Photo: Shintaro Wada
Tatsuki Hayashi was born at Tochio-City in Niigata prefecture in 1982. Since 2019, he has been working as a Project Curator (Dramaturg) at Frankfurt’s Public Theater Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Germany. He is a translator and theatre researcher.
Among his translations is Elfriede Jelinek’s No Light (Kein Licht) (winner of the 5th Odashima Yushi Award of Hakusuisha); together with Hans Thies Lehmann and Matthias Pees he has edited Die Evakuierung des Theaters (Berlin Alexander Verlag).
Other translations include Hans Thies Lehmann’s Post-dramatic theatre (Postdramatisches Theater); Bert Neumann’s Noise. Since 2005, Hayashi has worked in Akira Takayama’s theater company Port B. Since 2014, he has participated in the non-profit organization Arts Commons Tokyo founded by Chiaki Soma. From 2012 to 2014 he served as a researcher for Arts Commons Tokyo (traditional performing arts field). From 2014 to 2019, he served as an evaluator for Minato City cultural support program for art activities. From 2014 to 2017 he served as Director of “geidaiRAM” at Tokyo University of the Arts. From 2017 to 2019 he served as a researcher for ROHM Theater Kyoto and as Program Officer for Arts Council Okinawa.
*1 Production house
Unlike the traditional public theaters of the German-speaking countries, these theaters do not maintain an in-house ensemble of actors. The operate in what is call the “Free Scene” in Germany. From 1916-17, seven theaters including the FFT tanzhaus nrw in Dusseldorf, HAU in Berlin, HELLERAU in Dresden, Kampnagel in Hamburg, PACT Zollverein in Essen and Mousonturm in Frankfurt joined to form the International Production House Alliance (Bündnis internationaler Produktionshäuser). Together, these seven theaters conduct programs including joint publicity activities, a grant program based on solicitations and selections conducted within the Alliance, a once-a-year festival and an Academy program to train human resources. The Alliance also conducts internal theater director conferences, and five working groups too discuss and work on issues. This organization is supported by the German government.
This work evolved from conversations between Murakawa and a local resident in his 70s named Akio Nakashima. The work depicts the life of Nakashima, who began studying piano in adulthood because of his love for Beethoven’s piano piece Moonlight Sonata, while living with a disease that gradually took away his eyesight. During the work, a succession of piano players of different ages play pieces that remained strongly in his memory are heard as Nakashima and Murakawa converse.
|Tatsuki Hayashi (b. 1982) has been employed by the Mousonturm (Künstlerhaus Mousonturm) theater in Frankfurt, Germany since 2019 as a project curator (dramaturg). In this interview he discusses the German performing arts scene under the COVID pandemic. Also, as a dramaturg who has worked on projects with Akira Takayama, with Takuya Murakawa in his involvement with the Rohm Theatre Kyoto project, as well as initiating an approach to Yuichi Kinoshita, Hayashi gives us insights into his view of the dramaturg as “process-maker.”
Interviewer: Yukako Ogura; Eiko Tsuboike
Germany’s Performing Arts Scene under the COVID Pandemic
Could we ask you to begin by telling us about the theater where you work?
I am currently on the staff of the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm
theater in Frankfurt, Germany. The term Künstlerhaus means a house for artists in German. The name Mousonturm goes back to a soap company named Mouson that once existed Frankfurt. It is said that one of its factories was in one of the first high-rise buildings in Frankfurt, which is now a cultural property of the city. Künstlerhaus Mousonturm restored that historical building to house a theater and office space.
This theater is operated under a corporate form known as a “municipal corporation” that doesn’t exist in Japan. The initial starting capital for the theater all came from the municipality of Frankfurt, and every year 70% of the total budget is provided by the city. At the same time, because it is run as a corporation, there is a great amount of flexibility in terms of how the budget is used.
In Germany’s municipal theaters it is common for them to have an in-house ensemble consisting of actors and directors, but in recent years there is an increasing presence of so-called “production houses” (Produktionshaus *1
) that do not have such in-house ensembles, and Mousonturm is one of them.
How have things been in Germany’s performing arts world under the COVID pandemic?
