The Aesthetics of Quietude: ÔTa Shôgo and the Theatre of Divestiture
Eckersall, Peter, Australasian Drama Studies
Mari Boyd, The Aesthetics of Quietude: Ôta Shôgo and the Theatre of Divestiture (Tokyo: Sophia University Press, 2006)
Ôta Shôgo is a playwright, teacher and the former artistic director of the group Tenkei Gekijô (Transformation Theatre). He is one of the key figures in the 1960s angura (underground) theatre movement. Ôta's best known work outside of Japan is the wordless mesmeric play Mizu no Eki (The Water Station); Australian readers might remember that it played to critical and popular acclaim at the Adelaide and Perth Festivals in 1984. Other works especially well known in Japan include his noinspired play The Tale of Komachi Told by the Wind(1977) and the 'station series' of works using water, earth and wind as key thematic-dramaturgical elements. Ôta has worked in theatre for nearly fifty years. Mari Boyd's book The Aesthetics of Quietude: Ôta Shôgo and the Theatre of Divestiture is a timely comprehensive study of his life's work.
The Aesthetics of Quietude includes a short historical introduction to the context of theatre in Japan, including brief summaries of modern theatre in the twentieth century (shingeki) and the rise of the small theatre movement (angura/shôgekijo) in the 1960s. The central discussion on the themes of quietude and divestiture in Ôta's theatre is comparative. Boyd notes international contexts seen in avant-garde works by artists including John Cage and Robert Wilson. She then discusses in precise detail the rise of theatres of quietude associated with the contemporary colloquial theatre (gendai kogo engeki) movement of Hirata Oriza and others in the 1980s and 1990s. Boyd shows how quietude in theatre is characterised by the elements of silence, stillness and empty space (9-18). More than quietude, however, the idea of divestiture is the key concept of this book. Boyd explores this notion at length in discussion of Ôta's life as an artist and theoretician and in close readings of his key works, especially The Water Station. Like many in the 1960s avant-garde, Ôta wanted 'to de-emphasize the functions of the playwright and director and return the stage to the actor' (97). Boyd shows how this idea of an essential theatre peels away the inconsequential layers of dramaturgy. In essence, the elements of silence, slow physical expression and a strong relationship to theatrical space are what remain in Ôta's work as a 'non-dramatic code of divestiture' (103).
I was reminded of Jerzy Grotowski's idea of theatre as 'gradually eliminating whatever proved superfluous . …