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True Discussion-Not Myth-of Underground Theatre
-Holding of "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s: An International Conference"-

Itsuki Umeyama,
Research Associate Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

40 years after the "season of revolution", the "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s" symposium is held

The International Institute for Education and Research in Theatre and Film Arts, a Global COE Program at the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, will hold the "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s: An International Conference" from the 17th (Friday) to the 19th (Sunday) of October. As a prelude to this event, I would like to introduce the features and attractions of this research conference from my position as a representative of the Executive Committee.

Flyer for "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s: An International Conference"

40 years has passed since the season of revolution which was symbolized by the May Revolution of France in 1968. "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s: An International Conference" seeks detailed evaluation of these events from a modern-day perspective, without treatment as a myth or memoir. This is the first research conference in Japan to fully raise the theme of theatre in the 1960s. The conference is a unique and vital opportunity, featuring participation from the forerunners of 1960s theatre such as Yukio Ninagawa, Juro Kara, Makoto Sato, and Minoru Bechaku, as well as subsequent performers such as Akio Miyazawa, Oriza Hirata, and Toshiki Okada. In addition to dialogues and panel discussions between performers and playwrights who represent the world of theatre, keynote lectures by 4 theatre critics who were active in the 1960s are scheduled as another attraction of this research conference. This is a stimulating opportunity to hear at once the underground theory of Yoshio Ozasa, Ryuko Saeki, Akihiko Senda, and Takayuki Kan. Furthermore, Ellen Stewart, founder of La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, has been invited from America. Ms. Stewart has continued to serve as a foundation for avant-garde theatre for half of a century and also possesses a deep connection with Japanese contemporary theatre. The 3 day program of the conference includes panel discussions, dialogues, keynote lectures, and research presentation. However, in addition to these 3 days, other events are scheduled to be held in conjunction with the conference. A continuous seminar (October 21st to 23rd) will be given by David Goodman, a research of latter-day and modern Japanese theatre. Furthermore, an exhibition (October 15th to 20th) of posters related to underground theatre is planned.

The current situation of research regarding the 1960s

"Overview of the Aka Tent (Red Tent)", Jokyo Theatre Edition "Kara Group: Collection of All Recorded Photographs of the Jokyo Theatre" (PARCO Publishing, 1982)

Currently in 2008, a corner devoted to the May Revolution of 1968 can be found in most of the bookstores in France. Amongst changing social conditions due to shifts in the leadership of political parties, a movement is occuring to comprehensively reconsider the situation of the 1960s and to decide whether to inherit the spirit of the 1960s. This movement exists not only in France, but can be seen in countries throughout the world, including Japan. Furthermore, from the perspective of culture, the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s receives attention in Japan and special articles related to this period are frequently featured in magazines and other publications. In the field of theatre, performances in small theatres, commonly known as underground theatre, rose to prominence in a period spanning from the 1960s to the 1970s. Underground theatre was given a position as the turning point of modern theatre, and in some circles was given such significance in the history of theatres that it achieved a mythical status. In actuality, it is not an overstatement to say that the foundation of today's cultural policies was created through the activities of underground theatre. Underground theatre has played an important role in the history of theatre, and especially in the case of Japan, proof of this importance can be seen in the opening of many public theatres through the efforts of people involved in underground theatre. However, even as underground theatre has been given a mythical status, I believe that there has been no active and detailed examination of what was sought by the pioneers of underground theatre, or of how these pioneers and underground theatre appear in the eyes of later generations of theatre people. Just as fragments of the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s exists today as nostalgic songs and toys, underground theatre also comes to the surface as fragments of a stage, without a clear view of the phenomenon as a whole.

