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Let’s talk about the play now
No.001
The Mingei Theatre Company

2020/10/28

The Mingei Theatre Company celebrated its 70th anniversary in April 2020. Three of its members—actors Fumie Kashiyama and Shigenori Chiba, and director Ikumi Tanno—discuss a variety of topics, including the enthusiasm for their upcoming performances, the process of creating drama works, and the unprecedented situation in which the COVID-19 pandemic has placed the world of stage play.

From left to right: Ikumi Tanno, Fumie Kashiyama, and Shigenori Chiba From left to right: Ikumi Tanno, Fumie Kashiyama, and Shigenori Chiba

The Mingei Theatre Company

On April 3, 1950, a group of aspiring actors who had been part of the mainstream Shingeki (literary “New Drama,” or Western-style theater) movement at Tsukiji Shogekijo (Tsukiji Small Theater) and Shinkyo Gekidan, including Osamu Takizawa (1906–2000), Masao Shimizu (1908–1975), Jukichi Uno (1914–1988), and Shiro Okakura (1909–1959), decided to create a new genre of stage play art rooted in popular culture. In 2020, the theater company they established celebrated its 70th anniversary.

The 70th Anniversary of the Mingei Theatre Company

Tanno: I think we owe the fact that the Mingei Theatre Company has continued its activities for 70 years to the efforts and amazing spirit of our predecessors and seniors.

Chiba: Rather than placing the emphasis on the fact that several decades have passed since the establishment of the Mingei Theatre Company, we should ask ourselves how to best express in our performances the unique power that we carry in any given moment. How to rise to the challenge of performing a play through hard work. I believe this is all we should do.

Fellow members creating plays together

Tanno: We do not abide by a structured seniority-based system of relationships, and all members can speak their mind freely. I believe that the ability to create this type of relationships and work environment is the turning point which determines whether one can become a director or not.

Kashiyama: Today, both Mr. Chiba and Ms. Tanno are far ahead of me, so now it is my turn to rely on their talent and abilities. I believe that the traditions forged during the 70-year-long history of our company are interwoven in this type of relationships.

Improvisations are strictly forbidden

Chiba: Since its establishment, the Mingei Theatre Company has imposed a strict ban on improvisations and ad-libs.

Tanno: For us, the playscript is sacrosanct. It offers almost no room for spontaneity, but when I watch actors, I get the impression that, at times, performing triggers totally unexpected emotions in them. During long rehearsals, we push through hesitation and indecision to search for what we perceive as the best path. I believe that this is what creating plays is all about.

Stage play in the post-corona age

Tanno: I think that performances conducted in accordance with guidelines while maintaining social distancing are perhaps contrary to the essence of stage play. To me, the true nature of play is to expose oneself to the passion of those performing at such a close proximity that at times droplets of the actors’ sweat reach the audience.

Chiba: After all, acting is a profession that is distinguished by white-hot spiritual interactions on stage, as performers get physically close to each other, cry, shout, and roll about.

Kashiyama: Acting is a wonderful profession that deserves to be preserved regardless of the difficulties. I hope young people will expand their horizons more broadly, beyond the boundaries of their own generation, and will see and learn from various performances. We should work together to create good plays.

A flyer for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Fumie Kashiyama and Tsutomu Shimomoto in The Seagull, 1969

Left: A flyer for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Right: Fumie Kashiyama and Tsutomu Shimomoto in The Seagull, 1969

Fumie Kashiyama Fumie Kashiyama

Ikumi Tanno Ikumi Tanno

Shigenori Chiba Shigenori Chiba

Members of the company who performed in Gray Christmas, at the Mingei Theatre Company rehearsal studio in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture Members of the company who performed in Gray Christmas, at the Mingei Theatre Company rehearsal studio in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Japanese original text: Naoko Goda
Photo: Shu Nakagawa

Fumie Kashiyama

Born in Tokyo. Joined the Mingei Theatre Company in 1963. She made her stage debut the following year, starring as the protagonist Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank. Kashiyama rose to immense popularity as the protagonist in the NHK morning drama series Ohanahan (1966–1967).

Shigenori Chiba

Joined the Mingei Theatre Company in 1977. Among his major roles are John Proctor in The Crucible, Levin in Anna Karenina, Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, and Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank.

Ikumi Tanno

Joined the Mingei Theatre Company in 1982, and made her directorial debut with Sweet Bird of Youth. Among the major plays she has directed are Anna Karenina, The Diary of Anne Frank, Driving Miss Daisy, Amy’s View, and The Whales of August.