Kanagawa Prefecture is promoting its MAGCUL project to attract more people to enjoy cultural arts at KAAT (Kanagawa Arts Theatre), Kanagawa Prefecture Youth Center, and other venues to bring more vitality to the city. Top-notch artists like the Shiki Theater Company are invited and a wide variety of performances including original musicals are held. The Kanagawa Prefectural Youth Center is in charge of training artists and staff in the performing arts. We interviewed Hiroshi Ikegami and Shinya Fujioka from the Performing Arts Section.
Youth Center as a "Free Zone for Youth Culture."
-- Besides supporting policies for the youth, the Youth Center supports performing arts activities. What are the objectives?
Ikegami：The healthy development of young people is our main job. The Youth Center is for nurturing the youth and a "Free Zone for Youth Culture." They can freely use the center to practice drama, dance, music, etc., and hold public performances.
In 2013, Kanagawa Prefecture started the MAGCUL Project. "MAGCUL" stands for "Magnet Culture." Kanagawa's culture is the magnet that draws people here to make our town attractive and dynamic. The Youth Center adopted MAGCUL and further expanded its performing arts programs.
-- Exactly what is the Youth Center doing?
Fujioka：MAGCUL pursues diverse programs such as promoting cultural arts centering on the performing arts, adding to the vitality of the city, spotlighting the region's best things, and training people. The Youth Center is in charge of training people.
Ikegami：For training people, we have four pillars. The first pillar is MAGCUL Friday. We rent out our multi-purpose Plaza facilities for free every Friday for plays, concerts, and other public performances. The second pillar is MAGCUL Theater that allows people to use the multi-purpose Plaza for one week for free. The third pillar is Drama Class for Youth. This is to have young people from high school to age 29 enjoy producing a play. Besides acting, they make the stage sets and costumes. In August, they will hold a public performance. Our fourth pillar is the High School Drama Festa. To help support school drama clubs, we hold a public performance of highly rated high school plays from all over Kanagawa.
Fujioka：Kanagawa Governor Kuroiwa wants to make Kanagawa another Broadway. But since it's not easy to have more theaters, the prefecture launched MAGCUL.net four years ago as a virtual Broadway and also started MAGCUL Friday and MAGCUL Theater. The Apollo Theater in New York continues its Amateur Night to discover new talent. It has launched the careers of many stars and has become a gateway to a career in entertainment. MAGCUL Friday and MAGCUL Theater were started based on this same concept.
Even before the MAGCUL Project, the Youth Center has been involved in drama for over 50 years since it first opened. So rather than being a new start, MAGCUL is the incorporation of new ideas in the activities we have been doing all along.
-- So you are supporting performing arts by training people and providing a place to perform.
Ikegami：For example, KAAT holds long-term performance runs by the Shiki Theater Company and theatrical plays directed by Akira Shirai. Having such first-rate artists is part of MAGCUL. The Youth Center works to broaden the base for the performing arts. Even artists who have difficulty renting a place to perform can easily use the Youth Center. They can use the Youth Center to stage public performances for plays, music, or dance. We want them to improve themselves.
Fujioka：If we see any outstanding performances staged at the MAGCUL Theater, we may recommend the production group to KAAT. So then they may perform at KAAT in the following fiscal year. Although we still have things that need to be ironed out, we aim to establish a cycle where we foster young talent through MAGCUL Theater and help some of them turn professional by upgrading them to KAAT, etc.
Ikegami：We also provide technical support to the stage personnel. Last year and this year, we held courses on scriptwriting and making stage sets. College students rarely get a chance to learn about making stage sets. So we held a workshop where they used hammers to make stage sets and props.
Training artists who can advance Kanagawa Prefecture's performing arts.
-- In 2014, the MAGCUL Performing Arts Academy was started to train performers for musicals. What's the difference between this Academy and the Drama Class for Youth?
Ikegami：The Drama Class for Youth is a performing arts program for interested people to experience performing on stage. We want them to understand how fun it is to be on stage. Normally, it is difficult to join a drama troupe, but at the Drama Class, they can easily go on stage. Meanwhile, the Academy is for training artists who can advance Kanagawa Prefecture's performing arts.
-- Any fruitful results of these programs so far?
Ikegami：It is still difficult to gauge what constitutes "fruitful results." However, the Academy has already produced students working in film, on stage, and in television. And there was a Drama Class student who was totally inept at first, but later improved dramatically. After their public performance in April this year, a production company person had a talk with that student.
Fujioka：Since the students are young, they have lots of room for growth. Like sports athletes, they have a sharp growth curve.
Ikegami：In August, they will hold a paid public performance. And next year, they will perform the new play by Class Director Kensuke Yokouchi. That's when people may evaluate how worthy the Academy is.
To have everyone appear on TV and become a star is in fact difficult. But even if our students end up as future instructors who teach performing arts or help foster the next generation of talent in Kanagawa Prefecture, that would be another fruitful outcome. This fiscal year, we have 34 students, including newcomers. A few of them joined after seeing the performance in April. Even this is a fruitful consequence of the Academy.
-- What about the other programs, any results?
Ikegami：For MAGCAL Friday and MAGCUL Theater, we are seeing more support groups. The quality of the performances is also steadily improving. It seems that they improve as they are exposed to more people. Also, we hold college performances which enable performing arts people to meet each other and even form new theatrical troupes.
Fujioka：The Youth Center also has a performing arts library. It has more than 10,000 books related to the performing arts. This library is unique in Japan because it allows books to be checked out and it is managed by dedicated volunteers. We often see performing arts students getting advice from the library staff for choosing a script for a play. The Youth Center recognizes that this library is one of the important things to have for performing arts newcomers. We are happy if it helps drama activities at schools.
We want to lower the performing arts threshold and attract more spectators.
-- What does the Youth Center want to do henceforth?
Ikegami：We will continue our Free Zone for Youth Culture programs. Drama clubs at junior high and high schools are supported by the school and federation. However, there has not been any organized support and nurturing for college students and people in their 20s interested in the performing arts. Therefore, we have MAGCUL Theater and other programs which I believe have been able to provide some support. We want the Youth Center to continue fulfilling its role and providing a place for young people's performing arts activities.
Fujioka：I think we can say that KAAT is serving its purpose as a place for creative activities with top-notch artists. Meanwhile, the Kanagawa Prefectural Youth Center's role is to lower the initial threshold to enable young people and beginners experience the fun of performing arts.
As Kanagawa loses venues due to the closing of the Sotetsu Honda Gekijo, Kanagawa Prefectural Women's Center Hall, etc., we provide a venue for public performances. We are here to support performing arts activities by publicizing wonderful school performances and training artists and staff. If we don't train amateurs and young people, the burning passion of top professionals will be no more. To keep this passion burning, we will continue to do what we can.
Ikegami：By lowering the performing arts threshold, we hope to attract more performers and staff as well as spectators. It's hard to dish out ¥10,000 to see a performance, but at MAGCUL Theater, people can easily see public performances and college student performances. High school plays are really fun, you know. Since they are amateurs, you might think of amateurish performances. But that is definitely not the case. Often times, they convey a strong message and make the audience roar. We really want many people to come and see the performing arts.
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Information for the Youth Center's Summer MAGCUL Festa 2016 to be held on July 8th to September 25th, 2016 is here.
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