To commemorate the 400th year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, students at Waseda have been participating in annual reading performances of the playwriter’s work starting back in 2016. Though the Covid-19 pandemic unfortunately led to the cancellation of last year’s performance, students are currently hard at work, preparing for the project’s return this September with Shakespeare’s comedic masterpiece: Twelfth Night, or What You Will. For this year’s performance, distinguished guest and stage director, Nobuhiro Nishikawa, will come to spectate. Nishikawa will represent Bungakuza, one of Japan’s “Big Three” theatre companies.
Why did you apply for this year’s project?
Seiji: I’m currently attending a seminar class by professor Hiromi Fuyuki, who’s overseeing this year’s project. Not only did my graduation thesis for my undergraduate degree touch on Shakespeare, but I’m also a big fan so I wanted to participate. I was part of the drama club in junior high school and belonged to a theatre training school after graduating from Waseda. Actually, I chose to do my Master’s program here as well to study theatre further. You could say that theatre was what led me to Waseda.
Ayana: I applied because I was captivated by the project’s concept: “Experience professional theatre production; put together a stage performance in two weeks.” I haven’t joined any of the acting student circles at Waseda, but I have been wanting to try performing during my time at university. I thought this project would be nice to participate in as it’s a short-term project where you fully focus on the task at hand. I Though I’ve had previous experience with acting, I wanted to experience putting a stage performance together from scratch, so I made the decision to join as a supporting staff member instead.
How have preparations been going during the current Covid-19 situation?
Ayana: The most difficult part is needing to adapt and modify how we prepare for the project in this Covid-19 era. The days we can get together and practice are limited, so we tried some new methods like holding study sessions online. Professor Fuyuki held lectures on the historical background and concept of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, and any doubts or uncertainty we had towards the text disappeared one by one. Even outside of class, we had opportunities to personally talk about the material, and that was really important. Though Covid-19 has somewhat made practice difficult, we must push on get ourselves ready for the performance.
Seiji: We’ve been using a very spacious practice room in the basement of the Student Center. I think we’re really lucky to have this kind of facility space where we can safely practice during these times. Even in the large room, we follow Covid-19 precautions strictly, such as wearing a mask at all times and thorough sanitization. However, practicing with masks means you can’t see your partner’s facial expressions, and that’s the biggest challenge. Also, our chances to meet in-person to practice are limited. It takes time to build mutual trust with other members, and this situation feels like we are working under atypical circumstances. Besides practice, we’re hoping to dedicate time to interpreting the text material and have discussions about the story of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.
What have you been focusing on as the performance day draws closer?
Ayana: Performing with no audience and uploading the recording is a first for this project. We’re thinking about ways that we can have those who watch the performance video online feel as if they are actually there as part of an audience, and feel our actors’ passion. As a staff member, I hope to support the actors on their way to a flawless performance.
Seiji: The timeline for this project is short but intense, and it’s different than participating in a club activity with your friends. Though the communication aspect can be difficult, putting all your energy into this intense, short amount of time means you really form deep relationships with the other members. I feel like I’m using my energy towards person-to-person communication, which is an activity that we don’t do as much in these Covid-19 times. I can really see the steady growth in our communication and acting skills as we’ve been practicing.
Do you have a message for your viewers?
Seiji: Twelfth Night, or What You Will is my favorite Shakespeare play. There are so many moments where you think “What!? There’s no way that would happen in real life!” The worldview in the play is interesting, and you find yourself questioning how such a fantastic story could exist. It’s a comedy that you can enjoy, especially in these Covid-19 times. I really hope that we can take our viewers on a journey into the dreamy world of the play, and have them glad they came along.
Ayana: Our practices had many bouts of uncontrollable laughter, and we believe that this feeling will be conveyed even when viewed online. It is a reading performance, but there are also many musical compositions throughout. I think it will be a surprising performance, in a good way. It’s an enjoyable performance even if you haven’t read Twelfth Night, or What You Will or don’t know anything about the plot. I invite all to watch and experience Shakespeare with a lot of laughter!
Waseda’s 5th Annual Shakespeare Reading Performance: Twelfth Night, or What You Will
- The performance will be available to view as a time-limited YouTube video. If you would like to watch this year’s performance, please apply using this link. You will be sent the video link on September 21, after 12:00 JST.
- The performance video will be available until Wednesday, October 20, 2021.
- Note: The performance will be held in Japanese.