Wandering words

#25 Spring 2002

Wandering words-10 years of the Shakespeare Company-

By poet and psychiatrist Ohdaira Tsunemoto


I wonder how many years have passed since I heard from Shimodate his concept for a performance of "Romeo and Juliet". At that moment we had passed under a low bridge and I was gazing around from our punt being pushed by a student, feeling the strength of the river on the palm of my hand, and thinking that the River Cam (which winds its way through the colleges of Cambridge University) was cooler than I had imagined.


In that slightly awkward atmosphere, the symbol of the curtain rising to the sound of a drop of water dripping from a tap as if a drop from the sea, and the yellow image of "Romeo and Juliet" like the gleaming sun, as one could imagine, began little by little to boil up inside Shimodate from that day.


I also believe it was around that time when I heard about the idea for the Shakespeare Company in a hotel bar by the river whilst indulging in a pint of beer (always seemed a little big to me) and chips.


Actually, I hate drama for it is theatre more than drama ? I fall into the fanatical anti-drama camp. But Shimodate, who was both disgusted with me and felt pity for me, took me on a two week acting seminar. He showed me around theatres from the top galleries to the pits. He dragged me up and down the steep stairs of London's theatres. He showed me the Cambridge students' progressive theatre (which wasn't that interesting). He seemed to be trying, with his body, to teach the pitiful me what theatre actually is. And so what was the result? What educational effect was there? Well, that doesn't matter.


Beginning with "Romeo and Juliet" in Fukushima, "Midsummer Night's Dream" on a small island near Shiogama, "Twelfth Night" in Iwadeyama, "Much Ado About Nothing" in Fujizawa-cho, "Macbeth" at Osaorezan, Koita and Scotland, "As You Like It" in Naruko, and other performances in Morioka, Takajo, Tokyo and more. Playing for us for seven years. As the venue and the plays changed I have been awestruck with the strength of the performances.


Yet, the problem of language is troublesome. What words can carry the heart and soul of Tohoku? This is the problem. "Cultural superiority and language superiority are different. Economic superiority and authoritative superiority and language superiority must be parallel. When two cultures meet, the top half of the hierarchy with the weaker economic and authoritative language is stripped away and the bottom part is left belonging to the superior power. This is because the people bearing the language have gone. The reason is they have been culturised. The Chief Retainer of the Sendai clan in Edo times would have sat all day in seiza and spoken a fine Sendai dialect. With the Meiji restoration, the Sendai dialect stopped being used. The problem is also that the revengefulness which has been refracted by the heart and soul of Tohoku must come about. It is said that warriors from different areas spoke through songs." etc, etc.


So what is the heart and soul of Tohoku-ben?


This is the real problem. Moreover Tohoku has to be able to express such things as the birth and death of man, heaven and hell, or rather paradise and hell. Also one must think about the direction of not just Tohoku-ben but the language itself. Maybe a break of two years to think about this is too short.


I hope that we will get to meet again at the performance of our "Hamlet" in a small port town in Denmark.


The Power of the Classics

By advisor Matsuda Masae


Seven years have past since we started. And the one thing that stands out in my mind after all this time is that I have experienced the enjoyment of Shakespeare in Tohoku with many people ? family, relatives, friends and many unknown people.


Because Shakespeare is classic, and I maybe I'm overstretching myself here but, I feel that he is like a god who has given us the power of "words". The various travesties and hardships that happen in life can be soothed by words; conversely it is more usual to be deeply offended by words. At times there are even words that rock our lives. The reason I have come to feel that words are amazing is through our performing a number of works.


Up until now we have performed mainly comedies which are early works. The president's thinking was this: we may be unknown but people will laugh for us; because people are laughing the inexperience of the troupe may be hidden; more than anything I want to grow with the company by building experience in a similar way to how Shakespeare did in his day.


As it's a comedy the audience has to laugh. In order for this to happen, the president Mr Shimodate moved the stage setting to somewhere easy to relate to, littered the script with funny lines, mixed in some astonishing performing, and remembered first and foremost that the stage and the audience are connected.


Just as we were thinking that if these devices work it will be fine, surprisingly, the audience responded at a scene with no devices. This was not because of some manufactured wording, this was Shakespeare's words. The story's flow had carried across correctly, and the fact that the flow of laughter was coming back I thought was an unbelievable achievement. I was surprised, and Shimodate and myself looked at each other from the wings as if to say "Shakespeare the God has come down to us". People have told us their thoughts on our Shakespeare ? it was funny, I cried a little, feeling happy and strong. And people have laughed for us. Because of these things we have been able to feel for ourselves the strength of these classics as well as the joy of performing Shakespeare.


One can feel the strength of the classics from other classical art forms. The first time I saw Kyogen (performed at Chusonji temple in Hiraizumi) it was very, very funny, and I experienced for the first time a laugh boiling up from the inner depths of my heart. Now, as I'm living in Kyoto close to many classical Japanese art forms, I am blessed with opportunities to see Noh and Kyogen. At New Year, there was Kyogen for children held at the Kawamura Noh Theatre by the Karasuma Imadegawa River, and sat on a cushion on the tatami covered gallery I had my first laugh of the year with children who were moving there bodies and laughing out load. With living in Kyoto I have come to think that the older things are the best. When I started thinking this way I also came to think how important it is for me to recreate these older things. The Kyogen master Nomura Mansai once said in a newspaper article: "The strength of classical art doesn't come just from battling with your own power but has an essence which has been filtered through humans for hundreds of years. When you learn this essence completely with your body, then possibilities beyond one's own ability arise." There is no form in itself but in the same way Shakespeare's plays have been loved for 400 years, and there must be an essence to draw out of such a long history of performance, and I think feeling this essence and acting it out is very important.


Recreating the classics is needless to say no easy task, and no more so is the task of translating directly into our own lively language the hard to comprehend classical English texts. And Mr Shimodate has, through his research of the classics (which are said to bring rewards when whole-heartedly recreated), grasped the essence of Shakespeare, and I think the biggest charm of the company is that they are recreating the living energy from old and are not making the audience see a knowledgeable but clinical interpretation.


Yet again, a play is not just making but, there is a great pleasure in the experience of the audience's feelings becoming an approaching wave and the whole theatre becoming one. Becoming one is truly hard; the audience, the actors, the lighting, the sound and music, the stage and reception staff, the managers, the theatre, the posters and their makers, the sponsors, and also the performance itselfcceach by themselves a being, and it is necessary to place together these numerous pieces. And so when the heart and soul of all these people have been put together, then "one" play will be made.


>From now on we shall have a break, but when we return in two years, I hope that we can meet whilst still holding on to that fresh feeling we had seven years ago but at the same time with our feelings pointing directly towards Shakespeare. And so, I pray that the meaning implied in the applause at the end of our play would be telling us "Bloody good story!"