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Kanagawa Musical Summit (Part I)

On Sunday, August 14th, “Kanagawa Musical Summit” was held at Kanagawa Kenritsu Seishonen Center. This event brought 4 musical performance groups, consisting of local residents, that are active throughout Kanagawa prefecture, to showcase their creative musical talents on the stage.
This was the first time for this event, an ambitious undertaking to bring groups that normally perform in their own locale onto one stage.
We asked members of each organization about their thoughts on musical performances and theatrical groups by local residents. This article features our interviews with Yokosuka Shimin Musical wo Tsukurukai (SUKA Myu) and Gekidan Pokapoka from Sakae-ku, Yokohama-shi.

Interview, Text & Photo: Sota Ito

Yokosuka Shimin Musical wo Tsukurukai (SUKA Myu)

Hisami Yamasaki, SUKA Myu representative (right) and Mita, SUKA Myu staff (left)

Hisami Yamasaki, SUKA Myu representative (right) and Mita, SUKA Myu staff (left)

-- I saw your website. The project has a long history indeed.

Yamasaki: That’s right. It has been 15 years, since it started in 2001. It started when the local artists in Yokosuka decided to create an original musical of Yokosuka. We choose the history, myths, and buildings of Yokosuka as our subject, and look for stories that even the residents are unaware of. As a result, through our performances, we can teach the locals about Yokosuka as a city and show glimpses of its history, and advertise our city to the outsiders.
We do not have requirements for participation. As long as you are older than elementary school age, there is no upper limit to age. Therefore… (calling to a white-haired member in the dressing room), there is a member, who turns 84 this year. While it dancing may be too difficult, as long as there is passion, it is possible to get up on the stage, sing, and participate a little. There is truly a broad age range in our members, and through generational interactions, younger members learn a lot from the adults, and the elderly members are energized by the children. It is one of our goals is to cultivate both horizontal (regional) and vertical (generational) connections.

-- What do you enjoy about creating musicals with the local residents?

Yamasaki:A musical is “singing, dancing, and acting,” as such, it is very challenging for inexperienced participants. We, however, say that not having a prior experience is fine. The instructors are all professionals in the field, and they teach in ways that match the individual needs.
With that said, we make a conscious effort to avoid our performances resembling a school play. We do not put small children in the front of the stage and assign lines evenly across the performers. Instead, we ultimately value the quality of performance. In this sense, we are strict, and aim to make the experience something that can lead to a next step, rather than just a memorable one, and an opportunity to get a glimpse of the essence of stage production.
There are SUKA Myu members, who became professional performers. We hope to nurture such potential in younger children, and also become a place that provides a sense of purpose for elderly members to continue performing. I find these things enjoyable.

A scene from “Nami to Charu: Bunmei Kaika wa Yokosuka kara hajimatta! (Nami and Charu: Civilization began in Yokosuka!)”

A scene from “Nami to Charu: Bunmei Kaika wa Yokosuka kara hajimatta! (Nami and Charu: Civilization began in Yokosuka!)”

-- Thank you. What is the program like this time?

Yamasaki: This time, it is “Nami to Charu,”SUKA Myu’s only series piece. It is a time-travel fantasy about Nami, a girl who lives in Yokosuka, and Charu, the son of the white monkey from Sarushima’s “Shiroi Saru no Densetsu (The legend of white monkey),”going back in time to visit Yokosuka in the past.
The stage is set at the end of Edo period at Yokosuka Seitetsujo, which later became a shipyard, the first French-style dock in Japan. The fact that last year was the 150th anniversary of Yokosuka Seitetsujo was largely advertised. It is a story about the strength of people in Yokosuka during the time of war and “Fukoku Kyohei (wealthy country and strong military),” a slogan capturing the goal of the government at that time, and Nami and Charu discovering what is important from being immersed in this environment.

A scene from “Nami to Charu: Bunmei Kaika wa Yokosuka kara hajimatta! (Nami and Charu: Civilization began in Yokosuka!)”

A scene from “Nami to Charu: Bunmei Kaika wa Yokosuka kara hajimatta! (Nami and Charu: Civilization began in Yokosuka!)”

-- We hope to spread awareness of musical performances by local residents through this musical summit. Do you have a special message to this end?

Yamasaki: I would like to have as many people as possible experience the joy of standing on stage and being in the limelight. It might be a bit of an overstatement, but truly, it should turn into the power to live. Let’s promote musical performances by local resident groups together.

Despite the fact that its real performances start just next week, SUKA Myu had an amazing show as the first performer of the Musical Summit. The audience was oblivious to the fact that it was their first performance in 3 years. The story based on the historical facts of Yokosuka, as mentioned by Yamasaki, was very interesting, and the short 30-minute show was engaging.

