The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
The Santa Claus Conference (Adult version)
Seinendan 58th production
The Santa Claus Conference (Adult version)
(Dec 2008, at Komaba Agora Theater)
Photo: Tsukasa Aoki
Premiere: 2008
Length: approx. 1 hr.
Acts, scenes: One act, 3 scenes
Cast: 13 (7 men, 6 women)
Artist Interview
Japanese Drama Database
Play of the Month Play of the Month
The Santa Claus Conference (Adult version) by Oriza Hirata 
This is the first family play for parents and children by Oriza Hirata based on the outcome of workshops with elementary school children. The play is written in two versions, a child participation version and an adult version.

    On a stage are one large hemispherical conference table and in their circle is a bed. There a child (an actor doubling in the mother role) sleeps. By the pillow on the bed hangs a large stocking. At the back of the stage is a fireplace with a chimney large enough for a person to pass through.

    Jingle Bells is playing in the background, and as the volume increases slightly with the lighting falling only on the bed, the child slowly wakes. The child looks in the stocking with delight. Getting off the bed and crawling under the conference table, the child goes to the back of the stage and disappears through the fireplace.

    The “Santa Claus Conference” that is held each year as the Christmas season approaches is about to begin. The participants for this, the 833rd conference, begin to arrive in twos and threes, father and mother, the teachers. This year’s subject is “What Do You Ask Santa Claus For? ” When the three children sitting on the audience side are asked their opinions, the only childlike answer that comes back is a soccer ball. The adults are perplexed to hear the other requests for a motorcycle and a father.

    Finally it comes time when Professor Gamigami, who calls himself an expert on Christmas, launches into his pet theory that there is no Santa Claus to begin with and a heated debate begins concerning the existence of Santa Claus between him and Professor Garigari, who claims to be an authority on Santa Claus. It appears that this debate is one of the fixtures of the Santa Claus Conference that occurs every year.

    The volume of the background Jingle Bells music grows and a spotlight focuses on the bed. The child (doubling as the mother) who had snuck out of the conference at some point and is now sleeping in the bed slowly awakes. She looks in the stocking with delight, gets off the bed, crawls under the conference table toward the back of the stage and disappears through the fireplace.

    As the lights come up the 834th Santa Claus Conference begins. The subject this time is “How Does One Meet Santa Claus? ” One of the participants is a witch who supposedly meets Santa Claus often, and when one of the members of the conference questions whether she is really a witch, she uses her magic to turn him into a pig. When one of the mothers, apparently displeased with how little the witch has to say, challenges her to speak up, she is likewise turned into a dog. Then Prof. Gamigami gets changed into a cat for a critical comment about the shape of the witch’s hat and nose. Soon the conference has taken on the appearance of a zoo and is reduced to an atmosphere of nonsense.

    One of the children asks why she saw his father bringing the presents one Christmas when she stayed up all night to watch. The witch brushes off the question by saying, “That was Santa pretending to be your father. ” More questions come from the children, such as “There is no father in my house, only mother, ” or “The wrapping paper was from the department store. ” Fathers and mothers who object to the witch’s inadequate answers to these apt questions by the children are turned into animals one after another and the conference deteriorates even further.

    Once again the volume of the background Jingle Bells music grows and a spotlight focuses on the bed. The child (doubling as the mother) who had snuck out of the conference at some point and is now sleeping in the bed slowly awakes. She looks in the stocking with delight, gets off the bed, crawls under the conference table toward the back of the stage and disappears through the fireplace.

    The subject of the 835th conference is “What About Houses with No Chimneys? ” Prof. Gamigami, as always the Santa Claus non-believer, launches into a discourse about how belief in the supremacy of Christmas presents and materialistic attitudes are destroying Japan. Following on this, a serious-minded teacher begins talking about the problem of starvation in Africa and others start in on problems like the failure of education and worldwide malnutrition. In the process, what is supposed to be a conference about the fantasy world of Santa Claus, becomes an uncomfortable forum on unpleasant realities that sends the participants fleeing for the door one after another.

    And in this way the Santa Claus Conference will continue to be held next year and the year after that.

Profile: Born: 1962
Born in Tokyo in 1962, Oriza Hirata is a playwright, director and leader of the theater company Seinendan. He is also the manager of the Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo and a professor of Osaka University Center of the Study of Communication-Design.

From his involvement in the “small theater” scene as manager of the Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo, Hirata founded his own theater company Seinendan in 1983 as a company operating mainly out of that theater and began activities as a playwright and director. He went on to present his theory of “Contemporary Colloquial Theater” and to re-examine drama from the standpoint of actual Japanese life, and the resulting new style of “quiet Theater” became a leading trend of the 1990 small theater world. His directing method based on detailed calculation of effect also drew attention and led to a series of productions in collaboration with the playwright Masataka Matsuda that won popular acclaim.

Hirata writes critiques and essay regularly for the press and periodicals not only in field of theater but also on the subjects of education, language and all areas of the arts. In recent years he has fostered international exchange through performances and workshops with France and S. Korea as well as Australia, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, Thailand Indonesia and China. Also, based on the Hirata’s workshop methodology written up in school textbooks since 2002, some 300,000 school children have created plays in their classroom using the Hirata method. He has also worked with the handicapped and been involved in a wide range of theater-related activities such as developing drama education programs for local governments in places like Komaba [where his theater is located] and in tie-ups with NPOs.

Using the Komaba Agora Theater Hirata runs and the rehearsal studio and experimental space Atelier Shunpusha, an undefined group of directors an playwrights belonging to Hirata’s theater company Seinendan has been formed called the “Seinendan Link” and is creating its own independent productions since 2002. Through this system, any of the company’s members can submit proposals for productions, which are then developed into actual productions for performance primarily by the younger members of the company and presented as side performance along with the company’s main productions so that their creative activities can become subjects for critical review. This system has enabled several intra-company units to pursue independent activities. Among the Seinendan artists who have gone independent in this way are Shiro Maeda of the Gotand-dan and Motoi Miura of Chiten. Also, since 1989 the Komaba Agora Theater has hosted a performing arts festival aimed at making it easy for regional theater companies to give performances in Tokyo. Since 2001 this festival has been held biannually in the spring and summer under the name “Summit.” Prominent young artists of the day are chosen to serve as festival director and be responsible for the program selection and other important decision-making. The festival director this year is the leader of the theater company Chelfitsch, Toshiki Okada.

Hirata’s awards include the 39th Kishida Kunio Drama Award for playwriting with Tokyo Notes in 1995, the 5th Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix “Best Play” and “Best Director” awards for Tsuki no Misaki (The Cape of the Moon) (written by Masataka Matsuda, directed by Oriza Hirata) in 1997, the 9th Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix “Best Play” award for Ueno Dobutsuen Saisaisai Sugeki (Attacking the Ueno Zoo for the Fourth Time) (script, composition, directing by Hirata) in 2002 and the 2nd Asahi Performing Arts Award for Sono Kawa wo Koete Gogatsu (Across the River in May) (Japan-Korea joint playwriting and directing / New National Theater, Tokyo) in 2003. Among his many publications other than plays are Engeki Nyumon (Introduction to Drama) (Kodansha), Hanashikotoba no Nihongo (Colloquial Japanese) (a dialogue with Hisashi Inoue, Kodansha) and Geijutsu Rikkoku Ron (Arts as the Basis of a Nation) (Shueisha).