[From December Issue 2011]
Theater Group Suzushiro
In Minoh City, Osaka Prefecture, there is a senior citizen’s theater group called “Suzushiro” whose members are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The group, which now has about 20 members, was first established after a theater class for local citizens, “Introduction to Theater for People Aged 60 and Older,” was held in 2004. Since its foundation, the company has been lead by KURATA Misao, who also works as an actor.
“Back then, I was 28, quite young, so I was worried whether I could teach people who were more than double my age,” says Kurata, speaking about how he began feeling his way around the task of teaching an amateur theater group made up of only elderly people – a rarity in those days.
Problems such as clashes of opinion in meetings or difficulties memorizing lines cropped up one after another. After overcoming these problems they had their first performance, which turned out to be a great success, and they gradually began to win support from audiences. “Unlike performers in professional or young theater groups, it often takes time for elderly members to learn to do what I advise them during practice, but since people at this generation show respect toward their instructors, the members trust in and listen to my opinions as a director, which I really appreciate,” says Kurata.
In June 2010, they gave a performance at an off-Broadway theater in New York, which in Japan received a lot of coverage in local magazines, and also on Japanese TV and in newspapers. The plot is as follows: two men, who have died unexpectedly, hesitate to go to heaven and instead talk to each other about their lives in the waiting room of a funeral home while meeting each other’s families.
The play starts off in Japanese with English subtitles, then English is gradually introduced, and eventually it is entirely spoken in English. “Some of the members had never learned English at school because Japan was at war in those days, but they studied the language extremely hard before they went on stage,” says Kurata. “They had a chance to interact with local American seniors, which made me grateful for the peaceful state of the world.”
Working as a producer and director, Kurata turned videos of how they had worked toward their performance in New York into a documentary movie titled, “Harebutai wa Broadway de!” (The Big Moment in Broadway!). The movie is scheduled to be shown in Spring, 2012 at Uplink Factory in Shibuya, Tokyo.
The promoter of the theater group AKITA Keiko says, “I never expected that an activity we’d started simply for our own pleasure would have an impact on society. The theater is fascinating because it allows you to look at yourself objectively. There are a number of hurdles that we faced because the members were elderly people, but we would like to continue doing this.”
“In a play, we can naturally express the things that have been building up inside us, which I think is great,” says TOYODA Asahi, a member of the group and a former principal of an elementary school. “People who come and see the play tell me that they feel a sense of release.”
Kurata says, “When I was studying drama, I hoped that I would one day participate in activities which could make a contribution to society. There was a time when I assumed that this would only be possible after I became a professional actor and got famous. Through the activities at Suzushiro, I realized that what I’m doing now is just that.”
Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko