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[The Story of Waseda-Town] Waseda Drama Hall-The remaining dream of a theatre person

The Waseda Cultural Arts Plaza-Drama Hall (formerly known as the Waseda Shogekijo and Waseda Drama Hall) is located along the road which leads to Toyama Campus from the south gate of Waseda University. This is the birthplace of Waseda Shogekijo, a theatre group known as the first generation of small theatre activities. Since 1966, the theatre has produced many theatre persons with a focus on theatre by students and local citizens. However, at the end of February 2012, it became apparent that the theatre has insufficient earthquake resistance. The theatre building was closed and is scheduled to be demolished. We spoke with the founder of the theatre, who even today actively continues theatre activities in a mountain village far from Waseda University.
[From the Waseda University Public Relations Magazine "Northwest Wind Vol. 12" (issued in September 2012)]

Waseda Drama Hall, scheduled for demolition

About 35 kilometers southwest of Toyama Airport is a village formerly known as Toga. The village has population of approximately 700 people and is now part of Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture. Although the mountain scenery is tranquil, the huge amount of snow which falls in winter exposes the fierceness of nature. In these mountains lies Toga Art Park, the operating base for "SCOT," which is the predecessor to Waseda Shogekijo. SCOT is a large theatre base with multiple theatres such as Japan's largest gassho-zukuri (building with steep rafter roof) theatre and an outdoor theatre which has with a lake in the background and hosts fireworks performances. Many theatergoers visit SCOT when it holds performances and invited performances are held overseas when it creates new works.

The director of SCOT is Tadashi Suzuki (73), who graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University in 1966. Soon after graduating, Suzuki founded the Waseda Shogekijo together with individuals such as author Minoru Betsuyaku (graduated from School of Economics). Through the cooperation of a friend who owned the caf辿 MonCheri, they created a theatre on the 2nd floor of the caf辿.

"When we were students, the owner always let us practice in the caf辿 after it closed at 6pm. I guess he felt a little lonely after we graduated. During that period, our theatre group was arguing over whether we should split up or stay together."

Although the theatre barely accommodated 100 people, it performed to a packed audience on consecutive days. "Masuji Ibuse and Takaaki Yoshimoto came to the performances. Also in attendance were the All-Campus Joint Struggle League, as well as Professors who supported the league. During that period, there was a rivalry with Juro Kara and Shuji Terayama. Kayoko Shiraishi also performed with the troupe there for 10 years. Thinking back on that time fills me with nostalgia."

In 1976, the rental contract for the building was terminated, so Suzuki and other theatre members moved their base to Toga Village. They changed the theatre's name from Waseda Shogekijo to SCOT. Afterwards, during the 3 years until 1979, Suzuki received assistance from the kabuki researcher Professor Emeritus Masakatsu Gunji (deceased) and served as a Part-Time Instructor at the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. SCOT produced numerous representative works such as King Lear, Dionysus, and The Stranger in the Junkyard Shantytown. The theatre group performed in more than 80 cities in 30 countries around the world. In the summer of 2012, the group was invited to the Edinburgh festival, a global arts festival which is held in Scotland and features performances by 3,000 artists from 47 countries. At the Edinburgh festival, SCOT performed the Greek tragedy Elektra.

Spectator seats as seen from the theatre stage

A flyer for The Little Match Girl, the opening performance for the Waseda Shogekijo in November 1966 (provided by the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum)

"Waseda has produced countless theatre artists-such as playwrights, actors and directors," says Suzuki, who himself has been at the center of the achievements listed above. "For example, Kunio Shimizu, Minoru Betsuyaku, Mansaku Nomura, Go Kato and Hiroko Watanabe. Why has Waseda been so productive? The reason is that everyone associated theatre with the Waseda Shogekijo. However, is the same true today?" he says forcefully, voicing concern and making rigorous demands of the current Waseda theatre artists.

The School of Letters, Arts and Sciences was founded by Shoyo Tsubouchi, who was known for his research of Shakespeare. Tsubouchi founded his own theatre and was a pioneer in introducing European theatre to Japan. Even today, Waseda University is a center for theatre research. Our university has produced enormous results in the research of Noh and Kabuki.

