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Kanagawa Musical Summit (Part Two)

The "Kanagawa Musical Summit," an event in which citizen musicals across Kanagawa prefecture all come together in one place, was held on August 14th (Sunday) and saw the performance of four troupes rich in individuality.
These groups usually perform in different areas around the prefecture and this ambitious event is the first time to see them all come together in the same place.
We spoke with members of each troupe. In this article, we interview members of the Kohoku Musical Company from Yokohama's Kohoku Ward and ARTLiVE from Sagamihara's Yaei High School.
(→ Part One of this article can be found here.)

Interview, Text & Photo: Sota Ito

Kohoku Musical Company

Writer/Producer Ichiro Jun (Left) and Cast Member Hiro Ueda (Right)

Writer/Producer Ichiro Jun (Left) and Cast Member Hiro Ueda (Right)

-- The terms "Community Based" and "Community Transmission" on your website left quite the impression.

Ueda: If the people of the community who wished to perform simply got together and did so it would just end in a one-time recital and may not lead to the further advancement of those involved. That's not what we want to pursue. By using community as our theme we can show what kind of creative work is going on here and create an atmosphere in which everyone tries to constantly improve.
 In Kohoku Musical Company we require participants to be at least fourth grade age but have no upper limit age restrictions. In the past, we've had people in wheelchairs and people with difficulty hearing perform with us as well. As long as their "bodies move," or, more precisely, their "hearts move," we allow anyone to perform with us.
 Ichiro Jun produced the company's current rendition in 2005 but there are still people who remember the original Kohoku Musical Company and excitedly await our every performance. They come because they know that they will have a good time and are always the first to contact the office to reserve tickets as soon as they go on sale. I think this is a result of the same person writing and producing for many years with the consistent theme of "Community Transmission."

-- This isn't just a private gathering of friends, people are coming for entertainment.

Ueda: There are some top-class people working with us with music, choreography and the like. On stage, as well, there are professional actors and actresses as well as those in the making. I feel like plays are somewhat like tennis. If two people who aren't very good play each other the rally won't last very long. However, if one rallies with a pro, that pro can send the ball back to an area that is easy to return from and the partner can quickly improve. This is one reason that we have opened our doors to professionals as well.

One Scene from

One Scene from "At Momijizaka"

-- What attracts professionals to come to your musical company?

Ueda: Actually, I am a professional as well and belong to a theatrical company. To put things bluntly, there is a side to the professional world that is very businesslike. All you have to do is arrange with the people you meet and the scenes you're in for each show. Here, however, we spend half a year in preparation. We have basic practice for the first three months and practice the script for the next three months. Because we take our time like this we can really work on communication between individuals. If a professional is suddenly told that they will be playing the part of husband and wife with someone they've just met they can do it. Amateurs, however, tend to be quite shy and have a harder time adjusting. We start from that kind of base level here to construct our performances.
 Another thing that draws in professionals is the sight of everyone really giving it their all. Our producer, Ichiro Jun, as well, doesn't say "That's good enough," but rather "Keep working on it!" He continually sets the bar higher and higher. Our members may cry or grit their teeth but always say, "One more time, please!"
 Having gone through this process of working so hard, the smiles on their faces upon finishing a performance are truly wonderful. It's surprising and almost funny how far some of our lesser experienced members grow through the experience. This gives us a good chance to look back on ourselves as well.

One Scene from

One Scene from "At Momijizaka"

-- How do you strike a balance between the two themes of entertainment and working with roots in community?

Ichiro Jun: That depends on how you think about citizen musicals. I don't want citizen musicals to stay in the realm of working "just hard enough" like a simple extension of a school arts festival. I don't believe that we are doing these performances for ourselves but rather for the sake of the people who come to watch us. I don't think it's right to use performances simply as material for communal exchange. I believe that one of the characteristics of our Kohoku Musical Company is that, if we're going to do a performance, everyone involved in creating that performance has the interests of the audience in mind.
 We professionals go on stage as well. Just as in sports, by performing exchange between amateurs and professionals the amateurs can experience the craft of the professionals and, by performing together, can lead to the future of further performances. Professional baseball players typically aren't seen playing grass-lot baseball with amateurs but we think that this is something that there should be more of. This experience will lead to the future of spectators, performers and stage hands 10 and even 20 years from now.

-- Could we receive a word for all the people who are interested in performing in musicals?

Ichiro Jun: Effort is important. We may be in a fairly self-centered era but the people who perform with us all work incredibly hard in order to put on a good performance and please their audiences. When hardships have meaning behind them, overcoming that severity will undoubtedly lead to personal growth not just on the stage but in one's school or work life as well.

Ueda: The doors are open wide so I would like everyone to come and try their hand at performance and to get a sense for the importance of continuing to work at something. Some people retire after the half-year practice but everyone who overcomes these hurdles gains self-confidence and experiences personal growth. I would like for everyone to at least try it out and to keep trying until the performance is over.

