Saitama Gold Theater players bow out after 15 years

After 15 years of entertaining audiences in Japan and overseas, the cast of Saitama Gold Theater will take the stage for the last time with “Mizu no Eki” (“The Water Station”) this month.

“I’m going to miss it a lot and I’m sad that the troupe is ending, although I don’t see an alternative because we’ve all just gotten a lot older,” says Mitsuyo Obuchi, 75, in a rehearsal room in Saitama. . Arts Theater in Saitama.

Actor Toshiko Tsumura echoed that sentiment, saying, “I’m 86 now, and I think I’ve reached my personal time limit, but I’m sorry for the younger members who joined the 55 years old and only in their early 70s now.. They could still do so much more. I wish we could go on, but Saitama Arts Theater decided it was time to end the company.

Saitama Gold Theater was founded in 2006 by renowned theater director Yukio Ninagawa, then artistic director of Saitama Arts Theatre. From the start, his vision was to create a team with players aged 55 and over. Ninagawa held open auditions that attracted 1,226 applicants from all over Japan, aged 55 to 80. From there, 48 people – with an average age of 66.7 – were selected to join the company and pursue their dreams of performing as theater actors.

Obuchi fondly remembers those early days. “I thought we would be guinea pigs for a Ninagawa experiment aimed at getting a select circle of alumni to study acting,” she says. “I never imagined that we would be the main cast of proper performances that people would pay to come see.

“But ever since Ninagawa summoned the media to announce the launch of the Saitama Gold Theater, I’ve spent the past 15 years with my mouth hanging open in surprise.”

The company has indeed had an exceptional career. In addition to performing all over Japan and collaborating with top playwrights such as Ryo Iwamatsu, Keralino Sandorovich and Shu Matsui, he has also received rave reviews and packed audiences in cities around the world, including Paris. , Hong Kong and Craiova, Romania, where they performed internationally. Shakespeare Festival in 2016.

However, all the accolades can’t hide the fact that many of the Saitama Gold Theater’s remaining 33 actors – all of whom were part of the original cast – are now in their 80s. Therefore, the decision to make “Mizu no Eki” the company’s swan song was not unexpected, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

From December 19 to 26, four men and 14 women will perform Shogo Ota’s 1981 non-verbal masterpiece, which his theater company Tenkei Gekijo shot in Australia, the United States, Canada, South Korea and in several European countries before his death in 2007. Saitama Gold The theater production of the play has been entrusted to rising director Kunio Sugihara, who will be working with the troupe for the first time.

“When I had the chance to direct ‘Mizu no Eki’, I had no idea that it would be the last production of Saitama Gold Theatre,” explains the 39-year-old playwright. “Actually, I wondered if I was the right person for such an important event because I was just a fan of Ninagawa’s great works.

“Then I remembered that when he founded the company, he said he wanted to create a new place where mature seniors could find new faces and perspectives through physical expression. Since this non-verbal play is the ultimate form of physical expression, I think it will be appropriate for their grand finale.

As for working with a cast of older actors, Sugihara says he’s had a positive experience and the company itself is unique.

“The Saitama Gold Theater may look like a troupe of rambunctious old people, but they are very charming and, more importantly, they are direct and honest. So, even if I’m tired of having to speak out loud because some people have trouble hearing, it’s very pleasant,” he laughs.

Although the cast members are now all seasoned performers, there were still some difficulties in putting on a non-verbal play.

“From the beginning until the very last moment, doing a non-verbal game was a tough challenge,” Obuchi said. “It’s actually a very fitting way to mark the end of the era of the Saitama Gold Theater, a pioneer of Ninagawa.”

Tsumura laughs and adds, “Of course, I thought it was lucky that this piece was non-verbal because I didn’t have to remember the lines. Then I realized that it was more difficult to express the story in silence just with my movements.

“When the rehearsals started, we rehearsed the march very slowly over and over. Ever since we were old it has been difficult to walk for a long time… our legs are shaking and our bodies are shaking.

“But walking is the foundation of all acting,” Obuchi says, “and I’m excited to learn such fundamental things even now.”

When asked what it was about, Sugihara replied that it was a rough plot in which people – a girl, two men, an old lady, a man and a woman, among others – approach a dripping tap and touch or play with the water. before leaving one after the other.

That’s basically it. Some of them fight, others put their legs under water and rest, and a few – including Obuchi – appear to be carrying corpses.

“People go to the tap to drink water and recharge their energy to live until tomorrow,” the actress says. “So the piece is about the nature of living and sensual relationships. But I think it’s also about death, and my role is to face death.

Since the entire play is voiced by mime and there is no explanation of the characters’ backgrounds, audience members have to figure out what’s going on on their own. Although he doesn’t give away much, Sugihara offers some additional insight: “The piece is about people with a sense of hopelessness and hopelessness inside, but they draw inspiration and energy from contact with water. gentle.”

However, Ota recorded a more accurate explanation of his piece, saying the work depicts the view of returnees from Japanese-occupied China. The playwright himself was one such returnee, born in Jinan in 1939 and arriving in Japan after the end of World War II.

Despite this context, the director expects this staging to be different from the production he directed with actors his age two years ago.

“Inevitably, the desperation of young people and seniors is different,” he says. “For young people, it’s a craving of the heart, but when the actors of Saitama Gold Theater go on tap, I can see the chronicles of their whole lives and long-term aspirations in the way they look and move. I doesn’t make value judgments, but they are definitely different.

Sugihara also says that he made changes to Ota’s game.

“For example, I changed a scene from a man and a woman to a couple of women,” he says. “It was partly because of the gender balance of the current members of the company. If I had done the same with a younger cast, it would have seemed like two regular lesbians. Looking at the couple played by older actors, however, I can see their agony as a social minority whose love for each other when they were young would have been such a taboo, and I can imagine the difficulties that they would have crossed. ”

Now, as the final encore draws near and Ninagawa’s grand scheme draws to a close, the lively Tsumura remains positive as ever and has no intention of giving up on the stage altogether.

“I once grumbled about my performance to a friend but she urged me to keep going. She said, ‘You are my idol’, so I think I should go ahead and do some more scenes with it. the local community,” she says with a smile.

Saitama Gold Theater’s “Mizu no Eki” (“The Water Station”) runs from December 19 to 26 at the Saitama Arts Theater in Saitama City. For more information, visit www.saf.or.jp.

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