August 29, 2018. Eighteen young people from China, Singapore, and Japan gathered in a small building in Wakaba-cho, Yokohama. The call was made by Makoto Sato, who organizes the Wakabacho Wharf here. They had come to participate in a 20-day workshop with director Liu Xiaoyi, whom Sato had invited from Singapore. How will these people, who do not speak each other's languages and come from different cultural backgrounds, communicate and create a single work? The creative process and cross-cultural exchange can be said to be the workshop's biggest theme.
Sato: ` `I've known Mr. Liu since we worked together in Nanjing seven years ago, so I didn't have any concerns about Singapore.However, this is my first attempt to recruit participants in China.'' Since I can't predict the reaction, I decided to start early, so I posted this on social media in December last year, and I was surprised to see so many applications in just three days.''
In recent years, the development of modern drama in China has been remarkable, and its momentum is reminiscent of the 1960s in Japan. With the rise of privately run theaters, the term ``independent theater artists'' who do not belong to state-run theaters was born, and excellent works are being released one after another.
Liu : “I was intrigued by the fact that Wakabacho Wharf is not just a theater, but a hub for cultural exchange.I have worked with Mr. Sato many times, but this time it was a little different. A lot of people come from different cities and create works while living together.It's truly a cross-cultural exchange.Currently, the environment is not set up yet, but I would like to try this in my country, Singapore, someday. Masu"
A workshop is a means of problem solving. The theme we need to solve this time is how can members who do not speak each other's language work together to create a work? The languages used are Japanese, English, and Chinese. Of course, volunteer interpreters will be provided, but it is not possible to rely entirely on communication at individual rehearsal halls. Participants will aim for mutual understanding using any means possible, including smartphone translation software and gestures.
Sato : ``The important thing is for each person to be able to speak freely in their native language.Otherwise, even though it's called international exchange, the focus tends to be on people who can speak English.At the starting point, words are also necessary to convey the concept. However, once you actually start creating a piece of work, there is almost no need for words.In the first place, there may be cases where Japanese people cannot really understand each other even if they have a heated discussion for an hour.You can't rely on words. I think this is why we are able to convey the most important issues in a deep way.”
Over the course of the 20th, participants toured Tokyo's Koenji Theater and Yokohama's KAAT (Kanagawa Arts Theater), and held workshops with theater and dance instructors. In a workshop inviting Noh actor Kanji Shimizu, all participants will experience sharing a special space inspired by Shimizu's impromptu dance.
Ryu : There were some conflicts at first. But I think it was not just a matter of not speaking the same language, but also having to do with the fact that we could not communicate in the theatrical language. We may have met through theater. We may have met through art, but there is always a process called ``translation.''
I think Mr. Sato is also in a state of trial and error, but I don't think it's just a language issue. Since cultural exchange and performance exchange are also necessary, interpreters in various meanings are needed each time. And that's the most interesting thing to me."
Sato : “The preparations were tough, but once the workshop started, the whole process was interesting.It was a great learning experience not only for the participants but also for me.”
The Japanese word ``teach'' is translated into Chinese as ``kyogaku.'' If you retranslate this, it feels like the words ``teach'' and ``learn'' coexist. It seems to be preached that teaching is also learning.
As he teaches young people, he internalizes their reactions and develops them further, thereby continuing to learn himself. Ryu is attracted to Sato because he can clearly see his attitude.
Liu : “Cultural exchange requires a certain amount of time.It is difficult and challenging to continue in the same environment, but I would like to continue for a while. Networks will be built inside, and new things may start to happen. Since we're just training here, we might start to feel like we want to do something more fun (lol)."
And then came the performance ``No Boat in sight'' as a comprehensive summary. The actual performance will only take place twice, on September 15th (Sat) and 16th (Sun). The small studio in Wakabacho Wharf was filled with the excitement of a packed audience on both days. Against the background of text in three languages projected on the wall, 18 young people attempted to convey to the audience, in their own words, the whereabouts of ``flowers/or debris on the riverbed.'' They set sail to their respective worlds through the opened door.
The song they hummed at the curtain call was born spontaneously during the 20 days they spent together. Japanese, English, Chinese, and Tamil. Overcoming the frustration of not being able to communicate with each other in language, the participants used gestures and smartphone apps to discuss environmental issues and the state of the world, but now the time has come to an end.
Sato : ``You don't know what meaning there is in what you're doing right now until you're in the middle of the process.It happens everywhere that we become friends the moment we meet.But we're one step closer to becoming friends. We have to move forward.In that process, there is also the pain of not being able to understand each other.Living together for two weeks can be extremely stressful, but this time they were incredibly motivated, so we were able to relieve various stress voluntarily. I think we were able to resolve it."
Ryu : ``How do we solve the problems in front of us in an environment where we don't speak the same language? Writing on paper, making gestures, and just living together was like a beautiful stage in itself.''
Sato : “We will continue this workshop next year and beyond, and we will also launch a follow-up project aimed at creating future works. We need to compile the content as soon as possible and start accepting applications. We're keeping dozens of young people waiting."