In early November, for the first time in nearly 10 years, famed Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki returned to the U.S. on a five-city tour with his company. Performing their current repertory of Oedipus Rex, Electra and Dionysus, the company started their tour in New York. Suzuki and his company integrate traditional Noh and Kabuki theatre traditions into productions of Greek plays. Suzuki prefers Greek drama because it portrays heightened psychological conflicts and shows the "animal energy," as Suzuki calls, it within each human being. Having worked in the theatre for more than 35 years, Suzuki has become one of the foremost directors in Japan. With three theatres housing his companies, the director's training and avant-garde style have become world renowned. Suzuki's method of training focuses on overcoming nationality and race. At a post-show discussion on Nov. 4, Suzuki said he wanted to overcome barriers by creating a universal "physical grammar." He has written, "What I am striving to do is to restore the wholeness of the human body in the theatrical context, not simply by going back to such traditional theatrical forms as Noh and Kabuki; but by employing their unique virtues, to create something transcending current practice in the modern theatre." Playbill On-Line sat down with Tadashi Suzuki to discuss his theatre, his audiences, the importance of human connection — and the stupid questions he's sometimes asked.
PBOL: Your productions mainly adapt ancient Greek theatre with a combination of Japanese Noh and Kabuki theatres. Last night you called the two a "snug fit." Why do you feel that way?
Tadashi Suzuki: They both contain elements of theatre as ritual. There's a stylized format. And I would say the structure of the texts are also the same.
PBOL: With the three main characters...
TS: The chorus...and also the protagonist is the leader of a tribe or people — aristocratic.
PBOL: Speaking of the chorus, you mentioned how you changed the chorus from one representative voice for the audience, like in Greek theatre, to, sort of, the inner monologue of Electra. Was that your personal decision, or is that a Japanese tradition?
TS: That was totally my decision.
PBOL: Last night, you discussed how this production was a "post Beckett" performance, a crazy Beckett, "crazy Godot." Are those your main influences beyond traditional Greek and Japanese theatres?
TS: I guess Ionesco and Beckett were called the "anti theatre," and also I would say Chekhov [was an influence]. PBOL: That's interesting, because in 1987 you did Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, a departure from Greek tragedy. Why did you choose Chekhov, and why is he such an influence?
TS: I would say that what all the texts that I've chosen have in common is that they all portray people whose constant hopes have been betrayed, so that their hopes are never realized.
PBOL: But Chekhov also considered his plays to be comedies. Many people debate over that, but do you see those comedic elements?
TS: Electra is a comedy.
TS: [Laughs] Don't you think that a daughter whose one hope in life is to kill her mother, and the mother, terrified of some murderer, starts to go crazy, and there's a bunch of guys running around in wheelchairs and they're all waiting for their rescuer who turns out to — who's getting crazy ...
PBOL: Yes, of course! Why didn't I see that?
TS: If Waiting for Godot is a comedy, then... The participants think that they're passionate and their passions are justified. But you know, if you step back, you see everything's out of whack — it's a comedy.
PBOL: But said you wish for your productions to inspire hope.
TS: WE desperately need hope, really. We need to find sources of hope.
PBOL: Is the theatre is an outlet for that?
TS: If you can actually give hope, then that's a "doctor's" job, but there aren't any doctors. So you have to try to become doctors— we have to all try to become doctors.
PBOL: Do you consider yourself a doctor?
TS: At least for myself. I can't doctor anybody else. [Laughs] We become our own doctor. Otherwise, we'll have just all this mayhem.
PBOL: Since you're touring now in America — do you notice considerable differences between Japanese and American audiences?
TS: Yes.. I would say that because the United States really is a multi national kind of country, and also where social friction's out in the open, certainly their antennae are finely tuned to respond to very minute things. In Japan, you know, where it really is homogenous, the response tends to be pretty homogenous as well, but in the United States you all different kinds of people, all different levels of people, so the responses are really varied. Some people respond brilliantly, and some people are really kind of dumb about it. Sort of low-level questions. In Japan they all tend to ask very similar questions. Here, it's much more varied.
PBOL: Since you say Japan is a homogenized island society that's very stabilized, while plays of Greek tragedy, for example, are greatly conflicted, do you think they resonate more here as a result of the varied levels of people that you're talking about?
TS: Yes — probably with more acute responses. The ritualized form the Japanese are very familiar with, but the issues that are dealt with in Greek tragedy tend not to resonate with them. Until recently, Japanese people could never imagine a child would want to kill his parents. They would never imagine that. They're only just starting to see this in Japan.
PBOL: Could you describe, if there is one, a typical day for you and your company members, in terms of exercises, rehearsals, etc.?
TS: [Thinks, then laughs] I'm trying to be witty and interesting, but there's nothing witty to say. Two to three hours of training and then we rehearse the text until the evening. Boring - boring! Every day is boring!
PBOL: How long is the day?
TS: Twelve hours.
PBOL: How long is the production period between the first rehearsal, say, and the first performance?
TS: It depends — but normally about four months, of just rehearsing.
PBOL: Whom do you admire in the theatre today; who is creating works or productions?
TS: Not anyone, really. I certainly have rivals...and friends. But nobody alive. Most of the people I respect are dead: writers of Greek tragedies, Chekhov.
PBOL: Have you any advice for those just starting to work in the theatre or want to work in the theatre?
TS: To young actors I would say that really being an actor is: you expose everything—the whole entire humanness of yourself. It's important that psychologically and in every way you become a rich, attractive human being. This is also important, because if you're going to direct people as a director, unless you are compelling as a person, you're not going to be able to lead, especially those people. But in that sense, though, I think there is excellent work; the kind of work that theatre is for — to make you connect. It's really all about human interaction. So the theatre really is based on human connection, not computer connections, so though it seems faster to use a computer, don't ignore or reject the human bond.
— by Steve Luber