On March 12, 2020, a directive was sent out by the German government to cancel events where people gathered, so our theater closed down. In the lockdown it was also forbidden for we employees to come to our workplaces at the theater complex. In Hessen State where I live, theaters were tentatively allowed to open again in May, but a directive prohibited the holding of large-scale events until the end of August. Eventually, Mousonturm was finally reopened from the 1st of September.
In Germany, the new [autumn] season was opened for a while, but a subsequent increase in COVID infections brought a second lockdown from the 1st of November. That lockdown is still in effect. From March 8th, a gradual relaxation of restrictions began, and by the end of March it looked as if the adoption of a simple Corona test for audience would enable the theater to open again. But after that, another increase in infections has meant that as of now (at the end of April) we still don’t know what will happen going forward. Over the past year, the theater has only been open for two months, and the resulting loss to the performing arts industry for 2020 is said to be about 600 billion yen. Vaccinations [in Germany] have not been proceeding as they have in Britain and the United States, so the severe state of affairs is expected to continue.
In these conditions we have begun to adopt online projects. With the first lockdown, we immediately switched to a remote work system and we implemented a lot of programs, talks and discussions, etc., using platforms like Zoom, YouTube and Vimeo.
Have you begun to create real stage productions again?
In Germany, there is something called the “1.5-meter rule” based on the size of theater stages and designating that actor and actors and audience and audience members must maintain social distancing of 1.5 meters between each other. In the case of dance, the dancers must maintain a distance of six meters, and because of this restriction it is quite difficult to create dance works.
Because the theater is the employer of its ensemble members, it can’t do anything that threatens their life, health or safety, so it has to obey the rules. However, in the case of freelance artist groups, they are free to decide for themselves whether to obey the 1.5-meter rule, and it is their own decision and their own responsibility, and under that understanding, theaters are allowed to lend their space to these groups. And for that reason, it can be said that it is easier for Free Scene artists move as they wish.
Of course, international projects have also become more difficult. For some time, projects to invite works and artists from overseas had to be cancelled or postponed one after another, or they had to be changed to online projects.
In what forms have support for artists been handled in the meantime?
In Germany, I believe the most important thing that was done in terms of support to deal with the corona pandemic was that the government entrusted it to the theaters and the artists what should be done under the circumstances. There were many new formats created through which artists could receive scholarships, conduct research under what came to be called Digital Residencies, or to create new works more freely. And none of these forms of support required any presentations of results. On the contrary, it has been specified that recipients of support under these formats were not allowed to make such presentations of results. The scholarships fill the role of providing living support for the artists with top priority on first of all helping them get through this difficult period. And I think the intent is that they want to give the artists time to think about new ideas.
It starts as just an arts and culture policy to create a format to provide monetary support and then have the artists think about what they can create. Of course, the artists are thinking about eventually showing the results of their efforts as the do research and formulate their concepts, so I believe they will end up putting the results into some [showable] form, so now it is probably still the stage where they will begin to work together with the theaters and such to bring to fruition the ideas they have come up with.
Of course, many of the states of Germany have initiated programs to provide support in the area of social welfare. It was support for artists that followed a process of the states receiving budgetary allowances from the national government and adding their own funds, then setting the conditions for eligibility by which the artists can become recipients.
This system of providing support that doesn’t include the eventual showing of results is completely contrary to the Japanese system, isn’t it? Japan’s might be called a “work submission-based” system, where in most cases artists will not receive support unless they are going to submit some resulting work(s) in some form. What’s more, in many cases the way the resulting works will be submitted is even specified, such as releasing film(s) of the results.
In Germany, it is recognized that it should be up to the individual artists to decide what they present and in what form it is eventually presented because it is a question involving their artistic expression. Doing something like specifying that films of the artist’s work must be released would be considered a restriction of freedom and diversity of artistic expression. So, looking at Japan’s support system, it seems a bit stringent.
In Japan, it needs to be a result (work) submissions system because it often isn’t clear who the artist is. In Germany, how are the artists who will receive support selected?
