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Special event sponsored by the Waseda University Public Relations Magazine Seihoku-no-Kaze
Round-table discussion to commemorate the opening of Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan

Reviving Waseda theater (Part 1)

Theater is the driving force behind the transmission of Waseda culture. The Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan, a new symbol which will further inspire theater activities at our university, is currently being constructed on the birthplace of Waseda Shogekijo, a theater group known for being the first generation of the small theater movement. The Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan is scheduled to open in April 2015. Permission to use the name Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan was obtained from director Tadashi Suzuki (1966 graduate of the School of Political Science and Economics), founder of the Waseda Shogekijo. The Drama-kan now bears great expectations from theatrical circles. To commemorate the start of construction, a round-table discussion was held among Shoji Kokami, Daihachi Yoshida, and Keishi Nagatsuka, all of whom are prominent figures in theater and film circles. The discussion was moderated by Minako Okamuro, Director of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum.

Participants

Mr. Shoji Kokami
Author, Theater Director

Shoji Kokami was born in 1958 in Ehime Prefecture. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Law in 1983. While studying at university, he belonged to the Theater Research Club and founded the theater group The Third Stage in 1981. Since then, he has been active as an author and theater director. He won the Kinokuniya Theater Prize for With a Sunset Like the Morning Sun, Golden Arrow Award for The Angel with closed eyes, the Kishida Drama Prize for Snufkin’s Letter, and the Yomiuri Prize for the theatrical scripts Globe Jungle. His current writing and directing activities are focused on the production unit KOKAMI@network and Kyoko-Gekidan, a theater group founded in 2008 by a gathering of young thespians.

Mr. Daihachi Yoshida
Film Director

Daihachi Yoshida was born in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1963. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 1987. After working as director at a TV commercial production company, he made his directorial debut in 2007 with Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!, a film adaptation of the drama by Yukiko Motoya. The film was invited to participate in International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Later, he directed the films The Wonderful World of Captain Kuhio and Permanent Nobara. His fourth work, The Kirishima Thing, won him the Best Director of the 37th Hochi Film Award, and the Best Director of the 36th Japan Academy Prize. In 2013, he directed Warm Poison, his first theatrical production.

Mr. Keishi Nagatsuka
Playwright, Theater Director, Actor

 Keishi Nagatsuka was born in Tokyo in 1975. In 1996, he founded the theatrical production unit Asagaya Spiders, fulfilling the three responsibilities of playwright, director and actor. In 2008, he spent 1 year studying drama in London through the overseas study program for upcoming artists of Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 2011, he founded the solo project Kuzukawa Shichosha, working as director and actor in performances Juro Miyoshi’s Buoy and Those Who Committed Crimes, as well as Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. His recent works include writing, directing and acting for In A World Without Sound, writing, directing and acting for Akai Kurayami Tenguto Gentan (Red Darkness), and directing for Macbeth. He has won numerous awards including the Best Producer Prize of Yomiuri Theatrical Grand Awards. In December 2014, he will direct the SIS Company’s production of Itachi (written by Yutaka Mafune).

(Moderator)Minako Okamuro
Director of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Retransmitting theater culture
Okamuro
Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to participate in today’s discussion. As we look forward to the opening of Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan, the time is ripe to invigorate the rich history of Waseda theater culture. All three of you studied at Waseda University. Mr. Kokami and Mr. Nagatsuka were engrossed in theater while at university, while Mr. Yoshida focused on film.
Kokami

Actually, I didn’t have any real reason for selecting Waseda! I didn’t feel like Keio University was the right place for me. On the contrary, I disliked Waseda because it seemed too perfect a fit for my personal image. Upon entering university, I wanted to get involved in film and tried going to various cinema clubs. However, I couldn’t find any club which interested me. Eventually, I ended up entering the Theater Research Club. I am so grateful toward Waseda University. The school prepared the Theater Research Atelier, located behind the Okuma Auditorium, for use by students involved in theater. In fact, the Atelier still remains today. Moreover, our theater group The Third Stage engaged in rash behavior such as holding performances under a tent pitched in front of the Okuma Auditorium. Although I had thought that the university would thoroughly disapprove of such actions, they engaged us in extremely reasonable discussion. Even today, I am still deeply grateful for such understanding.

