By Ayako Takahashi
Theatre is not only about actors, directors, props, stages and scripts. The physical spaces in which stories are told are key components of the theatrical experience. Here we look at two unique creative spaces, designed by the actors themselves, which offer Tokyo audiences a fresh perspective on the performing arts.
‘It’s different from a theatre because one can work there without limitations of space and time,’ says choreographer and dancer Saburo Teshigawara on Karas Apparatus, a creative space run by his company Karas. The inviting venue is located close to Ogikubo Station, at the end of an old-school shopping street, and occupies three floors. ‘A theatre is a visible place where you make presentations,’ says Teshigawara. ‘The preparatory work is usually invisible to the audience. However, as this is the part of the process where so much true creativity takes place, I wanted a space for making this part of the process visible.’
The day after Teshigawara discussed the possibility of opening such a performance space with Karas colleague Rihoko Sato, they came across the Ogikubo building. It was completely renovated before reopening as Karas Apparatus in July 2013, and now hosts everything from workshops to film screenings. Its most important programme remains the ‘Update Dance' performance series, which has earned praise not only for offering people the rare chance to watch contemporary dance at point-blank range, but also for its reasonable ticket prices and convenient showtimes.
‘You can check it out as casually as you would check out a gig, and then decide for yourself whether to come back or not,’ says Teshigawara. It’s a space where the artistic experience begins the moment you step inside. A black dance mat covers the floor, and plants and aromas lead you into a world that seems a million miles from the streets outside.
‘Since it’s our own space, there’s a real sense of freedom,’ Teshigawara adds. ‘At first, Apparatus was thought of as a link between the theatre and the studio, but because there are so many things we can only do here, its role has grown and exceeded our initial expectations.’
Not an inch of floor space is wasted. ‘The hall, studio, foyer, stairs, dressing rooms – they’re all covered with dance mats,’ says Teshigawara. ‘As everything’s connected, you can really immerse yourself in the work being performed. We also make use of music and lighting to further alter the audience’s perspective.’
Short talks take place after every performance, and the audience can give feedback to the dancers. ‘I think putting things into words is really important,’ says Teshigawara. ‘Both in terms of dance and other forms of expression, there’s a need to find the right words – not in order to “understand”, but to foster an attitude of curiosity. Compared to, for example, writing on the internet, which is accessible to masses of people, there’s a different meaning when words are spoken directly to you.’
Karas Apparatus: 5-11-15 Ogikubo, Suginami-ku (Ogikubo Station). 03 6276 9136. st-karas.com/karas_apparatus.
Just like Teshigawara in the field of dance, a few brave players in the theatre world have established their own studios. One of them is director and playwright Seri Kurosawa, whose Jikando theatre company set up the Toiroan studio and bar in Akabane in 2014. It’s a space for play development, workshops and performances, and is used by several other creative groups.
‘When visiting London, I grew to really like the idea of theatres that also function as pubs,’ says Kurosawa. ‘In Japan too, seeing a play is usually followed by drinks, so I thought why not combine the two? It was difficult to find the right place, but this former karaoke and snack bar turned out to be perfect – the noise isn’t a problem and we can serve drinks after the play is over.’
To save money, the Jikando folks built everything on their own – from the floor to the ceiling. ‘Working with a limited budget, the important thing is to have a vision for the space,’ says Kurosawa. ‘Toiroan is a white box, like a canvas coloured differently by each play. I hope it works as a place where people and the stories that bind them together take centre stage.’ Kurosawa says that he hopes to hold more performances outside of Japan in the future. ‘Since we now have a base, a place to come back to, we have the ability to go further afield than before.’
For an artist, possessing a space that enables you to both create and perform isn’t the end point. Instead, it’s a platform upon which to build new opportunities. Such opportunities, and the innovative ways in which they are realised, are what make places such as Toiroan so exciting for audiences.
Toiroan: B1F, 2-48-16 Kamiya, Kita-ku (Akabane Station). 03 6454 4308. toiroan.tumblr.com.