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International Symposium “Adapting Shakespeare for the Stage Today” (Report)

International Symposium ‘Adapting Shakespeare for the Stage Today’

On November 26, 2018, an international symposium was held under the title of ‘Adapting Shakespeare for the Stage Today’. At the opening remark, Professor Norimasa Morita reported that various events were organized in the past few years with the collaboration between Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham and Waseda University, especially focusing on the theme of Shakespeare adaptation. The partnership took shape with the open lecture by Professor Michael Dobson, director at the Shakespeare Institute, in November 2017, which he spoke at Waseda on Shakespeare’s Roman plays performed on the modern stage. Two days conference followed this opening event in January 2017, which contained presentations and keynote speeches on Shakespeare’s film adaptation, as well as the screening of the latest film version of The Tempest (SADO TEMPEST). In October 2018, a group of academics from Waseda visited Stratford-upon-Avon and London to hold the events in partnership with Shakespeare Institute. Yukio Ninagawa’s memorial symposium was held at the Japanese Embassy in London, and scholars and Kabuki actor, Kyozo Nakamura, talked about the renowned director who has recently passed away. The symposium happening this year is the fourth collaborative event, which has the feature of not only involving the academics from Waseda and Birmingham, but also inviting those from other educational institutions, as well as actors and directors. In the near future, the partnership should allow the publication of a book containing chapters Asian Shakespearean adaptations. Professor Morita concluded his opening remark by analyzing that this sort of expanding partnership between two institutions in two different countries is rare in the field of humanity and stressed that this collaboration has the possibility of becoming a model for a joint project that should shortly follow.

Part 1

Mr. Mansai Nomura

Mr. Nomura’s entrance to Shakespeare was Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa, the film adaptation of King Lear. After performing the main role in Moriaki Watanabe’s Hamlet, he appeared in The Braggart Samurai by Yasunari Takahashi, which was performed at Japan Festival in England in 1991. The play adapted to the style of Kyogen (Japanese classical comical interlude) from The Merry Wives of Windsor was so well received that it traveled not only to Wales after London, but also toured to New York, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. Mr. Nomura noticed the similarity between two classics, Shakespeare and Kyogen, and had the opportunity of spending a year from 1994 in England to visit the theatre companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company to learn the technique of directing. Unlike Kyogen which preserves both texts and directions that are passed on from the previous masters, Shakespearean productions require modern direction utilizing the classical texts. Mr. Nomura thought those directions may contain various implication of the modern world, and that was the reason for him to be interested in the English way of directing. In 2011 when Japan Festival took place again in England, to showcase his achievement after his stay, Kyogen of Errors by Takahashi, based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, was brought to Shakespeare’s Globe in London. The play was specially designed to be performed at the Globe, since it had the similar stage structure of that of Japanese Noh (Japanese classical theatre drama with music and dance deriving from around 14th century) stage. The feature of the Globe, being outdoor theatre with two pillars holding the roof above the stage, is almost identical to the Noh stage apart from the fact that Noh stage is connected to the backstage with the narrow corridor placed on the left hand side of the acting space. However, the stress on the aural representation without using many props was another similarity, and Mr. Nomura pursued the style that cannot be invented other than those with the knowledge of Japanese classical drama, in order to reveal the nature of Shakespeare in a completely different way,

Kyogen of Errors, same as The Comedy of Errors, has the comical gimmick of mistaken identities. In some cases, two actors represent the pair, and overall, four actors are involved to enact the two pair of twins. For Mr. Nomura’s production, one actor represented a twin and differentiated the characters by using the mask. When the character’s identity is mistaken, he wore the mask, and thus if either of the servant or the master is with the wrong master or servant, one of them wore the mask for clarification.

As a next example, Mr. Nomura introduced Kuninusubito (i.e. The Usurper) by Shoichiro Kawai which is adapted from Richard III. For this play, Mr. Nomura incorporated the concept of Non rather than Kyogen to enable the effective representation of the ghosts. In the tradition of Noh, the dead is embodied with the use of masks and that was the means employed to show the characters killed by Akutaro (Richard). The production also had the feature of applying the shadow for stage illusions.

