Academic journal article TheatreForum

Saturdays in the Park with SPAC: TENSHU MONOGAT ARI

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Saturdays in the Park with SPAC: TENSHU MONOGAT ARI

Article excerpt

A Place Unlike Any Other...

June 25th, 2011. I am waiting for a bus outside of the Shizuoka Convention and Arts Center, better known as "Granship," and home to one of the Shizuoka Peforming Arts Center's (SPAC) performance spaces, with my friend, travel guide, and translator, Kiyoshi Sato. The town of Shizuoka is experiencing record heat, pushing the mercury well past one-hundred degrees for the fifth straight day, with humidity well over eighty percent. The sun is hot, and with the recent earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster limiting electricity in the country, air conditioning is hard to come by. Just when I think I can bear it no longer, a charter bus arrives. The driver welcomes us aboard along with forty or so other patrons, and we begin the drive to the Shizuoka Performing Arts Park.

Although only a short, thirty or so minute drive from downtown Shizuoka, the Shizuoka Performing Arts Park is a completely different world from the hustle and bustle of the city. As I step off the bus, a small man greets every one of the arriving audience members, bowing and thanking them personally for coming to the park. Kiyoshi informs me that the man, much to my astonishment, is Satoshi Miyagi, the current general artistic director. Immediately I can tell that I am at a theatre unlike any I have ever attended in America. Nestled in the mountains outside of the city, surrounded by trees and bamboo forests, The Shizuoka Performing Arts Park is a theatrical paradise; the way theatre is meant to be. Egos are checked at the door, and actors, administrators, and directors interact with the audience before and after the shows not as celebrities, but as equals. This is a collective that has dedicated their lives not to the pursuit of stardom, but the pursuit of truth and harmony through art. Consisting of three theatres: a black box, an outdoor amphitheatre, and what they call "the Ellipse;" numerous rehearsal spaces; actor housing; a cafeteria; and green tea fields, the Park is the not only a training and performance space for actors, but their home. All of the buildings have their own unique architecture; from those that are designed to fit organically into the natural state of their surroundings, like the log-cabin-style actor residences, to those that harshly juxtapose modern architecture against it, like the concrete and glass administration building. It is a commune where actors train, rehearse, and perform together. Not only are their careers here, but their lives as well. They farm and grow their own green tea for commercial sale and work shifts in the cafeteria to feed the entire group and the paying audience. On most nights, the cafeteria fare consists of simple sandwiches, rice cakes, and tea; however, after shows each night at the festival, patrons can partake of a selection of curry, fried rice, hamburgers, ice cream, sake, beer, and wine. The actors earn their living not just through acting, but through working for their theatre community and the community at large. They coexist in an atmosphere designed not only to train their voices and their bodies, but their minds, hearts, and souls as well.

Since its inception in 1995, SPAC has been the pioneer publicly funded theatre in Japan. It commenced full operation in 1997 under the general artistic direction of none other than Tadashi Suzuki. SPAC was formed not only to create artistic works, but also to create and develop artists; its mission being, "creating original pieces, but also inviting sophisticated artistic companies / individuals, as well as developing human resources who seek for expression in performing arts" ("What is SPAC?"). From this mission has bloomed innovative dance, mime, theatre pieces; in addition to creating original works, the company offers innovative, avant-garde productions of classics from around the world, including the works of Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks.

The reason for my visit was to attend the annual World Theatre Festival Shizuoka under Mount Fuji which showcases all three aspects of their mission. …

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