Ones who are employed by a theater always get some kind of compensation, even if their work hours are short, so the question is just how the freelance artists are defined. In Germany, there is an Artists Social Insurance Association (KSK: Künstlersozialkasse) union. It is a union that freelance artists, journalists and writers can join. Those who join this union and pay the union’s insurance fee (payed half by themselves and the other half payed by the national government as a form of support) are defined as freelance artists. But there are also some who do not join this union for some reason or other but are still active as artists. The national government will offer support to artists who insured under the KSK system, but there are some states and local-level governments that have adopted a system by which they determine if a person is eligible for support as an artist depending on what percent of their previous year’s income was from artistic activities. In addition, Germany has well established industry organizations for people involved in the performing arts and in music. These organizations serve as the outlets for things like scholarships and digital residencies, and they can support artists through budgets that they receive from the national government.
There is one other thing that has been important in the current COVID countermeasures, and that is the presence of the German Cultural Council (Deutscher Kulturrat). This is not like an Arts Council that is a branch of a central government agency, but rather something that could be described simply as a lobbying organization that collectively presents the opinions and requests of a variety of arts organizations in meetings with the government’s Minister of Finance. And if it succeeds in getting financing from the government it will be up to the arts organizations to decide what they do with it. It has been these three organization, KSK, the arts organizations and the German Cultural Council, that have conveyed the actual conditions of the artists to the government and I believe that is how proper support has been able to reach the artists.
Measures taken at Mousonturm
What kinds of countermeasures have been enacted at Mousonturm during the COVID pandemic?
At Mousonturm, since we had been hosting performances combining film, words and music as well as dance works from before the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, after the lockdown a lot of video/film works were created. So, we adopted a variety of new routines, including online broadcasts. To begin with, production houses had been involved with presenting a very wide variety of works. These theaters [like ours] mounted performances of works from other countries and worked together with freelance artists on experimental works. So, we already had a base for dealing with sudden changes in conditions.
Were there any countermeasures that use your theater facility?
There was case(s) that involved creating a theater within the theater. Under the rules of the corona preventative measures, audience seating had to be separated by a distance of 1.5 meters front and rear and to either side. Since the Mousonturm is a 300-seat theater, that reduced the seating to just 40. But, would it be enough to abide by that rule and reduce the seating that way? While obeying the rules, we discussed how it would be possible to present creative works in that framework.
During that process, Mousonturm’s artistic director Matthias Pees
brought to focus a project that the performing artist Bert Neumann initiated. It is a project he did that created a 2-floor “New Globe” (New Globe Theater) inside the Prater theater in Berlin. The audience were all seated in individual capsules from which they could see the stage, so we used that as an example.
If capsule walls were in place, the 1.5-meter rule didn’t apply. In other words, if there was a wall in between them, the audience could be seated right next to each other. During the pandemic when conditions everywhere outside the theaters were a fierce ground of contention, we asked ourselves if people come to the theater if it were only to sit in a lonely seat far from the other viewers? So, we consulted with architects and decided to create a circular stage within the theater. Since our theater is small, that meant that we could only make 19 capsules (2 seats per capsule), but it included permission for eating and drinking within the capsules, which we hoped would give the viewers a somewhat more relaxed and enjoyable viewing experience. So, I think it was a project that not only provided a way to present works in the COVID environment but also showed a new way to adapt the theater itself in a new way.
What kinds of projects were you yourself involved in?
Not only were we not able to invite artists from abroad, we couldn’t gather audience at the theater either. So, I was in charge of an open participation project where we gathered participants at public spaces and gave them wireless headphones and had them dance along with the instructions they were given and the music that was played through the headphones, while of course maintaining a social distance of 1.5 meters. We had them dance to a collage of short works of choreography conceived by foreign artists that were unable to come to Germany. Among the artists was Japan’s Yuya Tsukahara of contact Gonzo
, as well as choreographers from a variety of other countries including South Africa, Israel, Brazil, South Korea and the Philippines. We put together programs of short works of choreography that they thought up based on the settings and situations.
As the participants danced while listening to the voice of a Brazilian choreographer, it provided a physical experience that stimulated the imagination in a way that was a bit different from listening to news about the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil. This was a project of a Frankfurt group named LIGNA and it included text by the people of LIGNA interjected between the instructions of the choreographers from the different countries. In all, we recorded a program in this way that amounted to a work of about 60 minutes.
What role did you and Mousonturm play in this project?
