TERA – Round Table Session

  • On 2018-11-14 ·

Yukari Sakata (Director) + Miho Inatsugu (Performer) + Kyojun Tanaka (Music) + Maho Watanabe (Dramaturge) 

Interview and text by Yuichi Fukazawa
(This interview was conducted on 26th October 2018, during rehearsals for the premier show at Festival/Tokyo)  

Where each member stands

— Yukari, Miho and Kyojun you are all graduates of Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Musical Creativity and the Environment.

Miho Inatsugu (MI) Yukari and Kyojun are classmates and I entered university one year later.

Yukari Sakata (YS) I’ve been creating a few works with Miho since she performed in “BOMBSONG” (written by Thea Dorn) which we played at Kawasaki Art Center in 2008.

MI I was working part-time at a theatre while I was a student. At that time, I came across Juro Miyoshi’s masterpiece “The Man of Flame” which happened to be performed at that theater, and was strongly attracted to the words of the play. So I was happy with this offer.

Kyojun Tanaka (KT) This is my first time working on a play. I felt honored, took the offer, then a Spartan training was awaiting me (laughs).

MI So, you were surprised at the amount of preparation.

KT I work mainly in music where improvisational elements are strong, and it’s often the case that the performers gather once for rehearsal, or even just meet on the day that we start the show. I was surprised by the difference in production style. This is my first project to discuss such a variety of topics, face to face.

Maho Watanabe (MW) I was a translator for the rehearsals of “Rashomon | Yabunonaka” (Festival/Tokyo, 2014) directed by Yukari and performed by Palestinian actors. While making the stage script for the performance together, I researched topics such as Juro Miyoshi, the venue of the performance  Saiho-ji Temple, recent issues in Japanese Buddhism and the preparations of closing a life.

Juro Miyoshi’s original text and the stage script

The play script of this work has been boldly rewritten based on the original verse drama “Daffodils and Wooden Fish” by Juro Miyoshi written in 1957.

YS When I first read “Daffodils and Wooden Fish”, the main character, Mitsuko Kyogoku, gave me the impression that she was a person who communicates in a carefree, somewhat young girl’s way. The reason I wanted Mitsuko to also appear in “TERA” was because I thought that her presence could allow us to boldly manipulate the scale of the topic. As a performer Miho reads various poems, recites topics that connect small themes and large themes, while engaging with the audience. By doing so, I believe that the present, past, and future can be presented simultaneously on the stage. By the way, Mitsuko is 17 years old in the original work by Miyoshi, but in “TERA“, she’s 31 years old, the same as Miho’s and my real ages.

— How do you understand the role of Mitsuko Kyogoku, Miho?

MI My experience as an actor began with “BOMBSONG“, which was made entirely as a monologue. Solo performance is one of the activities that I value, but in my thirties I came to think that I want to be able to communicate with the audiences without feeling too much pressure. So a role like Mitsuko, who says something intimate but provoking to the audience, is very interesting.

— Mitsuko momentarily disappears after saying, “I’m just going away for a bit!”

MI This is one of my favorite lines. Mitsuko was communicating with the audience, then suddenly leaves and goes somewhere else. For me it seems it can be taken as something as simple as going shopping nearby, or even Mitsuko’s death.

YS After Mitsuko disappears, she returns to the audience again, each time wearing different clothes. I feel that this repetition is creating a rhythm that somewhat connects to the cycle of reincarnation mentioned in Buddhism. When Mitsuko goes away, Kyojun, who’s in the performance space, will speak to the audience.

MI Kyojun is actually the son of a high priest in a temple.

MW When we asked questions about Buddhism during the rehearsals, he taught us everything using easy-to-understand and funny metaphors (laughs).

YS We wanted to see him do the same for the audience, and introduced him as a character called “Kyojun Tanaka” in the play.

— There’s a rhythm between Miho and Kyojun.