The Throne of Blood by Kurosawa, which is based on the story of Macbeth, being highly successful in abroad, together with the fact that Ninagawa achieved his global fame with his NINAGAWA Macbeth, Mr. Nomura recognized the connection between Macbeth and Japan. With the partnership with Kawai, he created a play that can be staged with five actors: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the three witches. Considering Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as the smallest unit of human beings, the three witches became the representatives of the nature, and thus the structure of conflict was suggested. The large square cloth placed on the stage implied the world of Macbeth, and at the time of his madness, the cloth was blown away to show the vicious storm from the Birnam wood. In the end, the concealed body of Macbeth suggested the dead covered in snow and showed even the tyrant would go back to the earth after loosing his life, which is the concept connected to the circulation of life.

By explaining his past performance with the involvement of the visual clips from each production, Mr. Nomura effectively demonstrated the result of his consideration of mixing the technique and the concept from Shakespeare and Japanese classical drama.

Professor Tiffany Stern Rehearsal and Performance in the Time of Shakespeare

Professor Stern started her talk with the introduction to the diary of Philip Henslowe, entrepreneur of the theatre in Shakespeare’s time. The diary from 1574, which should be called an account book in modern terminology, shows how often the performance on stage had been changed from one play to another. The reason for the company not producing the shows in the style of ‘runs’ was because the theatre could not attract enough audience by repeating the same play day after day. This situation and the information in the diary indicate that the actors had to perform a different shows everyday, and add new plays to their repertory every two weeks.

To prepare a show in a very short period of time, Professor Stern showed that the actors were given the sheets of paper which was called a ‘part’ or, in other occasions, a ‘roll’. It does not contain all the lines of a play, rather it had the lines for a certain part as well as the cues that the character should give to another character to complete the dialogue. Therefore, the actors may only learn their lines and the timing for their responds. However, they had to construct the characters from the words that been spoken, with very little knowledge on what they are spoken to or about. From the ‘part’, it is also uncertain whether the character is sharing a stage with numerous actors or accompanied by music or dance. The document from the early modern period suggests that the actors practiced and memorized their lines at home, and arrived the theatre with their own ideas on how the they should move or speak. There are several references in the play from the same period mocking the system used in those days. Since the actors only memorized their lines and cues, when encountered an opponent who intentionally or unintentionally misgave the cues, the play ended up in an awkward state.

Professor Stern pointed out the fact that Shakespeare was a writer who used to be an actor, and so he should be very much aware of the feeling of actors who were given the ‘parts’. By looking at the ‘part’ created for Reynaldo in Hamlet, Professor Stern claimed that from the frequent repetition of the word ‘my’ and ‘lord’, the character of Reynaldo was hinted and even his tone of voice is hidden in the arrangement of the words. This implied feature of the character is hardly visible when mixed in the luxurious range of words in the full text. Additionally, by observing the shift of style in writing from prose to verse in the ‘part’ of Olivia in Twelfth Night, the change of emotion, or the change of passion of the character became noticeable. This implication was also connected to the idea of these physical appearance to be the advise from the author himself. The dialogue between Shylock and Solanio gave another dimension to the argument. In the exchange placed in The Merchant of Venice, there is a scene where Solanio respond to the cue ‘have my bond’, but the same wording occurs multiple times. This textual feature suggests that the dialogue demanding the interruption rather than smooth interaction.

Without having the opportunities to rehearse on stage, as well as not having a director, actors from Shakespeare’s time seemed to be relying on a person called a prompter or a book holder for being the only one with the entire text. The prompter not only filled in the lines that the actors forgot, but also conducted their movement from backstage. It allowed the actors to perform without knowing exactly how they should move during the play. There are also several indications in the early text where the fair portion of words is missing, and they are prologue, epilogue, letters and songs. The reason for these treatments had been explained by looking into the text of Rollo Duke of Normandy (The Bloody Brother) by John Fletcher and others. The text shows the beginning of the play from the right hand side, where as on the left, there is a song that should be sang in the later scene. From this arrangement, Professor Stern pointed out that the printer received the text which accompanied by songs and others written on the different paper.

