Interview with Erica Yamada, director of Space GIGA theatre troupe
‘Every Person is Giant’: Japanese Small Theatre
by Matt Perkins
Erica Yamada sees herself as part of group of artists trying to make fringe dance and acting troops, sometimes called ‘Japanese small theatre’, a little more giant. She is the director of Space GIGA, a theatre company promoting novelty and self-expression. She believes in the power of modern theatre to draw people together in a way other entertainment cannot. GIGA often perform in public spaces, treating their performances like public debates or interrogations of an issue. Erica wants help make ‘theatre culture’ common culture.
Her love for incompleteness drew her away from the polish of the Tokyo scene and back to Fukuoka. She always wanted to make public plays like festivals. Gaining permission to access outdoor spaces and unoccupied buildings was difficult. Once or twice GIGA were suspected of being a cult. Watching one piece of video footage showing a production in which women danced around in the woods, circling large flaming torches, their traditional Japanese robes slipping from their shoulders, helped to explain the misunderstanding. Her latest piece, ‘Aoitori aoitori aoi …’ attempts to guide the audience through a rethinking of a popular children’s book to consider the meaning of happiness.
Space GIGA performing in a theatre festival in Hong Kong (2011) Photo: http://spacegiga.com
Erica feels strongly that knowing theatre history is important for a Japanese director. She excitedly related an excerpt from a Tadashi Suzuki book she had been reading in which the famous director traces Noh’s slow, pensive ways of walking with one’s knees slightly bent back to the Japanese squat-loo which had been training actors’ strong hip bones from birth. Back then, they had shared these postures with every Japanese person who ever used the toilet. Now, the movements in traditional theatre are now a long way away from the bodies and movements of Japanese people today who shower standing up, hunch over video games or office desks, eat at McDonalds and even go to the toilet like Westerners. Directors have to consider the differences between what happens in the theatre and what people actually experience day to day if they are going to draw the public back to the stage.
In her upcoming production Bluebird, based on a play by Maurice Maeterlinck, Erica wants to get audiences talking about happiness. The assumption for many people that ‘trying not to be unhappy’ is the same as ‘wanting to be happy’ frustrates her . They have given up on change or become proudly ignorant of national affairs because of fearing mistakes or failure. It is far more energizing to summon a will to seek out better kinds of happiness.
Bluebird rehearsals are well under way. During the rehearsal I sat in, Erica told the actors to come up with movements for several inanimate objects that would come to life in the play: candle sticks, loaves of bread and flowers. The actors began a long period of nearly silent thought, concentrating on their texts seriously even in their break. Only at the end of the rehearsal did they all really spring to life. They banged and clattered to a piano accompaniment, stamping, experimenting with different kind of footfalls and ways of carrying their bodies with one actor conducting the piece like a metronome. Erica refuses to direct only from the top down. The company’s motto is ‘Every person is giant’. Nevertheless, one of her actors told me that while Erica’s reputation for being an intimidating director was a little over exaggerated, rumours of a hidden temper still keep them on edge!
Better than Television? Photo: http://spacegiga.com
Erica has changed the title of the original piece to read ‘Bluebird bluebird blue…’ (‘Aoi tori aoi tori aoi…’). She wants to the audience to be responsible for filling in the (…). She promises that every scene will feel like a different world. The play has been difficult to direct as Maeterlinck originally wrote it to be read alone. Taking up the challenge seems typical of Erica’s insistence on a more public, even festive kind of questioning.
‘Aoitori AoiTori Aoi…’ based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s Bluebird Event listing here.
Space GIGA Theatre Troupe’s latest piece, ‘Aoitori Aoitori Aoi…’, directed by Erica Yamada, is based on a beloved children’s book ‘Bluebird’. Space GIGA often provoke their audience to think carefully about key issues and ‘Aoitori Aoitori Aoi…’ is no exception considering the search for happiness and the meaning of life. Space GIGA are as full of energy as they are of ideas so, even if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch, you are bound to be entertained. With only 30 seats per show (unreserved seating), we recommend booking tickets with date and time in advance.
• Theatre Okunchi
• Adv.: ¥2,000, Door: ¥2,300 (with reservation), ¥2,800 (without reservation), Student Adv.: ¥1,500, Student Door: ¥2,000 *No pre-school kids are allowed to enter.
• Okusu 2-13-23, Minami-ku, Fukuoka City (7min. walk from Nishitetsu Hirao Station) Google map.
• Tickets: Space GIGA Theatre Troupe or Mega Ticket Artlier
I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University and am currently studying Japanese at the Japan University of Economics in Fukuoka. I enjoy writing, directing and watching plays, theatre and dance. I am interested in learning more about Japan’s performing arts. As it can be tricky, especially with elementary Japanese, to track down the best shows I started this guide as a way to help English speakers stay up to date with what’s on. Keep checking the Fukuoka Now blog for up to date information about the performing arts in Fukuoka.