One thing was connecting the LIGNA group with choreographers from around the world. Another thing was something we do with all artists, which is the important work of participating in the artists’ rehearsals each time, seeing their work and giving our feedback afterwards. And of course, after the pieces are prepared, we do the production work of publicity and gathering the audiences or participants, assigning a production manager and, in this case, getting the permission to use the event space from the park involved.
The path to becoming a dramaturg
Would you tell us next about your initial encounter with the performing arts?
I was born in Tochio-City (now Nagaoka-City) in Niigata Prefecture. I grew up there in a rural setting surrounded by mountains that had no movie theaters or art museums, much less a theater. I went to university in Tokyo, and at first I wasn’t thinking much about what I wanted to do, but I liked reading books, so I entered the Department of German Literature of the Faculty of Letters of Keio University, where I studied German language and literature. I had never been abroad and never even flown on an airline, and since my course offered a study abroad program, so I went to Düsseldorf, Germany for the first time when I was 20 to study for a year. That was from 2003 to 2004.
At that time there was no free use of the internet and no Skype. Those were the last year when the only way to contact Japan was by international telephone. At the time, I had no interest in theater, and during that year in Germany, I never once went to see a play at a theater. But, after returning to Japan, I was introduced to Akira Takayama
by a German instructor from the time I entered university, the German theater researcher, Eiichiro Hirata, even though he wasn’t my academic advisor. Then Takayama-san asked me to play the role of a translator who translated German into Japanese in a play. He asked me to come and see a rehearsal, and when I did, I have to say simply that it was a shock, a real eye-opening experience for me. It was fascinating for me to see. The play that Takayama-san was directing was Heiner Müller’s Der Horatier (The Horatian)
(2005 March). It was an experiment to try using the voice to recite words and song in Japanese and a foreign language in an attempt to express a state between the internal and external sides of life, and that made me want to work with Takayama-san.
You have translated Elfriede Jelinek’s work. Was that due to Takayama-san’s influence as well?
In the summer of 2005, during the “Year of Germany in Japan” events, The Goethe-Institut invited the Swiss director Jossi Wieler to do a production of Yotsuya Ghost Story
at Theater χ. Takayama-san was involved in that as an advising dramaturg, and since I knew German, I was invited by him to act as a sort of assistant. At that time, Jossi told me that there is an important and interesting writer in German today named Jelinek. I had worked on a production of the work Wolken. Heim
) and found it so difficult that I said I thought it would be impossible for me to ever translate such a work. Hearing that, Takayama-san said, “Well then, let’s give it a try.” As a result. I did the translation and Takayama-san directed it.
Eventually, we did a production of Wolken. Heim
) at Tokyo International Arts Festival 2007. After that, the Tokyo International Arts Festival was re-established as Festival/ Tokyo, with Chiaki Soma as director, and through that connection Takayama-san was invited to the Vienna Arts Festival Week. Working as a dramaturg at that Vienna Arts Festival Week was Matthias Pees, who would later become artistic director of Mousonturm. It was in the first season (2014-15) after he became artistic director in Frankfurt, that Takayama-san’s The Complete Manual of Evacuation
was invited for the season opening, he was told that they wanted to do large productions of it in a large number of venues. And it was as a result of that performance tour of Takayama-san’s work that I also ended up staying in Frankfurt for about a month. That was my first time being in Frankfurt. In 2017, we worked together to develop a project that used McDonald’s restaurants as the “classrooms” for the work McDonald’s Radio University
that we did with refugees living in Frankfurt. This time, since coming to Germany, I have worked with Takayama-san on the Wagner Project
2019 that turned the theater into a Hip Hop school, and during the COVID pandemic in 2020 we did the project Hoelderlin Heterotopia
2020 that involved walking a 22 kilometer course while listening to the writings of a variety of writers over a specially prepared app.
Since the time I was working together with Takayama-san in Japan, I have been collaborating with him in research and working as a dramaturg, while at the same time doing my own work as a translator, while also doing a bit of work on arts and culture policy.
From the founding of the Arts Council Tokyo in 2011, you served as a survey member for two and a half years. After that, you served five years as an evaluator for the Minato Ward (Tokyo) cultural support agency, and from 2017you have also worked for the Arts Council Okinawa within the Okinawa Industry Support Center.