As Professor Stern explored, the rehearsal of the Shakespearean time mainly happened at home rather than on stage. The actors memorized their lines and mostly improvised apart from the blockings they have discovered at the only one occasion of rehearsing on stage. In order to support the players the prompters gave directions during the performance and also the use of the ‘plot’ which indicated the scene by scene entrances and exits, enabled the live performance. Professor Stern lastly mentioned that as much as it is interesting to see different stage representations decided by the modern directors, looking at the old documents there are some things left in the past.

Mr. Angus Jackson Shakespeare’s Rome Season

Mr. Jackson introduced his series of directorial works of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is quite common to combine all of the Roman plays into one that can be performed in one evening. However, Mr. Jackson’s version was different from other examples and he used almost full-length plays with the practice of transposition. The aim was to create an idea of society starting with Julius Caesar in 2017.

The first decision Mr. Jackson made for his Julius Caesar was to incorporate togas for male costumes. This choice was to avoid the common practice of using black modern suits with the personification of the contemporary politicians as it is frequently seen in other productions. The interesting thing about the play is that when performed in the present circumstance, the audiences tend to sympathize with the characters such as Brutus and Cassias who take action against a dictator. On the contrary, depending on the political situation of the real world, Brutus can be interpreted as a figure who displaces Caesar to preserve the power for his class. Historically, Brutus is quite different from the depiction Shakespeare wrote in his play and therefore the production team had to make a decision of how to portray the character.

Mr. Jackson called the project as cycles of plays of people, politics and rhetoric. Especially the rhetoric, which consists of logos, ethos, and pathos, should be regarded interesting in the modern context, since persuasions are often practiced by the politicians on ordinary people. Through this concept, the RSC season lasted for a year and a half, and Antony and Cleopatra followed Julius Caesar. In the play, Cleopatra, the most attractive and the most powerful female role, where all the authorities are concentrated into one individual, is placed in the middle of female society. The world recreated for the setting was a continuation of the scenery from Julius Caesar, considering there was approximately only ten years difference between the two incidents. However, the world of Julius Caesar had a modern notion of society, whereas the background of Antony and Cleopatra was ancient. Additionally, a white statue of a lion biting into the back of a horse, which appeared also in Julius Caesar as the central figure, was in Antony and Cleopatra lifted above the roof to suggest the expansion of Rome with the new leader.

Moving on to Titus Andronicus, the setting of the time jumped forward with the involvement of more modern dress. Even though Titus Andronicus is a fictitious play, due to the nature of the cycle, several slaughter of emperors were already presented on the previous stages. Here, the power of rhetoric once again became inspirational and the importance was implied especially at the scene of the speech by Saturninus by showing the illustration of the white statue which has been appearing through out the series. The pillars at the back have been also traveled together with the productions, but in Titus Andronicus they are glassed to give the impression of the building being a European parliament. The change of the scenery was to suggest that the state has become more sophisticated, but at the same time, questions its true value.

In Coriolanus, more modern setting was employed, as well as the social structure of poverty against the wealth has been implied. In this production, the function of the rhetoric was focused once again, since it involves the senates working against the protagonist with the use of speeches. Strikingly, for this production, famous white statue was encased in the background which the audiences can peak through the boards. According to Mr. Jackson, the treatment of the statue signified the openness of the government: once visible to anyone abound the time of Julius Caesar, but now hidden behind the door in the world of Coriolanus. In this linier shift of states, from one emperor to the other, Mr. Jackson questioned the audience with his series of production, that after noticing the falls of the nations, what sort of society would you build this time?

Ms. Kelly Hunter Shakespeare’s Heartbeats

About twenty years ago Ms. Hunter was a leading actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, she began to doubt the authenticity of what she was asked to do back then, feeling that there was some sort of pulse in Shakespeare that has not yet being accessed. From there Ms. Hunter started working with children with autism and needing a special care. Within the environment of special school, to interact with the children with autism was first prohibited. Ms. Hunter aimed to explore the possibility of these children by using Shakespeare’s beat, Shakespeare’s heartbeat, with is his unique rhyme of iambic pentameter. Noticing the power of Shakespeare’s language, Ms. Hunter challenged to find out how it affect the autistic children, some of them non-verbal, some who never stop talking, some who cannot make eye-contact, and some who cannot take their eyes off from people.

