Essay

Director’s Note [2014]

Tickets are too expensive

This year is Kyoto Experiment’s fifth. We have been able to continue our festival thanks to the support of participating artists, colleagues, and our audiences, hungry for encounters with the unknown. Rather than immersing audiences in extraordinary emotion experiences, at the heart of the festival we have always dedicated ourselves to new projects. We were permitted to try new endeavors every year and perhaps we should be grateful for such an environment which allowed us to concentrate on our work.

And so what will our endeavor be this year? It relates to the framework for theatergoing and so will possibly come across as something internal or limited to the Japanese theaterworld. One-sided ideas about administration are pointless and as things only come about through the understanding and participation of our audiences who actually come to the venues, we’d like to try to introduce our thinking here.

Our first project is that we will stop announcing the time when the performance venues open. It’s fine if our audiences arrive at the performance start time. For performances with numbered seats, audience seats are fixed in advance and so the place from which you watch the performance is the same whatever time you arrive. For performances with unreserved seating, we will open the doors to the auditorium just before (i.e., almost exactly at) the start of the performance. Unreserved seating is based on the idea that in a small venue, whichever seat you sit in, your viewing experience will be essentially the same, and so we would like our audiences to enter when the doors open and fill up the seats starting with wherever is easy for them to sit in. There are several reasons for this.

Until now, almost all of the performances presented at Kyoto Experiment have not used a curtain to divide the stage and the audience seats, and the meaning of this is so that audiences will view the stage space as soon as they enter the venue. In other words, this is the same as saying that theater itself begins from this point. Fundamentally, the time should come under the control of the director, but in fact auditorium opening times in Japan are set according to the convenience of the venue operators and various conventions. For this reason, we would like to take things back to basics again: the theater “opens” when you see the stage space. We are returning the time between the venue opening and the start of the performance to our audiences. Please make the most of it as you please.

We would like to translate the slight trouble that will arise from this into the joy that accompanies watching theater. No doubt things may be a bit crowded just before the performance begins. Some give and take and verbal interaction will also be necessary as you pass through the narrow doorways. But this will be a catalyst for going back to the origins of the theater experience – watching something with other people. Audiences will watch theater while conscious of the breathing and presence of other members of the audience. And that moment when the auditorium goes dark, when you become “alone” and face the stage – this is the special time created by the place we call a theater.

Our second endeavor is about ticket prices. In order to make a clear pricing system Kyoto Experiment will set ticket prices from this year on a per-venue basis. Tickets to productions playing at Kyoto Art Center will all cost the same, as will all those at Kyoto Art Theater Shunjuza. What this means is that ticket prices are not differentiated by the content of the production, whether it be a solo work or a group piece, whether performed by young artists or by veterans. What is our intention here?

The ticket price is not the value of the artwork; it is entry price paid for the running of the venue and the festival. In this way we want to introduce a pricing system to Kyoto Experiment with almost the same meaning as an art museum’s or cinema’s. The Executive Committee operating the festival receives a lot of financial support from many different organizations. This support is for running an international festival and also for creating new artworks. In which case, adding the travel expenses of artists coming from far away and production costs to the ticket prices is strictly speaking against the spirit of the financial subsidy we receive.

Let’s try an explanation from a different approach. Whether it’s from the government or private corporations, the subsidy paid to the arts could be said to be “public” money. The reason it is “public” is that is expected to be paid back broadly and over the long term to the whole of society. It is supporting the opportunity to introduce works of art far and wide to the world, artworks which are the property of society. “Public” money is employed for creating works of art that can also become the property of future inhabitants of society, since it is disproportionate to impose the costs only on current inhabitants. And that is why at Kyoto Experiment we want to cut the value of theatergoing free from pricing by so-called ticket costs. We want the value of the theater experience to be what is created internally in each member of our audience. In other words, we want the act of viewing art to bid farewell to the act of consumption. And yet, after a lot of heart searching, we have to say the tickets are still too expensive.

These two endeavors we are starting this year are only half the story; they are not complete. They will only bear fruit with the understanding and participation of our audiences. How wonderful it would be if this environment could come about. It feels a little poor to finish these sentences without touching on the artists or social conditions, but as we welcome our fifth year we wanted first of all to prioritize conveying our determination to go back to the basics of the festival. At any rate, this year’s festival has a packed line-up of superb artists, so please do enjoy it to the full.

Yusuke Hashimoto
Program Director, Kyoto Experiment & the Kyoto Experiment team