Okamuro

Mr. Yoshida, what spurred your interest in film?

Yoshida

I lived in Kagoshima until graduating from high school. At that time, movie theaters were still rare and I wasn’t very interested in movies. However, after moving to Tokyo in order to spend a year studying for entrance examinations, I found that my lodgings happened to be located next to a theater showing classic films. I naturally started to watch movies, eventually becoming engrossed in film. There were many film clubs at Waseda University and numerous independent films being made. I had heard that many members of Waseda film clubs went on to become movie directors, and I became interested in entering Waseda. When spending an entire year doing nothing but studying for entrance examinations, a person needs a source of motivation—something to fuel their fire. Personally, I was motivated by the thought of entering Waseda and making movies.

Okamuro

Both of you are in your 50s and were university students during a period in which theater and film were wildly popular. Mr. Nagatsuka, how about yourself as part of the younger generation?

Nagatsuka

My father (Kyozo Nagatsuka) was a member of Gekidan KODAMA at Waseda University, while my mother belonged to the Theater Research Club. Although my mother studied at Joshigakuin, not Waseda University, she had participated in plays together with the Theater Research Club since high school. Growing up in such a household, I always associated Waseda with theater. Originally, I didn’t plan on going to university. After graduating from high school, I intended to enter a theater group called Team Bokura no Chosa-Kyoku. However, that group disbanded and I decided to enter university. I chose Waseda because it seemed to have an atmosphere of freedom.

I found the Theater Research Club.
Okamuro

I have served as Chairperson of the Theater Research Club for more than 10 years now. Mr. Kokami, I’m sure that the position of Chairperson was a challenging position when you were at Waseda! Incidentally, why did you decide to enter the Theater Research Club?

Kokami

To be honest, I really wanted to enter the legendary theater group Jiyu Butai (Free Theater). Unfortunately, I heard that they voluntarily disbanded during the turbulent times of the 1960s. I decided to look for a similar group, and I found the Theater Research Club.

Okamuro

Jiyu Butai was quite famous, wasn’t it? Actually, our university’s President Kamata was involved in theater when he was a student and belonged to Jiyu Butai. Mr. Yoshida, you entered Waseda right at the time when numerous independent films were being made at the university, right?

Yoshida

That’s right. I entered a film club called Higurashi instead of the Cinema Research Club which featured members such as Shigeru Muroi and director Naoto Yamakawa. If I remember correctly, director Yamakawa had already made his theatrical debut. Independent films peaked when Muroi and Yamakawa were at Waseda. I was one of many students who entered Waseda based on admiration for such predecessors.

Okamuro

Mr. Nagatsuka, your father Kyozo Nagatsuka belonged to Gekidan KODAMA. What club did you enter?

Nagatsuka

Initially, I wanted to enter the Theater Research Club and attended an information session held at the Okuma Auditorium. However, the appearance and attitude of the person giving the explanation turned me off. I made up my mind to start something myself and founded the Warau Bara Theater Group when I was a freshman in September.

Kokami

It’s amazing that you immediately founded your own group. How many people were in the group?

Nagatsuka

Less than 10 people. I recruited members by inviting people who seemed like they would be good for the group. I also invited my friends to go watch a play together and then asked them to join my group.

Okamuro

Currently, as Chairperson of the Theater Research Club, I tell students to attend class as much as possible. Did all of you attend classes regularly?

Kokami

Of course not! Once, I tried to leave for class in the middle of theater activities. One of the older students demanded to know where I was going. When I told him I was going to class, he told me to stop joking. Even so, Waseda was very good at looking after its students. I only took 2 credits during my first year at university. The university contacted my family to let them know that my studies weren’t on track. At the time, I wondered why a university based on freedom would do such a thing. Ultimately, I finally took 5 and a half years to graduate. That’s only because the School of Law didn’t have any seminars or graduate theses.

