamagoto) or done some kind of role-playing sometime in their lives, and I thought that can be an entrance to theater. Even if you are not involved in making theater, there can be other types of involvement such as just taking a look at theater and other ways to enjoy it. So, when I chose the name Mamagoto, I wanted to lower the threshold to our theater to that of something more commonplace, as opposed to the kind of polarization you see today between people who are watching or doing theater extremely seriously and people who don’t watch it at all.

I feel like that applies to your theater style as well.
Yes. The name Mamagoto also applies to the contents of my plays, because I am always thinking up rules each time and approaching it with a bit of playfulness.

In Our Planet you tried a number of other innovative devices like having a large white circle painted on the stage floor that you had the actors run around and you had them deliver their lines in rap style. You also didn’t limit each actor to one role but had them changing roles again and again. You also used the device of not assigning the actors to fixed roles in your 2009 four-part omnibus of short works Yonshoku no Iroenpitsu ga Areba (If there were four colored pencils…). What is your intention in using that kind of device in your directing?
Like most people, I had always though that it was common sense for one actor to do one role in a play. So, it was a real shock for me when I read Toshiki Okada’s Five Days in March and saw the device of roles changing from one actor to another. I realized for the first time that such a thing was possible in theater. Oriza Hirata had also written about that kind of device in his essays about acting theory and directing theory, but t was that encounter with Okada’s play that made me realize that the actor didn’t necessarily have to become one with a given part in a play. It made me realize that a part could be passed on from one actor to the next or that roles could be traded in the midst of a play. And when I started playing with that concept in the studio, it led to a variety of very interesting discoveries.

When one actor takes on one role, they work to develop that character and that is conveyed to the audience. So, if the roles are changed at will, the way the characters are communicate to the audience becomes completely different, doesn’t it?
Yes. For example, the long version of our play Ayumi presents the life of one woman acted out by ten actresses. If it were only one actress playing the part, for example if it were played by the actress Miyuki Kurokawa, it would become a case of the character Ayumi brought to life on stage through the actress Miyuki Kurokawa. In our actual play, however, the actress playing the role of Ayumi keeps changing, so the audience has to envision the Ayumi they want to see. Or, in other words, the audience as to use their imaginations to make it one character.
 Therefore, I feel that not assigning the role of a character to one actor makes it possible to create a character with some kind of reality [in the mind of the viewer], even though it will not be a specific person. What’s more, if the character that is created in that way fits the imagination of the viewer, it creates a much broader window of approach in that the audience is able to envision the character as they wish. They can project themselves into the character. They can project the image of someone close to them into the character. What I discovered by staging Ayumi in the way was that we were able to create an Ayumi character that anyone could identify with. However, I don’t believe that this device will always be successful each time.

I believe that another unique device you employ in composing your works is having the play proceed through a repetition of the same types of lines or situations.
I believe that this must be the influence of the hip-hop or techno music that I like to listen to. In these genres, the music of a piece develops through a repetition of the same type of phrase over and over. That inspired me to attempt to see if a play couldn’t be structured or patterned in the same way.

You used a lot of rap in Our Planet and Yonshoku no Iroenpitsu ga Areba.
When I was in university, I liked listening to Japanese hip hop and rap music.
 Inherently, hip hop is a genre of music that takes one portion of a song and puts it through a process of “sampling” and “loop” type repetition that creates a new beat and enables the addition of new words to the song. It is a kind of “invention” process that gives birth to a completely different composition or song from the original one.
 In other words, it is the product of trial and error in the quest for a method by which people who aren’t musicians, people who can’t read music or play an instrument can still create music. The underlying concept behind that invention is something that really inspired me. Also, it is a basic rule that the rapper writes his or her own words. In short, the rapper and the playwright are both people who use everyday conversational language to express something. And, since rappers also perform or sing their own works, they are like the playwright who is also an actor in and director of his own play. That similarity is very interesting to me.
 In rap, there are some songs that are almost purely rhythm and words, and in that sense very close to theater. When I listened to pieces like that it gave me the idea that it might be possible for a playwright to make an approach at rap music. At first, I was just using bits of the rap I like so much in my plays, but with Our Planet I made an attempt to see if I couldn’t create a new kind of music theater, unlike musicals, in which the music and the words were completely separate of each other in terms of composition.
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