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Contemporary Theatre and Theatre Museums
- An Example using Waseda's Theatre Museum -

Hirokazu Akiba, Associate Director
Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Storing that which is shapeless-significance of the existence of a theatre museum

Theatre which is expressed through the bodies of people themselves is an animate being (raw and alive). No trace is left after a performance. Theatre is a once in a lifetime experience that remains only in the memories of the audience. Also, even if the performers bring an abundance of passion to the performance, they hold no fixation towards a record of theatrical success, or they have no spare energy to harbor such a fixation. As a result, even if an outstanding performance is etched into the minds of people, the hints necessary to recall the performance are often lost. The more outstanding the performance, the more a person desperately wishes to retain that impression. If items such as photographs of the performance, video records of the performance, performance notes, costumes, backdrops, scripts, flyers or programs remain, they can be used as hints to envisage the performance. This wish is one of the aspects which shape a theatre museum.

Portrait of Shoyo Tsubouchi during his final lecture on Shakespeare.

The Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum (hereafter referred to as Theatre Museum) is known affectionately as "Enpaku". Through the cooperation of benefactors from various fields, the Theatre Museum was established in 1928 to celebrate both the 70th birthday of Shoyo Tsubouchi and his finished translation of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" (a total of 40 volumes). As is commonly known, in addition to serving as a professor at Waseda University, Shoyo was active as a translator of Shakespeare, an author of novels such as Tosei Shosei Kishitsu (Portraits of Contemporary Students), and a writer of plays including dramas such as Kiri Hitoha (A Paulownia Leaf) and Maki no Kata. The Theatre Museum's fundamental policy to collect an encompassing selection of theatre documentation from both the East and West reflects the broad activities of our founder. While there are museums which collect theatre material in specific area, the Theatre Museum is perhaps the only museum specializing in theatre that collects, stores, and holds exhibitions and seminars for theatre material without regard to genre. The Theatre Museum has an area of 1,500 square meters. The area available for exhibitions is not very large. However, 80 years of support and cooperation from both domestic and international performers and theatre fans has resulted in a vast collection of museum items and literature. This kind of material sleeps safely in our storerooms, awaiting the opportunity to shine on the stage of an exhibition.

Evidence of an era, 10 years of the "Modern Theatre Series" exhibition

Since 1998, 70 years after its founding, the Theatre Museum has held the "Modern Theatre Series" exhibition in the hallway area of the 3rd floor. Related theatre lectures and symposiums have also been held. The gathering and dispersion of theatre companies and groups which support modern theatre is quite severe, and some of the groups have already disappeared. As a result of this severe situation, theatre fans are undoubtedly grateful for the hints which remain in the Theatre Museum and can be used to remember performances.

I would like to name some of the theatre companies and groups which have been featured in this 10 year period. These include Dairakudakan, Hanagumi Shibai, Gekidan 300, Thirdstage, Komatsuza, Seinendan, Jiyu Gekijo, Konnyakuza, Minami-Kawachi Banzai Ichiza, Kenichi Kato Office, Caramel Box, Wakusei Pistachio, Ku Na'uka, Gekidan Taiyozoku, Tobiraza, Renniku Kobo, Yamanote Jijosha, MONO, Rinkogun, Yuenchi Saisei Jigyodan, Ryuzanji Company, Condors, Mokutosha, Black Tent Theatre, Stage Event Project Group THE GAZIRA, and Ishinha. These theatre companies (groups) were established from the 1960s to the 1990s, with the majority being established in the 1980s. Unfortunately, I have not been able to view performances of all of these theatre companies. However, based upon what I have seen and heard, I can confirm that each of these theatre companies (groups) emits a unique energy through original messages, character creation, and use of space. Also, these theatre companies exist as evidence of an era of nearly half a century, and as evidence of our society. Through these theatre companies, we can reflect upon the era which we have lived through, as well as the contradictions and issues which faced our society.

Theatre lectures of the Modern Theatre Series: Performance of Ishinha (May, 2008 at Ono Auditorium)

As this article is being written in August of 2008, the exhibition for Ishinha is nearing an end. Ishinha, which is based in Kansai and is known as JanJan Opera, creates a unique performance space in their expansive outdoor theatre. Their current work incorporates a collage-like performance, which has gained the attention of theatre fans in the Tokyo metropolitan area. In the future, there are a great number of exhibitions which I wish to conduct, including Ai Nagai's Nitosha, Koichi Kimura's Chininkai, which ceased operation in October of 2007, and the New National Theatre, which has already been in operation for 10 years.

