2013年5月22日 (水)


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2013年3月15日 (金)

Article: New National Theatre Drama Studio





JT digital page

Grave posts and milestones: The New National Theatre Tokyo reaps the fruits of its cutting-edge Drama Studio for trainee actors


If you had a son or daughter who announced they wanted to be a stage actor, whatever would you say to them?


In Japan today, as for centuries past, this remains a dreaded scenario for many "respectable" parents aiming to raise children who will better their lots materially and socially. In Japanese, indeed, actors and beggars are both referred to as kawaramono (literally, "riverbank dwellers").


Yet plenty of young Japananes still yearn to be in a spotlight on stage performing works by the likes of Hisashi Inoue, Koki Miatani, Shakespeare or Chekov. But how are such aspiring thespians to go about realizing their dream? Sure, there are countless tiny theater groups playing for their friends, and very rarely one of these achieves national or even international standing -- as with Noda Map, founded in the 1970s by Hideki Noda, and Chelfitsch that Toshiki Okada started in the late 1990s.


However, Japan's contemporary theater world -- unlike traditional kabuki and noh -- has long been short on any systemetized training. Instead, youngsters often just join a small professional or semi-pro theater, learn to do things its way, and never aspire to greater things.


In contrast, as Tamiya Kuriyama -- who was artistic director of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) from 2000–07 -- explained, actors in European countries with a strong stage tradition learn their trade at national stage schools or leading theater companies. "This leads to them sharing a 'common grammar' -- much as ballet dancers do -- so they approach any part with an already established skill set."


Though it may have been late in catching on, in April 2005 the NNTT finally launched its Drama Studio -- headed by Kuriyama -- to provide three-year courses teaching basic acting skills, including elocution and movement.


One of the first-year's entrants was Hibiki Kitagawa. Last week, in a splendid rehearsal studio at the NNTT in Shinjuku's high-rise district, the 33-year-old told The Japan Times what attracted him to that course.


"I had already done a private training course, but I wanted to study drama at the highest level; I wasn't interested in being in films or on television without mastering the basic stage-acting skills,” he said. "And I was luckily one of 15 aaplicants they chose from about 600."


At that point our chat was truncated when Kitagawa was called to a rehearsal for “Nagai Bohyo no Retsu (A Long Line of Grave Posts),” a highly charged drama written in 1957 by former newspaper reporter Yoshiyuki Fukuda and set in Japan's militarist prewar period.


With its March 7-24 rub at the NNTT, the production marks an important "educational" milestone for the NNTT as it is the first time the company has ever cast youthful graduates from its Drama Studio together with established actors in an extended program -- rather than a weekend's "Students Special."


Commenting on this landmark staging, its director Keiko Miyata, the NNTT's current artistic director, said, “I realized there was still a big gap between the Drama Studio graduates and experienced professionals, so I wanted to create a career bridge between them. Here, it's exciting that the graduates play important roles in a major program -- rather than in a trainees' ensemble. So I hope that working with veteran actors will help them learn how to prepare and play a role.”


One especially sharing Miyata's excitement is Kuriyama, who still heads the Drama Studio. “Once the NNTT was founded in the high-tech hardware of this theater in 1997," he said, "I started to focus on creating the software of an academy to train actors. Otherwise, I thought, there could be no future for Japanese theater.”


In fact, in his 2007 book “Enshutsuka no Shigoto (The Work of a Theater Director),” Kuriyama recounts how he was once "thunderstruck" on a research trip to Sweden prior to setting up the Drama Studio. That was simply, but stunningly, because the head of the National Academy of Mime and Acting there wondered, since Japan had no national training course for actors, who were the people on the NNTT's stage?   


Speaking last month, Kuriyama continued in "thunderstruck" vein, noting, “South Korea started its national actors studio in 1946 and there are almost 80 drama colleges today. Consequently, most Korean actors have a proper theater education, while many of their counterparts here have to learn just by performing -- so obviously there's a big difference in skills."


But it's not just comparative skills that exercise Kuriyama. "When I did a workshop in Seoul a few months ago," he said, "I was struck by the actors’ passion for theater creation. In Japan, that is easily lose that due to the pressure for profits and business efficiency. In other words, after World War II Japan chose economic growth and Korea chose human growth -- and it’s time to get back to drama's basics here instead of chasing instant rewards.”