I entered the Arts Council Okinawa as a program officer, after which I became the Chief Program Officer. In Tokyo, I felt that there was very little that I could do or be involved in on my own, so I decided to leave Tokyo.
This may take the line of discussion off on a bit of a tangent, but in Germany, from before the start of the COVID pandemic, as with the Black Lives Matter movement and the concern for the inequalities of former colonial policy, the country’s institutions were all white, and that led to efforts to include more people of color in such positions to promote equality. Certainly it is important to look back over history and recognize the inequalities of the past, but if so I wondered why people wouldn’t go to former German colonies in Africa or the Chinese island of Tsuingtao and work or do projects in such places. I felt that was the kind of thing that would be meaningful if the real concern was to balance out the wrongs of the past.
Okinawa was one of Japan’s first colonies. The other Japanese colonies of Taiwan and Korea were eventually liberated, but in the case of Okinawa, it was returned to Japan after a period of occupation after WWII. Although I had made friends in Taiwan, I was shocked by the realization that I didn’t know anything about Okinawa, and I didn’t even know single person from Okinawa. That is one of the things that made me want to go to Okinawa. At the time, I was only there for one year, but I really feel that I learned a lot when I was there.
I had been working as a translator and working with artists to create things in a dramaturg-like capacity, and I had also been involved in work on arts and culture policy, and I had come to have a desire to work with artist in the theater environment, which made me want to study under Matthias [at Mousonturm]. So, at first I came to Mousonturm in 2019 as part of [Japan’s] Agency for Cultural Affairs’ overseas training system. But before I could really do any training, they soon had me at work on projects there as a dramaturg (laughs).
My position at Mousonturm is in the Dramaturgy Department, where I am involved in creating theater programs, working with artists on their works, which has me constantly thinking about what kinds of festivals would be good to do, and what kind of context the individual programs should be aiming for. I also write grant applications. Then there is the Production Department that is responsible for planning how much budget should be allotted to each production and what the production schedule should be, arranging lodging and travel for the participants, and making grant applications to secure budget financing. Because of this division of labor, a dramaturg is able to work on a number of projects at the same time. Regarding the work of a dramaturg in Japan, we have to consider it within the context of the theater’s system of division of responsibilities. By the way, at Mousonturm I have two dramaturg colleagues, on specializes in music and music theater and the other is specialized in dance. In addition, there is one assistant dramaturg and one person responsible for outreach programs. Among these divisions, my specialization is in translation, which to me means that my responsibility is to look at the potential of each work or project and work together with the people involved. So, we all have our specialties and that determine which artists and which programs we will be working with.
The project at ROHM Theater Kyoto
While you were working in Okinawa, you were also active as a researcher for ROHM Theater Kyoto’s “Traditional Arts and Contemporary Theater” program. One of the things you worked on in that capacity was the planning of a program related to the Kinoshita-Kabuki “Sesshu Gappo ga Tsuji” (Itoi Version). The pamphlet you created in relation to that had very in-depth contents that seemed to me to show your posture as a dramaturg. I would like to ask you next about your view of the job of a dramaturg.
Before I get into that I would like to say a few things about how the role of the dramaturg was viewed in Japan. Professor Hirata who originally introduced me to Takayama-san wrote a book in 2010 titled The Dramaturg, the Role of Evolving and Deepening Performing Arts
. Prior to that the ideas of Kaku Nagashima
were a prominent example, and Sachio Ichimura, the director of the Tokyo International Arts Festival had made various statements about the necessity of the dramaturg.
I believe there are a variety of views about the role of the dramaturg, but I have been particularly uncomfortable with the idea of the dramaturg as a consultant for directors. There are various types of artists, but at least for me personally, an artist is a presence of a different dimension entirely, and I feel that basically the artist is not someone who needs a consultant.
From a different perspective, when I went to Germany and experienced the theater environment there, I began to think of the dramaturg as rather something closer to a process-maker. After returning to Japan from my first period of study in Germany, and my subsequently having become acquainted with Takayama-san, I began traveling to Germany and seeing more theater. What that made me newly interested in was theater pamphlets and talks. And because of the tact that works of theater often deal with very deep and complex issues and bring together a convergence of various contexts, I began to feel that there was so much to be missed in just a single viewing of a play. I began to feel that it would be so much more meaningful to approach theater with some more prior exposure to writings about the work to be seen, to experience discussion on the work, and then after seeing the performance to follow it up with more discussion that could lead on to more discoveries—and I began to think that I wanted to help make the theater experience more of that kind of flow, or process, and I began to get a sense the dramaturg could play a vital role in this.
