Concept by Toshiki Okada
- Toshiki Okada
Musical Theatre with Ghostly Apparitions
Ground and Floor is musical theatre. The performance is quite straightforward, in the sense that it is made up of two orthodox elements, namely "music" and "theatre". Our attempt was to make music and theatre share the time/space of the stage (for that is our own definition of musical theatre), to make this process of sharing as astonishing as possible, and to present it to the audience in the most vivid shape we can attain. This task sounds very simple when put in words. However, it was very difficult to realize. We never thought of any group of musicians but Sangatsu to take up this challenge with us. We can place full trust in this band who already composed music for works by chelfitsch several times in the past. No doubt partly because they have known and worked with us for a long time, Sangatsu are able to smoothly follow even our most abstruse lines of thought. This may be due to the common ground we have in respect of outlook and aspiration. It is easy to strike empathetic chords with them.
Music is the perfect catalyst to create awareness of time and space and make people share both of them. The main reason why we decided to put together a piece of "musical theatre" this time can be found here, after all. Whether this power of music can be used to its full extent or not ultimately depends on whether the actors can successfully share the time/space of the stage with music as their roommate. These two elements merely existing side by side does not mean that such a sharing already took place. Their relationship will end up being only superficial if the performance is too heavily influenced by the music´s rhythm or emotional mood. Conversely, the piece will lack flavor if the two are juxtaposed but isolated on separate layers, like a salad dressing that has not been mixed well before pouring (doing so would be very easy). Nothing really magical will occur, no matter how richly the theatre space is filled with the sounds of Sangatsu.
What´s important for the relationship between music and theatre - and also for this piece as a whole - is, first of all, that the actors listen to the sounds. Secondly, they need to maintain a close relationship to the mutual feedback that occurs between music and performance. This approach should enable the words spoken by the actors, and also their physical body itself, to co-exist on the same plane with the music. It also enables both sides to share the stage equally. Although this idea is simple enough, its execution is by no means routine, much less easy. In Ground and Floor, for example, ghosts appear. The transformation of a flesh-and-blood actor into a ghost is, in the final analysis, an event that occurs with a subtle change of this sort.
There is nothing new about the concept of musical theatre as an equal sharing between theater and music per se. It has been around since ancient times, in Japan for example in the genre of Noh theatre. Ground and Floor draws on the Noh style to a certain extent. Ghosts appear in it as noted above, and many of you surely know that Noh is theatre basically performed by spirits of the dead.
I personally remain deeply affected by the huge earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 and the far-reaching impact it had on Japanese society as a whole. This is by no means unrelated to the fact that Ground and Floor takes up the relationship between the living and the dead. I could no longer avoid thinking about ties to the dead. The effect on me naturally does not end there. The various apprehensions left by the disaster have not been diminished one bit in my mind. Apprehensions about life, society, politics, and Japan itself. I ended up plastering them all over this piece. I wrote Ground and Floor in order to ponder the situation of a conflict of interests between the dead and the living. Lately, I have begun to think that a bigger "diplomatic effort" ought to be made to reconcile the interests of the two sides. I can't help but feel that we have really neglected to make such an effort.
During the last two years, the focus of my concern has shifted from searching for new forms of theatre to using its "hardware" - ancient cultural technology - in a way that is meaningful for present society. The two may not appear to differ greatly, but there is a world of difference between them as regards the underlying conception. I have suddenly been freed from the framework of judgments stamping theatre as new or old, and this freedom is another effect worked on me by the earthquake disaster and the situation that followed in its wake.
Sebastian Breu & Toshiki Okada