On the End of Kyoto Experiment 2019 and My Directorship
Photo by Yuki Moriya
Kyoto Experiment 2019 came to an end today. This year’s festival started on October 5th and the 23 days of the festival seemed to pass by so quickly. Right now I am breathing a sigh of relief that the festival finished without any major mishap.
We started with Toshiki Okada’s chelfitsch in collaboration with Teppei Kaneuji, and then Choy Ka Fai, followed the next week by Kuro Tanino’s Niwa Gekidan Penino and Bouchra Ouizguen, and continued the next week with William Kentridge, Nelisiwe Xaba, and Tsuyoshi Hisakado, and finally ended this weekend with Amir Reza Koohestani, Yudai Kamisato’s Okazaki Art Theatre, and siren eun young jung and G-Voice. The exhibition, “The People of Kaesong Industrial Complex,” held throughout the festival featured the artists Im Heung-soon, Lee Boo-rok, and Yoo Soo.
These were all superb works that penetrated deep into our times and left a powerful impression on many audiences.
Moreover, the performances that we programmed on the same weekends offered something quite rare, unexpectedly illuminating one another and presenting us with various ways to look at things.
I would here like to express my gratitude to the participating artists, the audiences who attended, the team of staff and volunteers who contributed to the running of the festival, and the many organizations and individuals who supported us.
And now with this tenth edition of Kyoto Experiment, my term as program director also comes to an end. As such, I would like to express my gratitude to the organizers for supporting my efforts.
Kyoto Experiment could not have started had it not been for Kyoto Art Center. When the Center first opened, I would visit it in order to make use of a studio facility for the theater company I was attached to, which led to my becoming involved with the Center’s programming from around 2002, and from 2004 to 2009 I ran its Theater Project program. In this program, Kyoto Art Center supported and produced theater pieces from the production stage through to the final staging. Kyoto Experiment is, so to speak, the evolution of this program. This year, too, several of the artists and companies used the Center’s studios to develop their productions, which were then premiered at Kyoto Experiment 2019.
That a former elementary school, a place for bringing up children, now serves as a place for supporting young artists lends a very pleasant ambience to the Center. Part of this is also down to the charm of the building itself. Dating back to 1931, the distinctive architecture of the present building was realized thanks to donations from locals in the school district. When the location was reopened as Kyoto Art Center after the school closed, the proactive input and involvement of not only the founding body, Kyoto City, but also locals and people from the arts (chiefly, Kyoto Performing Arts Organization) meant that a highly flexible management system was adopted.
This DIY spirit of creating the place you need by yourselves is, I think, a fundamental stance within Kyoto culture, and naturally led to the ambition then to build the international platform that is Kyoto Experiment.
To the people of Kyoto Art Center, for allowing us after the festival was launched to use the Center as an event venue and creative development studio as well as supporting the Kyoto Experiment through the contributions of the art coordinators, thank you very much.
In 2000, Kyoto University of Art and Design became a four-year university and, accordingly, also introduced departments for teaching film and the performing arts. In 2001, the university also opened Kyoto Art Theater Shunjuza and studio21.
To put it bluntly, from the point of view of myself and other performing arts professionals in Kyoto at the time, it was like the foreign barbarians had appeared on the horizon! Why? Because suddenly all these theater artists and dancers working in Tokyo and around the world arrived in Kyoto as specialist teachers and instructors. Some of us remained cautious and kept a certain distance from the newcomers. I think I was one of them. (I shall not forget my shock when I saw, not from a seat in a dimly lit theater auditorium, but in the plain light of day, underneath the large staircase at Kyoto University of Art and Design, none other than Shogo Ohta himself in the flesh.)
Notwithstanding our caution, those teachers who came to Kyoto University of Art and Design became proactively involved with the performing arts scene in Kyoto. They also invited artists in Kyoto to be guest teachers and engaged seriously with the question of how to build connections with the performing arts infrastructure in Kyoto and promote it.
It was this place that truly taught me that theater was not simply entertainment but a form of art. I was already working in the theater industry but, as I came into contact with these various teachers, it was like going back to being a student all over again and, while at times I found this tough, I could learn a lot. The university published a magazine on the performing arts that I could not make head or tail of at first. But I still feel nostalgia for the desperate swatting I did in order to hold discussions with the teachers after I started to work alongside them.
But the real learners from these classes were, of course, the actual students. From Kunio Sugihara to Kitamari, Takuya Murakawa, Yuichi Kinoshita, Yujiro Sagami, Midori Kurata, and Nagara Wada, there are just too many incredible talents to mention among the alumni of the film and performing arts departments.