And though they were speaking separately, Kuriyama and Miyata both stressed it's not just the systems in Japan to blame for its unfulfilled theatrical potential -- but many entrants to the profession.


As Miyata recalled, “I've seen many young trainees who don’t want to communicate with others; it's not that they can't, but they don’t want to. Many tell me they've never even argued with their parents, and they have no strong relationships with anyone. However, I believe an actor must have a deep curiosity about people and life -- but that doesn't come from sitting at home staring at screens.”


In a similar vein, Kuriyama said, "I believe the essence of theater is ongoing renaissance in the depiction of the human condition. Hence I even tell young actors doing off-the-wall stuff that they must be sure to acquire the basic skills first. Just as professional musicians play their instruments well and ballet dancers move magically, actors must deliver their lines finely and true to the text. Then I'll call them professional actors.”


While echoing those views, Miyata added a further point: that strong egos are not conducive to good acting. "I wish the NNTT students would concentrate on gaining maturity and the flexibility to cope with any type of director and all types of plays. However, it's better if directors and playwrights are individualistic and self-centered -- and I'm saying that as a director (laughs).”


In fact she chose to stage “Nagai Bohyo no Retsu,” she said, because it was so apart from the young actors' life experiences as to be a great test for them. Loosely based on the real-life intimidation of a liberal economist by the prewar militarist authorities, the drama traces his miserable descent into acquiescence. And although the dissenting economist is played by veteran actor Takehiro Murata, the roles of his youthful followers are mostly taken by Drama Studio graduates.


Certainly one of those being truly tested is 2011 Drama Studio graduate Satoshi Imai, who admits to being "distressed" about playing a rightwing student named Konishi.


“I can’t figure out what Konishi means by loving his country, and why he feels it justifies him being violent to others," he confessed. "I’ve hardly ever thought about patriotic feelings, so it’s hard to understand him. However, I am studying books and newsreels about that period.”


Imai's confusion came as no surprise to Kuriyama. As he explained, "When I asked 30 NNTT students if they'd read any Shakespeare, just a few said they had. It’s a crisis, because actors can’t act a Shakespearean role by mimicking someone else's performance. Nowadays, even in our digital age, it still takes intense analog work by actors –- reading a text carefully and expressing it using their voices and bodies –- to get to grips with a role. There are no short cuts, so what's crucial is for actors to think for themselves, find their inner selves and stand on their own two feet. I always tell students to be self-reliant as people.”


As if vouching for Kuriyama's philosophy, Imai freely admitted that thanks to his Drama Studio experience he could now unflinchingly confront his own weaknesses. "People used to say I was shifty," he said, "and I'd just interpret that as me being prudent. But now I've stopped trying to gloss over that trait, and I've been trying to do something positive about it."


Meanwhile, with his few more years' experience, Kitagawa declared that what he'd gained from his three-year Drama Studio experience was: "The right to perform for audiences with a firm belief in myself as a stage actor."


Then, after a short lunch break, as the cast returned to the rehearsal in great spirits, they exuded a real sense of optimism for the future of Japanese theater -- as Miyata appealed to them from her director’s chair to imagine they were living back in the 1920s or '30s.


“Nagai Bohyo no Retsu (A Long Line of Grave Posts)” runs till March 24 at the New National Theatre Tokyo, a 2-min. walk from Hatsudai Station on the Keio New Line. For more details, call the NNTT at (03) 5352-9999 or visit www.nntt.jac.go.jp/play.   



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オーストラリア出身の演出家、現在はドイツを基盤に活躍するシンベリン・ビューラー女史が日本人の役者達と共に役者達との対話から新しい芝居を作り上げるプロジェクトの結晶「Living on Stone Rice」が駒場アゴラ劇場で上演されていた。

パネラーはシンベリン(写真)の他に、アゴラの支配人であり日本を代表する劇作家・演出家の平田オリザ氏、日本演出家協会事務局長でオーストラリア演劇に造詣の深い 和田嘉夫氏、文学座所属で海外作品演出も多い 高瀬久男氏。





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