Dramaturgy Satoshi Miyagi
Break Through the Meaning

• “The Limits of Theatre”

I was a member of the Drama Society at high school and in university I led a student troupe.The potential I saw in theatre did not derive from an interest in the plays as literature, and so after several years of doing theatre, I started to feel the limits of theatre as a medium of expression.

Simply put, when I watched plays, no matter how entertaining I found them, there was some part of me that said “I wish the play would end soon.”This troubled me and made me wonder whether this was the unavoidable fate of the theatrical arts which wholly dominate the spectator’s time and space.However, upon observing my feelings when attending dance performances or concerts or when watching a movie, I realized that I would not be thinking “I wish it would end soon” as much as when watching a play, even if the performances or movies were not the greatest works of art.

Why is it that despite finding a play interesting, I was thinking “I wish it would end soon”?Why is it that when watching a movie I would not feel that way, even though I may not be enraptured by it?The conclusion I reached after continuously observing myself in the auditorium was simple: “If you lead the audience through the play emphasizing the meaning of the words, the audience’s imagination is strongly restrained by the piece.”

Personally, when watching an uninteresting play, I can’t sit still thinking “I don’t want to be stuck here listening to these words.”And when I am watching an interesting play and have been emotionally moved in one way or another, an urge within says that “I want to take time digesting this experience” or “I want my heart to freely experience this emotion.”However, without regard to what I am feeling, the events onstage continue to direct information at the audience.Thus the spectators think “I’ll dwell on it later, for the time being I should continue to watch” although at the same time I can’t help thinking “I want to get out of here this instant and be alone! And if I can’t do that, I want to tell someone about this emotional experience!”

When you receive words which contain meaning audibly and not visually (i.e. not written down), the human’s left brain processes the information at top speed.While it is doing so, it seems that the tasks of the right brain, which entail perceiving whether a color is pretty or whether a melody is beautiful, are put aside, and humans are completely “tied up” with pursuing the meaning.Why do we get so caught up like this?It is because words (sentences) that contain meaning in fact carry very little information in each individual word, and thus the information cannot be misinterpreted (i.e. it is either 0 or 1 if put in numbers).Both those sending the information must constantly deliver words while those receiving must constantly process it in order to maintain communication.For example, if one compares the words “there is a mountain” and the picture === (or primitive letters), it is evident that the latter contains far more information.An hour before or after sunset, the “sunset” occurs in the western sky, but if one actually sees it with one’s eyes, during the time frame of the phenomenon an infinite number of changes occur and “impeccably” convey an incredible amount of information (here there are numbers such as 0.1 or 0.003 or 100/101 between 0 and 1).However, words such as “the sun was setting (in the sky)”will not suffice alone to keep time flowing.A second after the sentence is completed, you would be asked “And?”Then the speaker would say something like “The upper part of the sky was closer to purple than red,” and then the conversation would continue on with “And then?” “As I looked up into the sky, it made me remember the color of my mother’s lipstick which she kept on her dressing table” “Oh right.And so?”-- In this way the left brain works its hardest to process information.

• Epic’s Trunk and Lyric’s Flower

How can one relieve the spectators from the constraints of having their imaginations tied down to the meaning of the words?Instead of succumbing to this constraint and sense of suffocation as being inevitable in the theatre, or being masochistic by saying that this is a characteristic sensation that is unique to drama, I wanted to come up with a solution that would overcome this hurdle.

A way of drawing in the audience with the meaning of the words and at the same time ensuring the freedom of their imaginations that would expand from that…When I pondered on what has succeeded to do this in the field of performing arts, the first thing that came to mind was the traditional opera structure of “recitative and aria.”In this format, firstly dialogue is delivered in verse to explain the characters, their relationships and the situation, etc. (recitative), and then comes the elaboration on emotions about how sad one is, or how hateful that person is in the aria.Aria’s lyrics rarely contain new “digital information,” i.e. clear-cut information, and because the audience has already been given the knowledge that a certain character is in love with him/her, during the aria in which “the emotions of being in love” are sung, the left brain is able to rest and the spectator can reminisce on their own memories of being in love, or immerse themself in the melody or the beautiful vocals of the singer.

