This essay gives a critical reading of Woyzeck (2013) and Over the Rainbow (2014), two stage productions by Performance Troupe Taihen. Based in Osaka since 1983, Taihen's ensemble of actors all live with severe disabilities. The backdrop to the analysis of these two plays is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, to which Over the Rainbow was a direct response. The essay questions the role that corporeality plays in the mediation of environmental catastrophe, and considers the relationship between contamination, disability and institutional power. The essay contains five main sections. The first section introduces Taihen, drawing attention to the group's ongoing concern with the politics of eugenics. The second section defines the term “contamination” in relation to media discourses surrounding the Fukushima event. The third section addresses the themes of discourse and mediation in the context of institutional power, drawing on Michel Foucault's notion of “bodily inscription” and Alain Badiou's concept of the “event” to establish a relationship between contamination, Taihen and Georg Buchner's play, Woyzeck. The final two sections recast these elements in an analysis of the two productions by Taihen.
J-PEST (Japanese Performance Electronic Salon Talk) is an online research group of Japanese and foreign scholars begun in May 2020 to discuss the effects of the Covid crisis on Japanese and global performance.1 In the spring of 2022, we decided to offer some public conversations about many of the issues we had been discussing, sponsored by Ryukoku University's Research Institute for International Society and Culture (RIISC)'s Collaborative Research Project Education, Research, & Practices of Arts & Media Culture in the post-COVID 19 era (ポスト・コロナ時代における芸術・メディア文化の教育研究と実践活動). Various moderators took charge of arranging for complementary presentations, play-readings, and discussion, held via Zoom from Feb 24 to Mar 24, each Thursday morning for five weeks. Promotion on Facebook and research group mailing lists introduced the wide-ranging activities and problems we were investigating:
The J-Theatre Pandeminar Series is a weekly series of conversations among performance specialists and Japanese producers, performers, and teachers exploring how Japanese theatre has coped with the spread of Covid-19 since March 2020. We will be:
1. examining historical precedents and contexts for the present crises;
2. interrogating theatre producers, performers, and teachers about their varied strategic and accidental methods born of necessity over two years;
3. seeking themes emerging from new playwrights and festival programming;
4. examining how spectatorship changes when “live theatre” becomes not merely a luxury, but a scarcity;
5. predicting which mediated ways of teaching and performing will continue beyond the pandemic.
The Poster for the overall event (Illustration) was distributed widely, as well as individual posters for each session. Over a hundred participants from a dozen countries attended the online pandeminars, some for multiple sessions. Lasting ninety minutes to three hours, these pandeminar recordings are now archived, along with supplementary materials including playscripts, powerpoints, and websites.
In this article, we attempt to summarize the rich and insightful discussions that took place online over 10 hours among nearly 20 participants, profiles found in the link.
J-PEST Pandeminar Series 2022 Participants (in alphabetical order)
A pre-event on Feb 17th by Hirotomo Kojima, freelance arts manager and Ryukoku University lecturer introduced “Personal reflections on the spread of the new Covid-19 pandemic and arts management.” Using statistics from the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Arts and Culture Forum whitepapers, he discussed the impact on the performing arts sector in particular. Kojima stressed the positive side effect of Covid-19 damage to the fragile arts sector as affirming support for government's public spending on the arts at an unprecedented national and local level. Meanwhile, the pandemic has stimulated efforts for digital archiving and overseas dissemination of J-arts information, efforts that had been slow to start in Japan. Kojima highlighted the rapid progress of the Japan Digital archives by the Waseda University Theatre Museum and Stages Beyond Borders initiative by the Japan Foundation. Although he was keenly aware of the devastating effects of the ongoing pandemic for individual artists and institutions, nonetheless Kojima noted this raised awareness of the role of arts management as a means to maintain access to culture and the arts as a fundamental right and social mechanism.
The book reviewed in this article surveys the Shakespeare productions of the international theatre director Ninagawa Yukio (1935-2016), and is the first book-length study in English of Ninagawa's achievement. Ninagawa was sometimes criticised for commercialism but not for narcissism, and a central trajectory of this book is how it was frustration with the rhetorical inadequacies of his native language (in particular its lack of “a definite self”) and what he saw as the insipid rationalism of modern Japanese drama that led him towards Shakespeare's “self-fashioning” and directing the plays in his uniquely aesthetic, even postmodern style, culminating in the Sai no Kuni Shakespeare Series of the complete plays (1998-2021). Ninagawa's primary audience therefore, as the author insists, was always the local Japanese, with foreign audiences giving – and in the case of his 1999 bilingual King Lear sometimes withholding – a further stamp of approval for what he was doing. Ninagawa was not a notably cerebral director, but as the author suggests it was surely his expression of the kind of embodied experience defined by Bakhtinian realism together with a Lacanian awareness of language and identity and above all respect for “the third eye” of the spectator that underscored the more superficial aspects of his “Japanese” Shakespeares.