 These two gave us strict advice, "work extremely hard for the sake of the audience," but they did so with a smile. On stage, they performed a digest version of Kohoku Musical Company's famous works from the past. With a high level of singing ability and a production including part of the spectator seating in the performance it was truly a dignified event.

Yaei High School - ARTLiVE

Yaei High School's Yukino Tozawa (Middle), Kiharu Tokunaga (Right) and teacher Fujishima (Left).

Yaei High School's Yukino Tozawa (Middle), Kiharu Tokunaga (Right) and teacher Fujishima (Left).

-- Could you tell us a little more about ARTLiVE?

Tokunaga: We perform as a volunteer group, not a school club. It falls under "events" at school. Since it's not a club we can take part in whatever performance we want and even join in the middle of production. We can perform through our second year and everyone retires when they become third years.

Tozawa: ARTLiVE falls under the category of "multimedia art performance." We combine plays with CG and music, and even have parts which are ARTLiVE originals such as "models" who perform walking and full turns on stage in time with the music.

Tokunaga: The subject matter is completely different each year. Some years we have no lines at all and perform through song and dance only. Other years, we perform solely as a play. We have so many forms of expression. We're kind of mid-way between many of our predecessors and combine plays, CG and song. We do everything ourselves from the script, part assignment, sound and lighting to BGM, lyrics and musical composition.

-- We saw someone holding a saxophone a moment ago. What position do you two hold?

Tozawa: I'm a stage director and makeup artist.

Tokunaga: I've always been focused mainly on song and vocals. This time I took part in writing the scenario as well.

-- How do you manage to work all of these parts with just students?

Tozawa: I think the support from previous "generations" is a big thing. We can meet with previous graduates and there is a piece that we've been performing for many generations called "ARTLiVE" which connects us with those who came before us. Also, there are times when we have to enlist the help of our teachers as well... I think that the ties between people are very close within ARTLiVE.

Tokunaga: I think they're probably even closer than those in sports clubs.

Tozawa: For example, if someone from the 5th graduating class who is now a college student comes by we all think, "Ah! That's that person! From that performance! The legend!"

One Scene from The Other Side of the Curtain

One Scene from "The Other Side of the Curtain"

-- What is the role of the teachers?

Fujishima: We take care of money management and referring the students to people they need to work with in order to get certain things done. Yaei High School only has specialty courses and Tozawa and Tokunaga are both art majors in the fine arts course. We also have a music course within the fine arts course, international course, as well as science and mathematics course. This makes it very difficult to program for ARTLiVE. The schedules for all of our courses are all over the place so it’s difficult for everyone to get together but even so they’re all giving it their best. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if I just did a certain thing and other times I simply want to participate myself but, more than those person feelings, I feel like having the students do things by themselves would be more beneficial for them so I like to have them manage on their own.

Tozawa: We have a lot of different people working with us: performers, people who make posters and DVDs for PR, people who work with sound engineering, costumes creators and makeup artists. ARTLiVE feels like a little company to me. We have a lot of departments, as well as people who pull all of those departments together, and we all come together to create a single production. When we’re in the position of creator and lose sight of this fact, our teachers support us by looking in objectively from the outside.
I’m an art major but I also work with song and dance and I feel that inputting these things, which are technically outside of my specialty, leads to output in my artwork in various ways. It makes me feel that experience is really important.

Tokunaga: Sometimes I get the sensation that I’ve found my own kind of expression that I wouldn’t normally be able to realize through my studies alone. We also get to connect with people from other majors and courses so our range of expression really spreads out… it’s hard to put into words.

One Scene from The Other Side of the Curtain

One Scene from "The Other Side of the Curtain"

-- Tell us about this work, “The Other Side of the Curtain.”

Tozawa: Within ARTLiVE, it’s tradition to use social problems as a sort of secret theme in our works. This time, we indirectly take up the right of collective self-defense as a topic. While talking about the things going on in the world today, we are careful not to say anything directly and have to think about what each part symbolizes as we work through the script. It may not be quite like normal script writing. I think some of the themes we come across precisely because we are a group of high school students are very important.

Tokunaga: We mainly want our audiences to have a good time, of course, but we also want them to think a little. Sometimes, on our questionnaires, we see comments from people who read into our hidden meanings or who say that they were moved by our performance and this makes us very happy.

There was a video being projected on the wall behind the stage, creating a composition where we could really feel their mysterious, hidden message, as well as parts in the performance where the band would get up on stage as well. It was a very unique performance. During this particular showing, a 60 minute script was edited to fit into 30 minutes and it really made us want to see the whole thing. It was a creative work that doesn’t quite fit into the framework of “musical” and we were surprised to see a prefectural high school doing this kind of work.

Each of the four troupes performed for 30 minutes but it was all over in the blink of an eye and we were left hungry for more. At the end of the summit, there was an address by Governor Kuroiwa in which he spoke about the many historical citizen musicals in Kanagawa and how he wishes to create a place where these local productions can become more widely known.

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