Festival/Tokyo: In its sixth edition, this festival, located in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, is bringing back some popular features, including flash mob spectacles and its emerging artists program (featuring nine projects by young Asian theatremakers, four of them Japanese, selected from more than a hundred applicants). Other things are new this year, including the theme “Travels in Narratives.” Program director Chiaki Soma clarifies that the concept encompasses the centrality of storytelling in society at large, as well as within an individual’s own psyche.
In her festival notes, Soma points to 3/11 (the date of the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident) as a particular turning point in Japanese theatrical narrative. “Surely it is no coincidence,” she writes, “that many artists in Japan began to shift their exploration from realism to the search for fiction.” One festival presentation, Water Like Stone, taps directly into this zeitgeist by picking up threads from the work of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who foreshadowed Chernobyl in his films Stalker and The Sacrifice. Playwright Masataka Matsuda and director Yukichi Matsumoto have taken Tarkovsky’s imagery as a cue for their own evocation of Fukushima’s aftermath.
Festival/Tokyo will also feature a new work by internationally renowned company chelfitsch. According to Soma, the company’s leader, Toshiki Okada, “wrote Current Location after the 2011 disaster, taking a science fiction–like look at the shimmering of the spirit when faced with the invisible change and unease that comes to a community.” (Nov. 9–Dec. 8; festival-tokyo.jp)
Quezon City, Philippines
Rated PG: Many theatremakers believe that theatre can teach individuals how to build a better society. For the 46-year-old Philippine Educational Theater Association, that belief is foundational, driving the work of its School of People’s Theater (which trains both amateurs and professionals) and of its performance arm, the Kalinangan Ensemble. So far the company has produced more than 400 shows on such themes as environmental protection and human rights, including the rights of women and children. PETA has devoted special focus to that last topic since 2009, when it received German funding to launch the ARTS Zone Project, a cultural campaign promoting “positive discipline” in place of corporal punishment.
The project brief acknowledges that corporal punishment has a long tradition in the nation’s parenting philosophy: “Because it is rooted in Philippine culture, it is difficult to change, and is not yet recognized as a form of violence against children.”
Leloi Arcete, the organization’s PR supervisor, says the centerpiece of the project meant to change all that is a play called Rated PG, by senior company member Liza Magtoto, a playwright and screenwriter. The piece depicts the child-raising struggles of a harried mother with a workaholic husband, rebellious teen daughter and mischievous young son. Over the project’s first three years, the cast of ten adults and two children toured the production to five cities in the Philippines; Arcete estimates they reached more than 50,000 parents, teachers, kids and community leaders. In stage two, which spans 2013–15, a remounting will travel to 15 more public schools in three additional cities. PETA provides a forum at the end of each performance.
One exciting outgrowth of the project, says Arcete, is the artistic ripple effect. In the first phase, she says, several high school theatre clubs created their own plays on the topic and performed them at parents’ assemblies. She adds, “For this Phase 2, the project is in partnership with three regional theatre organizations, providing them with production grants to write a play in their native tongue tackling corporal punishment and to promote positive discipline.” These plays, in turn, will tour to 30 communities. (Ongoing; www.petatheater.com)
Finborough Theatre: Two plays are having a resurrection of sorts at Finborough Theatre in London. Marking this month’s 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, Finborough will give Lee Harvey Oswald: A far mean streak of indepence brought on by negleck its first U.K. remount since its 1966 premiere at London’s Hampstead Theatre. Based on Oswald’s diaries (the odd spellings in the title are his own), it asks the question “Could a man who never did anything on his own murder a president?”
Later this month, Finborough will give The White Carnation its first production since its 1953 premiere, which starred Sir Ralph Richardson. Though the play is not widely known, its author R.C. Sherriff is, particularly for his World War I script Journey’s End. The White Carnation is set closer to the year it was written, in the period following World War II. The “ghostly” story takes place on Christmas Eve at the home of a successful businessman who, according to one synopsis, “refuses to leave the trappings of his life behind.” (If this production reignites interest, could Sherriff give Dickens a run for his money in the perennial holiday programming slot?)
As Robert Hedley and Harriet Power reported in their investigation of the London new-play scene in this magazine’s pages (“Over There,” Dec. ’12), the Finborough plays to houses of 50 or fewer, cannot offer compensation to most of its collaborators (the only paid staff position is artistic director), and receives no Arts Council funding. Yet, as they wrote, “It attracts high-quality artists, routinely discovers new writing talent, and (forget those two-or-three-character scripts!) produces large-cast plays with complex design demands on its postage-stamp size stage.” In other words: It trafficks in the unexpected. (Oswald: Nov 3–22; Carnation: Nov. 26–Dec. 21; www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk)
Festival d’Automne: Every fall, the sprawling Festival d’Automne in Paris is laid out much like a Thanksgiving feast for the arts lover. Such an abundance suits the harvest season, but it stretches all the way into the new year, with festival performances slated through January.
Coming up are two productions that gain inspiration from indie bands. CocoRosie, an experimental folk duo formed in Paris by American sisters, is often described in the U.S. music press in terms of “love ’em or hate ’em,” but their penchant for otherworldly sounds (and music videos) makes them an intriguing fit for Robert Wilson’s eerie, avant-garde, grown-up take on Peter Pan for the Berliner Ensemble.
Wilson was quoted in BlouinArtInfo on why he chose them to create new music for his production: “What’s fascinating is that they are not only brilliant songwriters and musicians, they also have a great visual sense. They really are visual artists, too.” Peter Pan is just one of four Wilson shows on the Festival d’Automne roster this year, part of a mini-program on the auteur’s work. (Other mini-programs spotlight artistry from South Africa and Japan.)
Meanwhile, in the sphere of musical inspiration, the band of Montreal—which, misleading name notwithstanding, hails from the U.S. South—lent the title of one of its songs to Argentine theatremaker Mariano Pensotti. El Pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past Is a Grotesque Animal) is Pensotti’s decade-spanning, stage-rotating, fragmented narrative about events in four young people’s lives. Pensotti has explained the connection between his play and the song: “I listened to it a lot while I was writing the text. Its excessive duration and ambitious narrative made me feel it was close to what I was developing. I decided to use the name and include the lyrics in the play when the stories reach their end.” (Through Jan. 12; www.festival-automne.com)