Together in a circle, all the participant in the project started to feel the heartbeat of themselves, gradually moving on to say the word ‘hello’. The time required for the children to reach the point where they could actually deliver the word differ, but even the child who never spoke start saying ‘hello’. The heartbeat is the first sound you hear in the womb, which is the most nurturing and calming sound. Ms. Hunter recognized the connection between human heartbeat and Shakespeare’s pulse, both universal and beyond the boundary of language.

The workshops organized by Ms. Hunter always start with the heartbeat circle followed by unique games. Those games are based on four words from Shakespeare, those of which are repeated in his plays more than any other words: eyes, mind, reason and love. The concept was derived from Bottom: On Shakespeare by Louis Zukofsky where he shows how the four words singing out as an expiration of human respond. Searching through Shakespeare’s words, Ms. Hunter claimed that Shakespeare had been exploring the ‘loving eye’ and how we see with our ‘mind’. These ways of perception were crucial when dealing with autistic children, because people see things more with the mind than the actual vision. When it comes to the children with condition, they see more intensely than the average people. Ms. Hunter also suggested that Shakespeare explored the condition where a character loses the sight, or a character who sees things that they cannot unsee. In respond to Shakespeare’s quest, Miss Hunter created games for children using these fundamental concepts, because children with autism spectrum were struggling with how they use their eyes and minds to express their love and reason. To Ms. Hunter, Shakespeare’s poetries are the words crying out the common universal experiences of the human being that the children with conditions were struggling to have on the daily basis.

As Ms. Hunter was looking for an authentic feeling in Shakespeare’s plays, thus she discovered the way to break the fourth wall and stimulate other people’s spirits. Ms. Hunter also claimed that for the Shakespearean production of the 21st century, it is necessary to communicate with the audience in a way that the audience can truly respond, and that include performing in other language that the people in the auditorium can relate themselves to the play. In this way, Ms. Hunter aimed to reach out to the audience and even those who cannot come to the theatre or feel uncomfortable to be there.

The experience with these children allowed Miss Hunter to produce Shakespearean plays more freely, since she discovered the essence within his works. It was similar to Shakespeare’s creative mind where he extracted stories from the old materials and modified them to express his idea to his contemporaries through the poetry of the seeing and the mind of loving eye. When Ms. Hunter directed Hamlet for her company, she focused on the lines what she wants to keep rather than cut out. Starting with the close reading of the six soliloquies of Hamlet and the Ghost scene, the company decided which characters or which scenes they need to add. Even though the production heavily relied on the part of Hamlet, a lot of the audience responded positively regarding they have seen the whole play of Hamlet.

After Hamlet  Ms. Hunter explore Twelfth Night, because she felt the drowning of Ophelia is connected to the drowning of Viola and her safe return. She suggested that here Shakespeare using the similar concepts from Hamlet, madness, grief and love, turn it around to a comedy with humour and music. To express her unique interpretation, Ms. Hunter closed Hamlet with drowned Ophelia cursing Laertes and opening her Twelfth Night with Viola on stage, then being thrown a bucket of water. This connection suggests that the characters lives not always end within one play, but occasionally show their journey through multiple plays. And this has been the journey Ms. Hunter took with her understandings of ‘eyes, minds, love and reason’.

From left: Mr. Jackson, Ms. Hunter, Prof. Stern. Prof. Dobson, Mr. Mansai, Prof. Kodama

Part 2

The second half of the event started with the stage reading by Mr. Nomura and Ms. Hunter performing the scene of Act 1, Scene 7 of Macbeth. It was extremely unique to witness the interaction of the two delivering the lines in two different languages. At first there was a slight gap in the exchange of lines, which might be caused by the characterization of Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth. However, once they have caught the pace of the scene, there was no doubt that the two were presenting strong figures from famous Shakespearean tragedy.

Following the reading session, Professor Dobson summaries the symposium happened in the first half of the event. There, he noted that the talks symbolized the works that have been done on Shakespeare, with Shakespeare and through Shakespeare. There were similarities between Ms. Hunter’s condensed version of Shakespeare for autistic children and Mr. Nomura’s compressed Macbeth with five actors and a cloth. It represented the importance of preserving the community that consists of Waseda Shakespeareans, Shakespeare Institute scholars and theatre practitioners to consider how these plays live in performances. Mr. Jackson’s series of designs with a linier concept would be another interesting aspect for the academics can do a research on, which in a way already practiced in Julius Caesar with the relationship of Shakespeare Institute and the RSC. Professor Stern has been always exploring the means for the editors to think properly in terms of performance and the actors to understand the nature of the texts that they are working on. That is to suggest that theatre practices were the series of fragments stitched together that allows different representation through different combinations.