I was thrilled by The Third Stage.
Okamuro

Mr. Kokami, that certainly gives me a good idea of your time at university! Mr. Yoshida, how did you spend your days at Waseda?

Yoshida

Although we filmed movies in my club, things weren’t as strict as theater groups. I’m sure I attended classes more than Mr. Kokami! Honestly, since I majored in theater, I felt like I would be able to graduate simply by writing my impressions of films and plays which I had seen.

Okamuro

So you weren’t involved in theater when you were a student?

Yoshida

No, I wasn’t directly involved. Actually, the first theatrical performance I ever saw was Mr. Kokami’s Relayer. I went to see performance held by The Third Stage under a tent in back of the Okuma Auditorium. After entering university, I started filming movies on an 8-millimeter movie camera, resulting in movies which were different from what I was used to seeing at theaters. At the time I went to see the theatrical performance, I was worried about my film-making activities, and I remember being thrilled by The Third Stage. I was so excited that I stayed up all night talking about joining The Third Stage with a friend who had seen the performance with me. When I woke up the next day, it was already late afternoon and I didn’t have the energy to go join the group! Still, the performance had a great impact on me.

Okamuro

Mr. Nagatsuka, could you talk about your time at Waseda?

Nagatsuka

Honestly, I’m not sure if I should be allowed to participate in today’s discussion! Although I attended classes everyday during my first 2 years, I eventually became enthralled by theater and stop going almost entirely…am I allowed to say this sort of thing?!

Kokami

In my opinion, Waseda shows its open-mindedness by inviting a dropout to participate in a round-table discussion. It’s a wonderful thing. Personally, I was motivated to graduate by the many older students who dropped out of school and became famous. I wanted to take my own path.

Yoshida

It’s true that Waseda has a culture in which many dropouts have gone on to enjoy great success.

Nagatsuka

I founded my own theater group when I was a student. Since it wasn’t an official university club, we didn’t have much access to university facilities such as the Student Union Building. Even in the case of the former Waseda Drama Kan, I only used it long after disbanding the Warau Bara Theater Group and founding the Asagaya Spiders. Although I tried asking the Theater Research Club to let me use its space, they told me a thing like you were stupid! As a result, I often fought with the Theater Research Club. For example, at the moment that one of their performances would end, I would take down their signs and put up those of my own group.

Kokami

So you fought with the Theater Research Club. You probably could have won if your opponent was Gekidan KODAMA!

Aura of being different from the rest
Okamuro

Waseda theater reached its first peak during the time of Waseda Shogekijo, a theater group known for being the first generation of the small theater movement. The next peak took place during the generation of Mr. Kokami. The Third Stage had a great impact on both Waseda and theater circles throughout Japan.

Kokami

The success of The Third Stage was entirely due to Waseda University. The school provided us with facilities and was gracious enough to give me academic credits! Unfortunately, I was never able to acquire credits in the French language. During examinations, I wanted to prove that I wasn’t just playing around when not attending class. I wanted to show how hard I was working on theater activities. So, I fixed a flyer for one of our performances with the answer sheet before handing it in. Even so, I didn’t get the credit!

Okamuro

Putting aside such amusing anecdotes, Waseda theater was in its prime at that time. There were also many good theater groups when Mr. Nagatsuka attended university. Today, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same enthusiasm for theater at Waseda.

Kokami

Today, there is the theater group Inu-to-Kushi. Also, wasn’t another new theater group founded recently? Although it might seem a bit tame, aren’t there a lot of vibrant club activities?

Okamuro

Although activities may be vibrant, the number of theater groups is decreasing.

Yoshida

Nowadays, is there any difference between normal students and students involved in theater? When I was a student, there was a clear difference between the two types. Students involved in theater seemed more mature and emitted a strong aura of being different from the rest. They were so cool…they seemed to be committing their life to their passion.