When I would consider which productions at Kyoto Experiment were suitable for staging at Shunjuza, I always thought about not only the spatial requirements, but also what would be the most appropriate work for the venue as a university theater and, moreover, what kind of performance would be meaningful for the students. Whether or not this year’s programming proved a suitable response, since we cannot really promise anyone for sure that something will benefit them in the future, I can affirm nothing at this point other than to say that we used the venue to present superb works.
We are here today in ROHM Theatre Kyoto, the place where I normally work. Since I started working in a theater building, my sense of what a job in the performing arts has changed. Without ever moving and, since this is a public institution, without barring anyone from entering, the building day by day welcomes various kinds of people. We watch those people come and go, and respond to their inquiries. And at times, we also receive their reprimands…
In short, we are working while interacting with people’s lives: a theater can also function as a place for daily life. And it is thanks to this that I have become far more finely attuned to the city that is Kyoto.
Kyoto Experiment is held as an event that uses the city of Kyoto as its stage and, in that sense, after I started to work at a theater, I feel that the content of the festival has also gradually changed. Shimashima Jima, this stage installed as a temporary place for people to interact, was designed and produced by dot architects, but I actually first met them through the researchlight project that was started in spring 2016.
We have also become able to present productions and other events that could not have been realized were it not for the institutional support that a theater building can provide and, in that sense as well, working at ROHM allowed the festival to grow. I have put the theater’s management staff and technical team to a lot of trouble by always programming these productions with incredible technical and operational challenges, but which they had to accept because I work at the theater. Thank you very much.
I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone from Kyoto Prefectural Citizens’ Hall ALTI, which has long provided us with their support.
This year we also added a new venue: THEATRE E9 KYOTO. It goes without saying that it is astonishing that a theater of this scale could be established through the initiative of the private sector. I can only express my respect for artistic director Satoshi Ago, who pursued this ambition so strongly, and everyone else involved for their efforts.
That a theater is not simply a building but a place for nurturing people, for storing memories, and for serving as a source of new creativity is something that we who work in Kyoto have come to realize and much benefit from. The new theater opened in June. For Kyoto Experiment, nothing could give us more encouragement. I look forward to continue working with everyone from Theatre E9 Kyoto.
Lastly, I would like to convey my gratitude to all the members of staff at the executive committee office, including the interns. Many of the people in the team until now do other jobs during the period that is not the peak time of the festival itself. This is because for operational reasons, that kind of employee contract is economically more viable for the festival. In terms of what those “other” jobs are, many of the times it is another job in the performing arts or it involves working with an admirable artist or group. I think this is a really fine thing. If we are to describe the festival as a public sector, it is because we are able to work alongside people from the private sector who work with individual groups and artists—a situation made possible for us by adopting this type of contract for employees. From the position of the festival, this has the merit of allowing us to learn about the actual circumstances for the performing arts in Japan and Kyoto today through individual members of staff, and also sense in a real way how we should now respond to this environment. From the position of the staff, it means they can apply the challenges they are unable to resolve on an individual basis to the much larger platform that is a festival as well as learn about broader situations and backgrounds, and acquire the chance to becoming involved in them. Through this job, the members of the administration team obtain public perspectives and can then take those back to their respective other workplaces, and form connections and partnerships with one another outside of the festival—something that, I believe, could well be regarded as the most significant achievement in terms of measuring the public nature of the festival. I am very proud of the members of the executive committee office, who possess such a strong sense of the “public” in the work they do. And I would like to express my gratitude for having coming this far with me from the launch of the festival and through all the difficulties that appeared along the way. Thank you for everything you did.
From next year, I will be handing over the reins to the collective directorship of Yuya Tsukahara, Yoko Kawasaki, and Juliet Reiko Knapp, but I would like to close my address with a message to those three.
In Japan today, where the avenues for free artistic expression are dwindling, it is no easy task to continue organizing a festival that bears the name “Experiment.” I think an arduous fight to protect artistic expression awaits us in the future. But I also want you to continue developing the platform of the festival while having fun and without losing hope.
If I may add one more thing, it is that I envy how you will be able from now to use the platform that is Kyoto Experiment to try out all kinds of experiments! Because it’s far from the case that I’m all burned-out and will be quitting the performing arts. I hope we will be able in the future, as both friendly rivals and collaborators, to help one another raise our respective games.
I thank everyone and hope we can meet again someday soon.
October 27, 2019