What has happened to and for Shakespeare in Japan is also versatile and has been showcased by the works of Mr. Nomura. The practice by Mr. Nomura stimulated Professor Dobson to imagine the connection between Shakespeare and Japanese classical theatre arts where they share the similar stage and the shape of the auditorium. Mr. Jackson mentioned that he once fought against Ninagawa’s Titus Andronicus that occurred in the same main stage at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as his experience of seeing Macbeth at the Barbican theatre in London. Since Mr. Jackson was aiming for more naturalistic representation, he was concern whether his productions can fill the space in the same way.

Mr. Nomura responded to the question if he thinks his work is a sort of bridge between Britain and Japan, or Shakespeare has already thoroughly integrated into Japanese theatre repertoire. Same as Kyogen and Noh, Shakespeare or other classics depicted the universal truth that enables the works to be accepted around the world from different generations. Not only Shakespeare connotes this quality but also has the diversity and milliard features that allow various interpretations and representations.

Ms. Hunter prepared herself for the reading, with the aid of Professor Stern, writing phonetics of Japanese language to cue her lines, and Professor Dobson asked whether it might be the entrance for the future collaboration with her company and actors from different countries. Ms. Hunter pointed out that with the technique of the actors, gestures and responses are always visible without the shared knowledge in terms of language. This nonverbal communication is the way that Ms. Hunter has been experimenting in her company utilizing the words most refinery written 400 years ago. Miss Hunter was also interested to consider the difference between prose and verse, and what characterization or explanation can be given to those shifts of mode, which has been suggested by Professor Stern.

Professor Stern on the other hand mentioned that the privilege for the Japanese audiences is that they can witness the original practice which is quite similar to the real original figure inherited through its culture. However, this situation can also be a constrain for the actors and the directors that prevent them from freeing their creative mind to explore the texts in modern way. Professor Stern showed her interests on Mr. Nomura’s work for being extremely present by using the past. Professor Kodama added that the culture of Kabuki is also similar to that of European theatre where the actors were given their lines in parts rather than in a complete booklet. In the rehearsal it is know that the company practiced their play with a read through which is another common feature between West and Este. Kyogen actors such as Mr. Nomura have been preserved the repertoire system which alternates the plays everyday, introducing new ones once in a while. Professor Kodama, noticing the interaction of language, physicality, as well as their practices, claimed that there is a high possibility of fusing two different art forms from two separate countries.

The harmonization of various perspectives allowed the panelists to understand that transposing Shakespeare is, to some extent, to restore Shakespeare to its original shape. It seemed extremely stimulating to recognize that the collaboration with Japanese classical works can effectively provide opportunities to explore what Shakespeare looked like 400 years ago, and what Shakespeare should look like today.

Event Overview

Date: November 26 (Mon.), 2019
Time: 3:15pm-5:45pm (Doors open at 2:45pm)
Venue: Ono Memorial Hall
Languages: Japanese & English (Japanese/English simultaneous interpreting)
Moderator: Hiromi Fuyuki (Professor at Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University)
Discussant: Ryuichi Kodama (Professor at Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, Associate Director of The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum)

Part 1

  • 3:15pm-3:20pm Opening Remarks
    Norimasa Morita (Professor at Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University)
  • 3:20pm-4:35pm Presentations
    Mansai Nomura (Kyogen actor)
    Tiffany Stern (Professor at Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham)
    Angus Jackson (Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company)
    Kelly Hunter (Artistic Director of the Flute Theatre)

Part 2

  • 4:50pm-5:00pm Commentary on Part 1
    Professor Michael Dobson (Director of the Shakespeare Institute and Professor at University of Birmingham)
  • 5:00pm-5:40pm Open Discussion
  • 5:40pm-5:45pm Closing Remarks
    Hiromi Fuyuki
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