The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
A history of small theater movement leading up to the present. Eiko Tsuboike (Director of Institute for the Arts)
A history of small theater movement leading up to the present. Eiko Tsuboike (Director of Institute for the Arts)
Appearance of the Fifth Generation and the Latest Trend
The fourth-generation leaders during the 1990s included two who had a significant influence on the following generation. These were Keralino Sandorovich (Japanese playwright and director) of Nylon 100°C, a troupe that adopted a wide range of materials to develop its comedy with a serious side, and MATSUO Suzuki (playwright, director, and actor) of Otona-keikaku company, who was the most highly rated talent since NODA Hideki.
The presently active leaders of the fifth-generation small theater scene include NAGATSUKA Keishi, KIDA Tsuyoshi, MURAKAMI Hiroki , MATSUMURA Takeshi , and CHIBA Masako. Born from the late 1960s to the 1970s, these talented people are often referred to as the 'Matsuo children' and 'Kera (short for Keralino) children'. One common factor in this fifth generation is that they have very little of the collective group quality that was a formative element in earlier small theater. Japanese small theater had been characterized by the exploration of distinctive styles within the group activities carried on by the various exclusive ways, and by their expansion of the possibilities of performing arts for the small theater as a whole. On the other hand, however, that collective group quality also meant that almost all of these companies, although with some exceptions, had no choice but to disband in order for their members to progress beyond the amateur level.
The times changed, however, and growing numbers of young companies appeared that did not depend on this kind of collective group quality and that were not differentiated by any major differences in performance style. In recent years, therefore, there have been many activities on the small theater scene that have not been restricted by the troupe framework, such as specially produced performances and ensemble activities by artists who feel compatible with each other.
One trend in the new generation that must be noted is the rise of regional theater. Where the small theater scene had been overwhelmingly concentrated in Tokyo, a shift started to take place from the late 1990s. A series of new playwrights emerged in Osaka and Kyoto and gave a fresh impact on theater scene.
Various background factors from the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s led to this happening. For example, many theaters that opened in the Tokyo metropolitan area organized programs of specially produced performances that highlighted the talented small theater members who were popular among young audiences. Creators and producers of small theater who disbanded their companies also formed production companies that ended up being involved in producing many of the performances of this kind.
Major roles in this were played by the Ogimachi Museum Square (closed in 2003), a theater that served as a base for small theater in Osaka, and the Itami Ai Hall, a public theater established by Itami City in Hyogo Prefecture. Both of these theaters concentrated on supporting young artists, and the OMS Drama Award, established in 1994, encouraged the development of playwrights. Winners of this award include MATSUDA Masataka, SUZUE Toshirª, IWASAKI Masahiro, and TSUCHIDA Hideo. MATSUDA and SUZUE went on almost immediately to win the Kishida Kunio Drama Award, which is the door to success for Japanese playwrights. The tendency for the regional theatrical scene to be energized was also stimulated by the construction of many public theaters throughout Japan during the 1990s. New talent has already emerged and achieved nationwide recognition, although the link with local regional theater has been maintained as a base for these activities.
Two other new movements in the small theater scene are the great rise in popularity of workshops and the appearance of open auditions in small theater. The workshop boom occurred in large part because new needs emerged that Japanese society had not previously experienced. As a result, for instance, education programs were started at the public theaters constructed throughout Japan, and a movement began to put stage performance skills to use in children's education. Small theater directors were provided with a place to use their skills outside the creation of a theatrical performance, and this represents an enormous change that will no doubt influence the theater environment of the future.
Small theater started holding open auditions because the fall in real estate prices due to the collapse of Japan's economic bubble resulted in a rapidly growing number of vacant buildings and other such unused facilities in city centers. Many small theaters that rent such spaces can today be found throughout cities, providing bases for amateur theatrical activity. It will be very interesting to see how the small theater movement will reflect these changes in the creative and performing environments ten years from now.
 
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