Book chapter in 漂流の演劇 – 維新派のパースペクティブ [Lit. Theatre Adrift: The Ishinha Perspective] Osaka UP

Book overview

Edited by performance studies scholar, Yasushi Nagata, this book looks at the stage history and legacy of the Osaka-based theater company “Ishinha”, from a range of perspectives by researchers, theatre workers, and architects. In addition to providing an easy-to-understand outline of the position of Ishinha in Japanese theater and art history (especially in the Kansai avant-garde art scene), the book also highlights the literary value of Ishinha’s theoretical approaches to music, language/body, and urban life. The book aims to extend the legacy of Ishhinha’s major contribution to the performing arts, to future generations and to offer some insight into the meaning and relevance of the company’s practice.

Title: 漂流の演劇: 維新派のパースペクティブ
[My lit. trans.] Theatre Adrift: The Ishinha Perspective
484 pages
ISBN: 978-4-87259-693-9 C1074
Osaka University Press
Amazon Japan link

My chapter abstract

Chapter Title: “方向/演出を模索する ―地図化、物質性、演劇生態―” 
(In Search of Direction: Mapping, Materiality and Theatre Ecology in Rural Japan)

The chapter was translated from English to Japanese by Mika Eglinton.

Performing on deserted beaches, in temples, dockland warehouses and urban railyards, few theatre companies traversed the range of landscapes and settings that inspired the Osaka-based site-specific company Ishinha. In September 2015, the company produced Twilight in Soni Village, Nara Prefecture. It was one of the troupe’s last original works before ceasing operations in 2018 after the death of company founder and artistic director, Yukichi Matsumoto in June 2016.

Twilight was staged on the site of a former junior high school baseball ground, which Matsumoto discovered while researching local area maps. He described it as “an intriguing place nestled in a mountain range, with breathtakingly beautiful night skies and dramatic shifts in landscape that produce a disorienting feeling”. The tension produced through sensory disorientation was a key element in Ishinha’s yagai engeki (lit. outside theatre).

Twilight approached this “outsideness” from inside the logic of maps. Maps were used as spatial referents for parts of the choreography, lighting and sound design. Maps were also used in the production’s narrative to channel historical, political, poetic and personal memories in the production.

This usage of maps as “spectral” overlays on the natural environment at Soni Village produced a relationship between audience and site that can be described as “biocentric.” Baz Kershaw employs the term in his book Theatre Ecology to advocate a shift in 21st century performance towards a praxis that “might dissolve the boundaries between performer and spectator to produce participants in ecologically responsive action” (317).

Drawing on performance documentation, interview material, and current scholarship on theatre ecology, this chapter interrogates the inside-outside relationship between performer, spectator and site in Ishinha’s Twilight, and problematizes the logic of mapping as a mode of inscription in the move towards biocentric performance.

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