This kind of time flow would be “unnatural” in the context of our daily lives (this is somewhat similar to how no enemies attack while “Momotaro Samurai”*1 takes his time to identify himself).Furthermore in the case of opera, the aria is a section in which the singer flaunts his or her individual skills, which is the highlight spectators look forward to seeing.This resulted in making the recitative’s value lie in its function to bridge the arias, and in the end Mussorgsky and Wagner rid opera of this structure.However, I feel that if one could control the kinesthetic sensational pleasures of “the theory of music” instead of giving it free rein, it is then that this structure could exert its effectiveness to the full.

As these thoughts were circulating in my mind, out of the all the performing arts of the traditional and contemporary, the west and the east, I came to the Japanese puppet theatre (bunraku) as having achieved the highest success utilizing this structure.

Bunraku’s structure is based on two principles.One is to wholly give over the way time is structured (how to create an edge) to music (Gidayu music*2), and in this respect, the acting is subordinate to music.Secondly, words and movement are separated, and the responsibility for these two parts is distributed to different people.

The moment when I realized that these two elements are not mere “characteristics” but are in fact the “seed” of the theatrical magic of the puppet theatre signaled the beginning of “Kunauka.”I called on my fellow student theatre society members excitedly saying “I have an idea that comes only once every ten years!” and held auditions, also approaching several actors from other troupes I was interested in, and from there the gargantuan experiment of the troupe with the unusual name started.

*1) Momotaro Samurai was the main character in Momotaro Samurai, a TV series that was aired in Japan from 1976 to 1981

*2) Gidayu music was created by Takemoto Gidayu (1651-1714).It is music comprised by chanting and the shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument.

• Kunauka’s Method

The Kunauka system is mostly the same as that of the puppet theatre.Once a work which will serve as the foundational material is selected, the basic skeletal structure of the script will be thought out, and a suite of roughly one hundred minutes will be drafted.The structuring of the suite defines fifty percent of whether the production will be a success or not, and thus much time and energy is put into this.Once the structuring of the one hundred minutes has been decided, the dialogue is written in accordance with the music.

Kunauka divides one part between a “narrating actor” and a “moving actor.”The “narrating actor” must firstly listen to the music and then ensure that the dialogue is delivered in conjunction with the music as calculated.With this, the foundation of the auditory part is made, and the “moving actor” must then create movement to go with it.In the script there is a section that would parallel that of the recitative, and although small, a section that would equal that of the aria.For the recitative, the function of movement is to “make the meaning of the lines be heard by the audience,” which means movement must be based on the principle of “eliminating dance,” and for the aria, “dance” is sought within movement.

Music and dance are in fact the same thing.I believe that “words are reality, and music (dance) is dreams.”Words receive reality, whereas music and dance soar from reality.When words take off from meaning (i.e. reality) due to being held back or suppressed, they become poetry and songs.This is how Reverend Martin Luther King’s speech transformed from words to song, from logos to pathos, from woe to pleasure.Comedies are words, and tragedies are music.

As mentioned earlier, with music and dance, a “pleasure principle” prevails and “the more you do it, the more pleasurable it gets.”If this desire is left to run loose, the desire for “making it more and more pleasurable” increases.In such situations, the audience will also gradually forget about reality.No, perhaps forget is not quite right, but rather transform reality into a dream.Perhaps you could say the audience purifies their conception of reality. When one watches Berg’s“Woyzeck” which is essentially a “musical opera,” it can be said with certainty that the spectator is not experiencing reality.While the spectators watch “Woyzeck” they look upon the irredeemable reality as though it were a dream, and through this, experience physically pleasurable sensations.

If there is a reason why the theatre arts exist, it would be that in comparison to any other art form, “its feet are planted in reality”, and because it cannot escape from reality.Theatre is an art that revolves around words (speech) and the group (ironically there is nothing more that people try to avoid in real life than “words” and “the group”!).The moments in which theatre arts excel over TV or film in terms of expressive strength result from the fact that the constraints of reality are heavily placed upon it.The reason why a real actor/human being takes on the role as “mover” instead of a puppet when a part is divided between the “speaker” and the “mover” undoubtedly lies here.The actor who has been forbidden to speak, and the actor who has been forbidden to move, mirror the state of the members of our information-obsessed society in which the logos and pathos, the words and the body of the people have been torn apart.

First take a step and place the whole surface of your foot firmly on the ground.Next, run.

And then eventually the foot will hit the ground and a jump will take place.

Then follows the landing,

In that moment one can see what has changed from the start of the process.

For one- the affirmation that you can leave the ground.

This was not a “dream.”

The other, is the picture of the ground when seen from above.


(translated by Sayako Ota)