Okamuro

Recently, students involved in theater don’t have the same sense of urgency. The Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan will open soon and I hope that Waseda can play a central role in invigorating theater. I would love to hear any ideas that you may have.

Kokami

It would be great if graduates could hold a performance for the first time in a long time. Recently, I received a letter from Waseda students who asked me to direct a performance using the Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan and Waseda theater groups. Unfortunately, although I am quite interested in the idea, I can’t make the time to direct a performance. Therefore, I apologized to the students and told them that I would gladly watch one of their performances and give a lecture afterwards. I haven’t heard anything further since I replied.

Take the initiative to distinguish yourself.
Nagatsuka

I’m not sure if that is a good idea. I mean, it’s fine for us to speak with students and watch their performances, but I want them to take the initiative to distinguish themselves. If they don’t make the effort themselves, then we would just be pulling up people who lack true ability. Honestly, I think that asking an adult like Mr. Kokami to oversee a performance shows a lack of initiative and too optimistic. I want students to makes a great performance by themselves. Now that Waseda is building a new theater, it’s a great opportunity for students. Despite that opportunity, relying on someone else’s help is a sign of weakness in students.

Okamuro

I see your point. However, in addition to the Waseda Small Theater Drama-kan giving students a place to give performances, I also want it to be a venue where high-quality theater is shown to students. I want to stimulate today’s students, just as Mr. Nagatsuka and Mr. Yoshida were impacted when watching performances by Mr. Kokami.

Nagatsuka

Assuming that we were to give a performance at the Drama-kan, would Waseda also provide us with rehearsal space? That would definitely encourage my group and other theater groups to perform at the Drama-kan. Proper rehearsal space is of extreme importance to a theater group.

Kokami

Now you are talking about specifics. It may seem like realistic, but it’s definitely important. The Drama-kan has a capacity of 70 people. Without the provision of rehearsal space, it would be difficult for a theater group to make a profit with such small capacity.

Nagatsuka

Exactly. When performing at a normal rental theater, each group is responsible for paying venue fees and rehearsal space fees. For theater people, in exchange for performing at the Drama-kan, it would be wonderful if Waseda University would help pay such fees and make it possible to create the desired work from scratch.

Kokami

That’s right. I teach a theater class at Shikoku Gakuin University as a visiting professor. The university has a theater that seats 250 people. Furthermore, there are no theater fees for performances. Thanks to that environment, many theater groups are interested in giving performances at the school. Since the university provides facilities free of charge, it is able to attract high-quality theater groups. It’s a great situation for students. How marvelous to be in an environment where one can periodically view high-quality theater!

Nagatsuka

In the case of a young theater group, they could use the Drama-kan to perform works which were created somewhere else. Of course, that would require flexibility, consultation, and negotiation ability as a hall.

Clear function is of great benefit.
Kokami

Those are good points. The Drama-kan needs to answer questions about the availability of rehearsal space and rental fees.

Nagatsuka

Is the Drama-kan a rental hall? Is it a venue for students to create their own works? Or is it a theater which permits the performance of works which were created through rehearsals at another venue? It’s important to clarify its role. Having a clear function would of great benefit to students and theater groups, as well as to Waseda itself.

Kokami

Waseda has to decide whether it will establish a system for artistic direction. If it is possible for the university to provide financial grants for showing high-quality works to students, then the university must have a system for selecting artistic direction.

Yoshida

There are so many directions that the Drama-kan could take. For example, it could host short-term performances by overseas theater groups which are ambitious but still unknown. Such performance would be difficult to give at other theaters.

Okamuro

That’s a good idea. The possibilities are expanding even as we speak! I hope that the Drama-kan will become a base for small theater in Japan.

Kokami

Another idea would be having a tournament among theater groups at Waseda. Or, you could have a festival in which each theater group takes turns giving performances for several weeks. I’m sure that the ideas will keep coming.

(Continue to Part 2)