Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 199. Thursday, 22 Aug 1991.
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1991 16:54:00 -0400
From: John Cox <COX@HOPE>
Subject: World Shakespeare Congress, Tokyo
Having just returned from the fifth World Shakespeare Congress in
Tokyo, I would like to register my impressions while they are still
fresh. These are for the benefit of SHAKSPEReans who could not attend,
but no doubt I was not the only SHAKSPERean in Tokyo, and others may
wish to add to my remarks.
In my opinion, the Congress was well worth the substantial cost of
attending. Apparently many others felt the same way, for about 700 people
came, from thirty-two countries. Plenary sessions, short-paper sessions,
and seminars were spread over five days. Three theater events were
included in the cost of registration: a *kyogen* (farcical Noh play)
adaptation of *The Merry Wives of Windsor*, a Japanese *Lear*, and an
evening of traditional Noh.
Everyone agreed that our Japanese hosts outdid themselves in hospitality
and efficiency. Short-paper sessions and seminars were held at the Kyoritsu
College of Pharmacy, next door to the Shiba Park Hotel, where most delegates
stayed. Plenary sessions were at the Toranomon Pastoral Hotel, a long walk
or short bus ride from Kyoritsu College. The logistics of moving large
numbers of people around must have been challenging, but transitions always
seemed to go well. A reception was also offered at the Toranomon Hotel on
Monday evening. It was extraordinarily lavish and graciously hosted.
The two Shakespearean productions were performed at the Panasonic Globe
Theater, a full-sized replica of Shakespeare's Globe, built in 1984. Both
productions will be taken to England later this year as part of that country's
Festival of Japan 1991. *The Braggart Samurai* (adapted from *Merry Wives*)
focused on the Falstaff plot but deleted Mistress Page, Fenton, and other
subplot elements. Even so, it was unusually long for a *kyogen* but perrectly
comprehensible and delightful. *Lear* was directed by J. A. Seazer, a
"disciple" (according to program notes) of Shuji Terayama, a poet, playwright,
and filmmaker. Playing in about two and a half hours, without an intermission,
the production cut the text heavily, as one could tell even without knowing
Japanese. Atmospheric effects, often spectacular, were added to enhance the
sense of chaos and decay. An operatic soprano wandered in and out
occasionally, singing "the thoughts of Cordelia." Rock music alternated with
a spare classical trio (guitar, cello, flute), as lighting shifted rapidly
from harsh, full white to matches lit by actors in total darkness to a full
spectrum of colored effects. I found some moments intensely moving, though
the ending was so huddled up and poorly rendered as to be merely confusing.
Perhaps most striking was the dancing, which combined numerous styles in a
stunningly gymnastic choreography that sometimes made me worry about the
well-being of the performers.
We were prepared for the Noh performance on Friday evening by a booklet
in our registration materials that translated both the *kyogen* and Noh plays
and discussed them briefly. The *kyogen* seemed to have been deliberately
chosen to complement *The Braggart Samurai* that we had seen earlier, for both
featured a drunken soldier, and it was clearer to me, seeing the second one,
how the modern playwright ahd worked with traditional Noh materials in
adapting *Merry Wives* to the same medium.
A business meeting of the International Shakespeare Association was held
on the last day of the Congress. Presiding was Ann Jennalie Cook, president
of the ISA and former executive director of the Shakespeare Association of
America. A resolution was passed urging the British government more actively
to support archeological excavation of the Globe Theatre site near Southwark
Bridge. Another resolution congratulated the Deutsche Shakespeare Geselschaft
on its reunification since the last World Shakespeare Congress was held in
1986, in what was then West Berlin. No site has been chosen for 1996. A firm
offer to hold the Congress in the U.S. has been made by the Shakespeare
Association of America, but competing offers were invited. A decision is
expected by next year. No matter where the sixth Congress is held, it is hard
to imagine anyone doing a better job than our Japanese hosts did this year.