KY I agree. In fact, the process of monks explaining after reading a sutra in a memorial service is often done in temples, so I think that the format of this work is unintentional but similar to what is done in temples.

Performing in temples, distance between the play and Buddhism

— Please tell us why you chose the title “TERA”.

YS The Katakana characters “Tera” (テラ; Phonetic characters) are harder to grasp than the Kanji “Tera” (寺; Ideogram). I should mention that I named it because of the enthusiasm to “create a play that can only be done in temples!”. “Tera” is a prefix used for “terabytes,” a macro unit that indicates 10 to the 12th power, while the ancient Greek word “Téras” (monster) refers to the subject of threat that surpasses humans, and the Latin word “Terra” means “earth”. I felt that these huge-scale stories coincidentally were included in the sound of the two syllables of “TERA” and would be a hint to reflect on our familiar place, temples

— In the middle of the performance, there is actually a scene of reading a sutra.

KT Yukari asked if there was any sutra that could be used in the play, so I suggested “Shi-Sei-Ge” from the Infinite Life Sutra, which is appropriate in terms of length and content for the Saiho-ji temple of the Jodo sect.

MI I will recite a modern translation of “Shi-Sei-Ge” corresponding with the priest of Saiho-ji, who reads the sutra.

— Does the play include spiritual elements?

YS That is a difficult question. Acting, performing, watching … The act of drama is all spiritual. That’s why I tried to avoid a production that isn’t grounded. I researched as much as I could, but of course my amateurish  understanding of Buddhism doesn’t hold up against the powerful space of the main hall.

KT Music doesn’t have that element either. There is an ambiguity about this work in that it doesn’t push religion though it does respect it. I don’t think this work will give you any clear conclusions, no matter how far you go.

Audience participation through wooden fish performance

— Where did the idea of ​​putting wooden fish in the audience come from?

YS At the beginning of the rehearsal, Kyojun, Maho and I went on a retreat. Since it was the first time for me to work with Kyojun, I had to spend time with him in order to find out his special skills, preferences, and how he creates. At the retreat, we came up with the idea of ​​playing a wooden fish with the audience.

— It’s an audience participatory work.

MI “Audience participation” tends to be considered as an interesting thing by itself, but in my experience, there are not many programs that I thought worked well.

YS It’s hard to draw in each and every member of the audience, isn’t it.

MI If it weren’t for an open-minded and polite musician like Kyojun, there might not have been any sessions with the audience (laughs).

New challenges to push the limits

— Finally, can each of you please give a comment for the performance.

MI As a non-Buddhist, I had some resistance to talk about Buddhism. We spent a lot of time discussing issues such as “this word is uncomfortable…” and so on, but in the end I think everyone was able to be satisfied by the lines. Now I feel positive that there is a certain way that only we can talk about temples, Buddhism, theater and art. Other than that, I just want to make Mitsuko as attractive and charming as possible (laughs).

KT For a person like me who was born in a Buddhist family but did not inherit the temple, I think this work is kind of an act of breaking the rules (laugh). Unexpectedly, my trauma, experience, and relationship with Buddhism appears in this piece. Nevertheless, I consulted my father about the interpretation of Buddhism during the rehearsals, so I want my family to see it. I feel like “this work has the reasons why I didn’t inherit the temple” (laughs).

MW I feel that the sense of distance between me and temples/Buddhism has changed through this piece. Although the text is a monologue, it becomes a polyphony of various words, from the play of Juro Miyoshi, the story of the priest at Saiho-ji Temple, the poems of Minoru Yoshioka and Taeko Tomioka, and even the oath of Amithāba, which was passed down by Buddha. Our words also join. I hope there will be different sounds depending on the viewer.

YS We are in full collision with philosophical questions about life and death, and have been facing the concept of faith from different angles, and these are topics that have not been discussed by people in contemporary theater. I hope that this burden turns out to be a new challenge, and believe something new will be created when we break through limits that could not have been surpassed by previous methods.