Sunday, October 18, 2009

Toshiki Okada Interview

Further along in the investigation I found this interview with Okada at the website Performing Arts Network Japan where he describes what fascinates him about hyper-real language and the genesis of his performance philosophy. You can read it in its entirety here.

My favorite excerpts are below.

From this you invented the unique script language that is now being called “super-real verbal Japanese. What was the process that led to this?
One of the things that led me to start writing these scripts full of inarticulate lines, these lines that never seem to get to the point, clearly came from my experience from a part-time job I had once of transcribing the contents of interview tapes. The tapes were from interviews with local people in regional communities conducted by a think tank seeking ways to stimulate the culture and economies of the communities.
Making the transcripts was a tedious job, but at the same time there was something very interesting about it. That was because as you transcribed it word for word, you couldn’t understand what the people were trying to say. But somehow, by the end of the conversation it began to make sense and you could see what they had been trying to say, even though their words themselves were not saying anything clearly or articulately. This surprising realization was an important one for me.
However, when I am writing a play I don’t use the technique of transcribing from tapes of spoken conversations. I write it all myself. So, some people might say I should try to write scripts that are more articulate (laughs). But if I did that, part of what is important to me would be lost. I reproduce the real, inarticulate way that average people actually speak, because one of the things I want to express is what lies within that ineptness, the larger content.

Is it that you want the audience to experience the fascination of being able to understand the overall gist of what is being said even though the individual details of what is said are virtually incomprehensible?
More than that, there is the fact that this is what our verbal life is actually like. That is the important thing to me. What I am saying is “Isn’t this the way we actually speak?” Of course, it is possible to criticize this kind of verbal life, but I have no interest in saying whether it is good or bad, or criticizing it. We are actually living in this kind of verbal environment. Some people might say that since we are living in such an inarticulate world, we should at least try to use articulate Japanese in our theater. But I think that is a rather limited attitude. To me this Japanese that people actually use is even richer and more positive.

In addition to the unique character of your scripts, we also see very unique body movement by the actors in your plays.
This goes back to the influence I received from Hirata, about diverting the consciousness of the lines by shifting consciousness to the body. In this respect I have continued to follow Hirata’s example. But, just as focusing too much attention of the words kills them, shifting too much attention to the body movement also kills the body presence. Therefore, you can’t shift the consciousness to the body either. So, where should you focus the consciousness…? To explain what comes next is very difficult, and we can speak in terms of image or
signifié (thing to be signified), but in essence what I mean is that there must be something within the human being that precedes the script or the bodily expression. When you say something or make a gesture, there must be some underlying reason, something inside that is the origin. That is where I want to take the consciousness. That is what I am now encouraging the actors to develop within themselves in the studio when we practice and rehearse.

Is that image different from the “impulse” that Stanislavsky talks about? Or the “motivation” that Japan’s New Theater directors often speak of?
I don’t know Stanislavsky or Strasberg or New Theater well enough to answer that. In fact it might be the same. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it was the same. All I am saying is that having a source within where every word or movement originates is an extremely essential element of theater.
However, the image that I think is essential is not the image of the “recipient”, the person watching the play. If the image of the recipient is the sadness or joy that emerges after they read the play, that is not the image I am referring to. As far as I can see, I would say that the large majority of performances present the script from the image of the recipient. But I believe that acting in a way where the lines are spoken on the basis of an image gained from the script is completely wrong. What I am talking about is the image in the internal point of origin of all words and movements.

When you work with actors in the studio, you substitute the physical exercises that most theater companies use before starting a rehearsal with an exercise where you have the actors practice speaking by just talking on and on about things that have occurred during their day. What is the purpose of this unusual form of training?
Rather than thinking of it as practice in talking, the purpose is to get the actors to recognize how they actually move their bodies when they are speaking normally in daily life. And also to get them to be aware of the fact that those movements do not originate in the words they are speaking. To explain this a little further, this exercise gets people to see how difficult it would be to think up such complex movements if the everyday things they are talking about were written down and given to the actor as a script and the actor had to try to create those movements based on that script. So, once you understand this, my exercise is training that helps the actors create as fiction the same actions that fit the normal, everyday body use.
Another purpose is as a form of training to gain an appreciation of just how rich this that I am talking about is. In other words, how rich the origin before words is. By rich I mean that there is a much larger volume of information underlying any words that we speak. There is no way to put everything in that original image into words. The words are no more than the tip of the iceberg we see, and it is an attempt to create awareness of this. State from the opposite direction, for an actor to try to create the minimum amount of image necessary when delivering some lines from a script, that is a meaningless and uninteresting thing. So this is also a kind of training to get the actor to grasp what is happening within themselves so that they can create an image from that vastly larger well of information from which the lines of the script have originated.
I am always telling the actors that the body and the words are not connected or integrated. In reality, it is extremely rare for body movements to complement or reinforce the words we are speaking, and most of the time our movements are completely unrelated to our speech. I think that nature of the body is something very rich. And in that sense, I think that our natural, real body movements are richer than those of actors on the stage. That is why I want to get closer to the richness of the actual body by creating plays that are modeled on reality.


So I've been working on a workshop of a play by "hyper-colloquial" playwright and choreographer Toshiki Okada and investigating the relationship between text and movement. These videos were absolutely mind-blowing and game-changing in that investigation.

This clip deals with the concept of "The Image" and how it is the foundation for both what the actor is saying and the jumping off point for how they are moving. When you talk about something you are simultaneously imagining it and that imagery has a physical life.

This clip is that idea in action.