Gekidan Pokapoka

Toshiko Kigure, Gekidan Pokapoka representative (far right) and Sato, a Gekidan Pokapoka member (far left)

Toshiko Kigure, Gekidan Pokapoka representative (far right) and Sato, a Gekidan Pokapoka member (far left)

-- Please tell me how the group came about.

Kigure: It started 20 years ago, when we, a group of 4-5 childcare workers, were chatting about organizing a cultural activity for parents and children. There were a few puppet shows, but no actual theatrical performances, and we were talking about how it would be great if we could come up with something and also involve people in the area.
Mr. Manabu Inoue (Secretary-general of Theatre Association Kanagawa) wrote the script for us, and our first performance at Kaminogou Morinoie was a sold-out show. Even when we moved our performances to Sakae Koukaido 2 years later, they were full. Due to the lack of opportunities for parents and children to partake in cultural activities such as concerts, we felt a strong demand to see theatrical performances close by. This made me happy, and somehow we came to reach our 20th commemorative performance in June this year.
We are spending half a year to prepare for a single performance of the year. We make the costumes, write music and lyrics, construct the sets, and write an original script. This is because using the existing pieces cost money due to copyright and usage fees. In the end, I think making everything from scratch turned out to be best.

-- How do you see your relationship with the local area?

Kigure: I think it is significant that we have a fixed base, a place to practice. The Council of Social Welfare for Sakae-ku, Yokohama is kindly providing us with a place to practice, and we invite people with disabilities to our performance. Moreover, we use Sakae Kokaido every year, and we managed to fill every one of 2009 seats at this year’s performance. If we count the children sitting in adults’ laps, the number would be greater. We were able to attract this kind of large audience due to the power derived from the fact that we have always been allowed to use the same place to practice, the same shack.
In actuality, we have never referred to ourselves as “Kodomo Gekidan (Children’s theater group).” Yet, we appear to be a children’s theater group because the participants are “parent-child” combination. While some parents perform on the stage, others work with costumes and props. An entire family participates in a variety of roles, which naturally leads to making shows that encourage children to perform.

Costume storyboard

Costume storyboard

-- Being able to participate with the parents is a valuable experience.

Kigure: Yes. It creates things to talk about at home. I hear that as a family, they start talking about how great a scene in a play was or how to improve it.

Sato: I was a member for 7 years, starting when I was in the 6th grade. I then took a break for 8 years, and returned this year, after a long absence. Pokapoka is a place where everyone, including moms and dads, hang out together, and also a place that everyone in the family unite to create together. My mom worked with audio and also as an actor. The show is created not just by the people who go on the stage, but everyone including those involved with the sets, props, costumes, and lighting.

-- I think that is one of the interesting aspects of musical production by local residents.

Kigure: People talk about their subconscious or potential. We hope people make new discoveries about their capabilities at Pokapoka. I never thought I could write a script. At the 3rd performance, the director asked me to try writing a script. I was writing something outrageous at first, but I was able to complete it with the help of generous colleagues.
For the stage sets, dads have organized a team called “Dogu.” They gather on weekends in a gymnasium and build the stage sets. Their families join them there as well. Those who have never worked on making stage sets realize how fun the job is. A sense of style is important during the creative process, and moms demonstrate their talents in that aspect. An amazing costume designed by a member was materialized into form by moms. The flat surface, that is my script, rapidly gets a three-dimensional shape, thanks to everyone. In addition to the members that perform on stage, the show is supported by nearly 100 staff members.

A scene from “ ‘Alice’ ~ from Alice in Wonderland ~“

A scene from “ ‘Alice’ ~ from Alice in Wonderland ~“

-- Do you have a message for those who are interested in musical performance by local residents or Pokapoka?

Kigure: The act of expressing oneself or having a place in an unusual space like the stage is full of new discoveries or opportunities for growth. I think there are many local theater groups in Kanagawa that are based near where you live and easy to join. You can make friends, find a different side of you, and learn how amazing it is to be vocally expressive.
When you show that you have truly worked hard, others will verbally acknowledge your hard work and accomplishments. Such pleasure is a unique privilege of those who get up on the stage.

Sato: Pokapoka is like a large family. Children will not be left unattended; moms will scold other children, and older girls will discipline and care for younger children. It is a place where you gain friends and family.

A dressing room busy with numerous children does indeed look like a gathering of a large family. An original arrangement of the story of Alice in Wonderland is presented on stage with gorgeous costumes and impressive sets. Sophisticated stage sets that hardly appear handmade by the members, and the smiles on the faces of every performer were impressive.

→ Interviews with Kohoku Kumin Musical from Kohoku-ku, Yokohama and Sagamihara’s Yaei High School ARTLiVE will be featured in Part II.

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