By the way, when you first began working with Takayama-san in a dramaturg context, what was the actual work you were involved in?
For example, the Sunshine 62
performed in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo as part of a performance tour in 2008, the work needed to be staged in a Love Hotel (a type of Japanese hotel specifically designed to give lovers the privacy they need) where the high-rise building Sunshine 60 could be seen from the window in one of the hotel rooms. So, I went around alone trying to find a hotel that we could use. When I would say that I needed a room where we could have groups of five audience members go in and look through the window at Sunshine 60, they would naturally say to me, “What are you talking about? Are you crazy?” and they would send me off without listening to another word (laughs). But there was just one clerk who asked me why we wanted to do something like that. Once I got the chance, I started in explaining. Knowing that making up some false story would never work, I said honestly and sincerely that we were doing what we thought to be true theater. I said ever since the theater of ancient Greece plays were something that was actually done outdoors as a chance to look at their city with new eyes. The clerk replied that he didn’t really understand but he thought it was interesting, so he would connect me to the owner. So, I ended up meeting an owner who was a bit of a shady character, but in the end, he agreed to let us use his hotel.
Having opportunities to speak with people in that way was certainly interesting for me. I would ask people what they thought made Ikebukuro a special town, what kind of room they worked in, and everything I heard was fascinating for me. It made me realize that making art should be a process that we take time to do right, to meet people and to be the ones who are learning from everyone we talk to, and that art is truly a media of communication.
Would you next tell us about the Kinoshita-Kabuki project that you worked on for ROHM Theater Kyoto?
I felt very fortunate about the way I was allowed to contribute to that project as I hoped to from the standpoint of dramaturgy the word Dramaturgy is translated into Japanese in ways like “theater-making technique,” and it means how you go about making a drama, but I believe there are two types of dramaturgy, one being dramaturgy that approaches the drama from the inside and the other being dramaturgy that approaches the drama work from the time that exists around the drama itself. In the case of Kinoshita-Kabuki, the dramaturgy that approaches the drama from the inside has already been done in great depth by Yuichi Kinoshita
and his team. So, I thought it was my job to engage in dramaturgy from the peripheral elements.
When I worked with Takayama-san as well, creating documents and organizing talks was an important part of the work, and with Takayama-san I had been involved in that work, so in many aspects I felt a plurality of layers. But with Kinoshita-Kabuki, I felt no need at all to become involved with the team creating the work itself, so I never even thought about that. Since Kinoshita-san himself is a researcher, and there was already a strong relationship of trust that existed between Kinoshita-san and the director as an ensemble.
However, because it was such an intense work they were creating, I saw that they had no time to spend on doing the peripheral things that could be done before and after the actual performances. What’s more, the play Sesshu Gappo ga Tsuji
that was chosen is one that involves such a complex confluence of context that when you try to read it you find an almost infinite range of tangents branching out from it. So, I proposed that we hold a lecture series before the performances and invite people from outside the theater community and publish a book of the contents of the lecture series. And that book would also include the results of Kinoshita-san’s research. The idea was that if we had the lecture series for people before the performance and after they saw the performance, they would buy the book and take it home, the total result would be a much richer experience. ROHM Theater Kyoto gave their full support to this plan and we were able to publish the book.
At ROHM Theater Kyoto there was a CIRCULATION KYOTO project in 2018 that a number of artists participated in to do research in localities of the city and create small works. In that project, there was an experiment in which each of the artists was assigned a dramaturg to work with. You participated in this project as the dramaturg for Takuya Murakawa and the result was the work titled Moonlight (*2).
When I first met Murakawa-san and talked with him. I realized that it wasn’t expected of me to do research in a number of areas and provide the results to him. I saw that Murakawa-san was probably an artist who for each of his works found people by himself that he wanted to perform and valued the process of building a relationship with them. So, I thought about what I could do, and I decided that it would be good if I could find some words of the artist that didn’t connect directly to the work itself. So, I did a number of interviews with him and created a pamphlet of the discussions we had.