Impressions from a torrent of words

Jokyo Theatre "Petticoat Oboro: Tale of the Whale Witch"(1975, design by Katsuyuki Shinohara) (from the collection of Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum)

Some theatre groups that are classified as underground theater include Jokyo Theatre, Waseda Small Theatre, Jiyugekijo, Hakken no Kai, June Theatre, Tenkei Theatre, and Tenjô Sajiki theater troupe. Although each group came from a different origin and created its own unique world of theatre, the majority of the groups were critical of the preceding art form of New Theatre, and thus were interpreted as being against modern theatre and the New Theatre movement. Also, as symbolized in the phrase "restoration of the body", underground theatre can be considered as having placed greater emphasis on the body of the actor than on spoken words. Naturally, since I was born in the 1980s, I have not witnessed firsthand the stages where underground theatre gained mythical status. My experience with underground theatre has been through posters and journals. I was overwhelmed by the size of posters for Jokyo Theatre and Engeki Center 68/71, and was astonished by the great amount of letters in journals and papers. I am in the same generation as the members of Karazemi, which was founded at Yokohama National University, and I have met many theatre people who are known as forerunners of the underground movement at the same university. I deeply felt that "underground theatre speaks a great deal", even if the medium of expression was posters and journals, and even at a university. If my experience is compared with the accepted theory which was just presented, it may seem as a misinterpretation of underground theatre. However, I decided to focus on this "misinterpretation" when constructing the program for this research conference. I believe that, in actuality, an overabundance of language existed in underground theatre. All people associated with the theatre currently express themselves to society through journals and papers by writing an unbelievable amount of theatre theory, poems, and criticism. The same is true for plays, in which a large number of characters appear who speak so much that they barely have time to breathe. As evidenced by the previous example of Yokohama National University, the forerunners of underground theatre are currently found working not only in the theatre itself, but also educating younger generations through university teaching positions. Around the 1960s, these theatre people had a tense relationship with student movements, including the refusal to participate in demonstrations. Therefore, the question is what led them to become involved in educational institutions such as universities? What was the original objective of the underground movement, which ultimately expanded it activities to educational institutions and public theatres? Why did underground theatre give the feeling of a "restoration of the body", even though a condition existed in which there was an overabundance of language? I hope that such questions can be clarified by this research conference.

Competitive performance of theatre people who represent the era -for an even more certain evaluation-

Jokyo Theatre Public Performance "Karaban-Kaze no Matasaburo", Jokyo Theatre Edition "Kara Group: Collection of All Recorded Photographs of the Jokyo Theatre" (Parco Publishing,1982)

The features of this research conference are found not only in this innovativeness, but also in plans that include young researchers and theatre people. At the Global COE Program of the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, we seek to uphold the existence of the International Institute for Education and Research in Theatre and Film Arts by planning various international research conferences. We are conducting research which is even more fulfilling than during the period from the 2002 to the 2006 academic, which was selected for the 21st Century COE Program. As part of this research, we are giving high priority to the development of young researchers. Young researchers and young theatre people who are involved in the creation of theatre play an important role in this research conference. Firstly, a research presentation by three researchers is scheduled for October 17th, the first day of the conference. The plan to invite the La Mama Experimental Theatre club is the work of the young playwright Shoko Ninomiya (Suginami Art Museum "Za-Koenji Public Theatre" Preparation Room Staff). Furthermore, operations during the 3 day conference are supported by the office staff, research associates, and many student staff members. Listening to the oral history of people active during the period of underground theatre is the main content of this research conference, but this content would end as just a memoir if the only activity was passive listening. The presence of students, including the audience present on a certain day, will create a critical perspective and guide the conference towards evaluation. Professor Minako Okamuro, the Chairperson of the Executive Committee, has stated that this research conference is an opportunity to create a confrontation between the"fierce energy of the forerunners of underground theatre, an energy which is unfailing even now" and a "cool gaze which bears no relation to the records or admiration of the 1960s".

I hope that the 3 days of the conference are an opportunity for presenters to speak to their heart's content. Also, I hope that this research conference presents an opportunity for young people to listen to valuable discussion regarding how the spirit of the 1960s should be inherited, and how the condition of modern day theatre should be confronted.

Detailed information regarding "Reconsidering the Underground Theatre of the 1960s: An International Conference"


Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum


Itsuki Umeyama,
Research Associate Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Born in 1981 in Niigata Prefecture. Currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. Research Associate at the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum and Global COE researcher. Vice-Chairperson of the Executive Committee for this research conference.