"Waseda has a proud theatre history," says Suzuki with a serious expression. "For that very reason, my ideal for Waseda would be to constantly hold live performances in addition to the activities of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum. The university should challenge itself to produce experimental art and have a theatre dedicated to performance. Waseda does not teach the practical aspects of theatre. It should establish a performing arts undergraduate school and translate the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum collections into English in order to share those valuable resources throughout the world. It should also establish a research center for physical arts and hire experimental artists as instructors. Furthermore, it should create a leading center for international theatre and cultivate global theatre personnel. Overseas universities are doing such things."

"I would like Waseda University to take a look at this Toga Art Park," continues Suzuki. "Even though we are located deep within the mountains, we receive donations from overseas universities. Every year, theatre people gather from throughout the world to practice performing arts. In Japan today, how many theatre groups are invited overseas? How many theatre artists can perform on a global level? The internationalization of Japanese theatre should have been made possible through the unique capacity of Waseda. Wasn't it a dream of Waseda to attract foreign students from throughout the world to study theatre?"

Tadashi Suzuki, Director of the theatre group SCOT

Even now, Suzuki still has an opportunity to interact with Waseda students through theatre activities. "However, I feel that today's students have lost the attitude of 'breaking away from the norm' which we possessed in the past," he says with a hint of sadness. "It seems that students only seek the conventional definition of success."

"It can't be helped if the Drama Hall needs to be torn down. There's nothing we can do about that. However, the essence of theatre is its frontier spirit. Throughout its history, the theatre has been subject to all kinds of discrimination. Since our theatre troupe moved 36 years ago, we have continued to perform and receive great support from both within Japan and overseas. This continuity wouldn't have been possible without the Waseda spirit. The University of Tokyo produces bureaucrats, while Keio University produces managers. What about Waseda? Our university produces a spirit of enterprise and nonconformity. Students must remember that."

After the Waseda Shogekijo moved to Toga Village, the building was operated as a rental theatre. After many twists and turns, the building was purchased by Waseda University in 1997. After demolishing a theatre which is like a monument to modern Japanese theatre, the university is considering whether the site can be reused as a place for student theatre activities. Will Waseda be able to produce another Tadashi Suzuki, who rose from this site as a global theatre figure?

"Chidren's Drama for Adults From Cinderella to Madame de Sade (one act)" Performance
December 8 (Sat) - 24 (Mon, public holiday) , 2012 at the Kichijoji Theatre

From December 8 (Sat) to 24 (Mon, public holiday) at the Kichijoji Theatre in Kichijoji, the theater group SCOT will perform their new work "Chidren's Drama for Adults From Cinderella to Madame de Sade (one act)". It is a new experiment that shows rehearsals for the two dramas Cinderella and Madame de Sade on the same stage. There will be 11 performances in total as well as Tamotsu Watanabe (traditional performance art critic), Jo Kanamori (modern dance), Takayuki Kan (modern theatre critic), Masachi Osawa (social critic), and Kazuo Mizuno (economic commentator) giving talks with Tadashi Suzuki over the period.

■SCOT Kichijoji Theatre Performance 2012
"Chidren's Drama for Adults From Cinderella to Madame de Sade (one act)"

Cinderella continues writing her own happy story while being abused by her two sisters and stepfather.
A heretical man called the Marquis de Sade.
Each story is created around the man, and in those are four women.
The world-famous fairytale Cinderella and Yukio Mishima's Madame de Sade (Act II).
These two stories appear in a new form depicting stage rehearsal.

Tadashi Suzuki
■Original works by the Brothers Grimm and Yukio Mishima

Musashino City, Musashino Cultural Foundation
December 8 (Sat) - 24 (Mon, public holiday) , 2012
Kichijoji Theatre (http://www.musashino-culture.or.jp/k_theatre/index.html
[All seats reserved]General admission \5,000 Students \4,000
※For enquiries regarding student discounts, please contact SCOT (03-3445-8013).
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