One other thing I did was to record a video document. With the help of a video artist, we discussed the positioning of the cameras and their movement carefully, and the editing of the final video was also done together with a video artist. In the end, what we made was not a replication of what the audience had seen but a video that stood as a work by itself.
There was a restaging of Moonlight at Festival/Tokyo in 2020, and on that occasion a wonderful booklet tracing Murakawa-san’s career of artistic expression in exquisite detail was published and distributed. With fine arts, it is common practice to publish a portfolio of an artist’s work, but with performing arts, where the works disappear after they are performed, the need for such records is perhaps even greater, but in fact they are seldom created. With that booklet I felt a practice with great potential.
For that restaging of Moonlight
at Festival/Tokyo, I originally was planning to be involved in some capacity, but because of the COVID pandemic it was difficult for me to return to Japan. As I thought about what I could do, I knew that the themes of Murakawa-san’s work were often subjects like absence of people’s death. And I concluded that those types of works from his past could take on new significance in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. But, since many of the older works could not be seen anymore and because his base of artistic activities is Kyoto, many people in Tokyo had never seen his works. So, I decided to create a booklet introducing Murakawa’s past work as well as possible and included articles written by people who had seen them as reference material to be read.
The challenge to bring out the potential in public theaters
Would you tell us your visions of possible activities for the future?
What I think has to be thought about in Japan now is how the existing [arts and culture] systems can be consolidated in productive ways. What I am thinking about is how to make the arts environment not just one in which in a few fortunate individual cases good works are created and provide good experiences for the audiences, but rather how to create a strong foundation from which backup is provided in a systematic way. That is why I want to be able to work not with individual activities but somewhere that I can be involved in the systems supporting arts activities. In short, I don’t want to be doing things that only I can do, but to increase the number of methods that anyone can copy, such as the pamphlet for Murakawa-san or the Kinoshita-Kabuki lecture series. In other words, I want to be doing work at a place where we can make things like that common practice.
Does that mean you want to work at a public theater where you can put these ideas into action?
Today’s public theaters specialize in commercial-base productions and operas for which the tickets are priced at around 10,000 yen despite being public facilities, but I wonder if those alone should be the mainstream target. For public theaters to be specializing in those kinds of performances means that they are using taxpayer money to reduce the price of what are still very expensive arts that only the fairly affluent can afford to enjoy. I believe that is the exact opposite of what the concept of redistribution of tax money is all about. I think that is an area where there is a need to reinstate a proper balance.
In the case of public theaters, there are standards such as cultural promotion regulations or theater establishment ordinances set by the local governments that must be obeyed. Those ordinances contain dictates that provide for citizen participation and open access to the theater facilities. So there is a need to define in some logical form the difference between private interests and the public sector. I may be lacking in legal knowledge, but I personally believe there should be debate held about what constitute private sector interests and the public sector.
A theater requires a large financial outlay to construct as well as a large annual budget to operate. It takes an authority to appropriate such large budgets. And it is very important issue that such finances be used for good causes, which is why I want to see proper attention paid to such issues. And I would also like to see an increase in the number of people who want to work at a theater. Working at a public institution where you can work with artists to create things, while having a field of specialty, is a very enjoyable job, and I think there is a need to increase the number of people who will find meaning in working in such an environment. In order to do that will take time, and it may be necessary to create systems to get children and students involved in theater work.
I approach the word “culture” with a bit of caution. In a time of corona pandemic like this we have heard people say things like, “We need culture more than ever,” or “We need art and culture in order to live.” That certainly may be true, but on the other hand there is another kind of bad Japanese culture at work when people see an out-of-prefecture license plate on a car and immediately get suspicious and exclusive with fear that it may be bringing in corona infection, or when people criticize those from a different cultural group. I believe that things like war and various types of prejudice, gender inequality and things like the position Okinawa is in are issues of culture.
Seen in that way, culture can in fact be a very dangerous thing. But I believe that is also the very reason why there is great significance in taking on challenging issues in the field of arts and culture. Through arts and culture, I want to rethink the meaning of culture, by joining with people who are suffering because of culture and trying to see things and create things in new ways. That is the challenge that I want to take on in my work in the future.