Telework, online conferences, and distance learning; words and phrases that had been unfamiliar to us suddenly entered our life. We are prohibited from moving, contacting, or interacting with others, and engaging in cross-border activities. With our life under restrictions, we stare at smartphone and computer screens as we are tossed about by the waves of various tools and information.
We cannot contact other people in person. We cannot gather in large groups. We must avoid the three C’s (crowded places, close-contact settings, and closed spaces); this is a task we have been given as a condition for living. Everything about theatre is the three C’s, from practice to performance. We are seeking to survive under the restrictions that threaten the foundation of our very existence.
The year 2020 is known as the ‘first year of distribution’. As we have been forced to stage performances without any audience present, videos and other forms of expression have become more prevalent on the internet. The Honda Theatre quickly reopened with the play DISTANCE. ‘Zoom Theatre’ using a video conferencing system also became active.
It is not only performances that have moved online. Many preparatory meetings and rehearsals were also held remotely. This is especially the case if overseas staff members cannot come to Japan due to travel restrictions. We hear about many cases in which choreography is video recorded overseas and directors work remotely. We were forced to change the way in which plays are produced.
Theatrical performances were possible because performers and audience shared the same space and time. When it comes to video streaming and online performances, space cannot be shared. Real-time delivery ensures concurrency, but archived delivery cannot share time. On the other hand, online performances are useful as a means of distributing content to remote areas. Thus, there is a sense in which a new opportunity has emerged to allow more people to experience theatrical culture.
Theatre, by definition, is live. Thus, a question has been raised as to whether performances delivered in a video format are really ‘theatrical’. Is this simply an alternative measure temporarily implemented in an emergency situation? Or is this the beginning of a new form of expression? It takes time to evaluate this question and find an answer. However, it is hoped that a new world will emerge that we have never experienced before.