Rediscovering modern theatre-the Ibsen Memorial Festival-

Two years ago, 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Henrik Ibsen, a man called the "father of modern theatre" and known for his works A Doll's House and Ghosts. An event to reflect upon his achievements began in Japan and was held throughout the world. In November, the "Ibsen Memorial Festival-Ibsen's Meaning to Us" was held at Waseda University. The event was sponsored by the Theatre Museum together with The Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Japan Theatre Arts Association, and the Japanese Center of International Theatre Institute. The contents of the event were developed over a period of 2 years, with a majority of the work performed by Mitsuya Mori (Professor at Seijo University at the time), who is the center of research related to Ibsen in Japan. The result of this work was 3 lectures delivered by Toshio Kawatake (Professor Emeritus at Waseda University, Hiroshi Komatsu (Professor Waseda University), and Errol Durbach (Professor at The University of British Columbia, Canada). Also featured was a performance of the monodrama Ibsen Women by Norwegian actress Juni Dahr, as well the showing of the 2 films A Man There Was (1917, silent film) and An Enemy of the People (2005, English subtitles). Furthermore, Mr. Mori led a symposium that included panelists who were members of theatrical groups which had recently performed works of Ibsen. The event offered a retrospective of the path taken by theatre in Japan in the 100 years since the passing of Ibsen.

A flyer for the Ibsen Memorial Festival

I experienced three sensations while promoting an exhibition of this magnitude.

My first feeling was that the works of Ibsen have not lost the actuality of modern theatre, despite often being viewed as classics and avoided in Japan. I also recalled the performance in Japan of Nora (A Doll's House) (directed by Thomas Ostermeier) by the German theatre company Schaubühne in 2005, the year before the Ibsen Memorial Festival. Although the original play ended with Nora leaving behind her husband and children and abandoning her home, the Schaubehne production ends with Nora shooting and killing her husband. This was an ambitious performance which attempted to recover into modern times the shock produced by the play's first performance. For the theatre companies (groups) introduced above in the "Modern Theatre Series", the works created by each of the main writers (directors) were often the subject of criticism. However, there are a number of precious endeavors that show how to associate with classics. These works include Rosmersholm (Theatrical Group EN) and An Enemy of the People (Rinkogun), which were directed by event panelists Tetsuo Anzai and Yoji Sakate. Also included is the aforementioned Nora (A Doll's House), performed by Schaubühne and directed by Thomas Ostermeier.

My second feeling was that the opportunity to view foreign theatre in Japan has increased dramatically in recent years. Again, I felt this sensation when viewing the performance of Schaubühne. Furthermore, it is no longer rare for Japanese theatrical members to perform in foreign countries. The transnational qualities required to expand beyond linguistic and cultural spheres are found not only in Noh and Kabuki, but also in modern theatre. In the future, I believe that many aspects of transnational qualities will continue to infuse modern theatre.

From the Ibsen Memorial Festival-Ibsen Women, a monodrama performed by Juni Dahr-

My third feeling was related to the position occupied by the Theatre Museum as it conducts exhibitions such as the Ibsen Memorial Festival. The Theatre Museum occupies a very advantageous position for contacting embassies, theatre-related organizations, performers, and researchers. This position was bolstered when, in 2006, a research project of the Theatre Museum entitled "Development of Research and Study Methodologies in Theatre" was selected as a 21st Century Center of Excellence Program by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Another important factor was the active participation of Ibsen researchers in the Ibsen Memorial Festival. In order for a major exhibition to excel, an organizational coalition is necessary in terms of capital, manpower, and management. In this area, I believe that the Theatre Museum is in a position to function as an administrative office.

Reconsidering theatre of the 1960s-bringing into view the direction of modern theatre

Flyer for "Reconsidering Theatre of the 1960s"

In conclusion, I would like to recommend one of the exhibitions from the future plans of the Theatre Museum. The situation which existed in the late 1960s is of great importance when considering modern theatre. A change in theatre became unavoidable due to the political situation shown by the "May Revolution" of Paris in 1968, as well as the movement for change in the world of theatre. These forces manifested in the "season of politics". The Global COE Program, which uses the Theatre Museum as a research base, is holding the "International Research Conference: Reconsidering Theatre of the 1960s" for 3 days from October 17th to the 19th. This conference reexamines the theatrical events of 40 years ago from a modern standpoint. Ellen Stewart, founder of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, has been invited as a guest speaker. Also, lectures at the conference will feature speakers from the front line of modern theatre and film, such as Kohei Ando, Yoshio Ozasa, Toshiki Okada, Juro Kara, Takayuki Kan, Kyoko Kujo, Takayuki Saeki, Makoto Sato, Akihiko Senda, Yukio Ninagawa, Sakumi Hagiwara, Minoru Bechaku, Naoto Horikiri, and Akio Miyazawa. This exhibition is a must for theatre fans. Also, for those who are unaware, I would like to introduce another aspect of the Theatre Museum. Our performance record database is open to the public and can be used to search for modern theatre information in Japan since 1945. This database can be used not only by researchers and students, but also by performers of theatre companies, as well as the general theatre fans. Please feel free to access the database.

Modern Theatre Performance Record Database from the Digital Archive Collection of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Hirokazu Akiba/Professor at Waseda University, Associate Director of the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Born in 1947. Completed the Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences Doctorate Program. Co-authored works include German Theatre-A Kaleidoscope of Literature (Dogakusha) and Horizons and Water Veins of Japanese Consciousness (Perikansha). Co-translated works include Work Journals of Bertolt Brecht: Volumes One and Two (Kawade Shobo Shinsha).