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'The death of theater' - Tokyo Met Theater director’s stand against coronavirus closures

8 Comments
By Ben K, grape Japan

In an address to the Japanese people on February 27th, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested sporting and cultural event organizers to postpone or cancel events in the following two weeks in order to stem the spread of coronavirus infections. While many games, events and concerts have been canceled or postponed, not everyone is silently complying.

Among the dissenters, Hideki Noda, playwright, director, actor, and artistic director of Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, released a statement challenging the recommended closures. Due to Noda's position as a respected cultural figure, his statements have sparked a heated discussion online.

His statement, published on the website NODAMAP, is as follows (translation by grape Japan):

"In response to a request to refrain from performing due to measures against coronavirus infectious disease, I'd like to express my opinion as a theater performer wishing to continue theater performance. I believe that the scheduled performances should be carried out on the premise that we will take all possible measures in consultation with infectious disease experts and gain the understanding of the audience. Theater is an art that can only be realized with an audience. It's not something like a sporting event that can be carried out without spectators. Once the theater is closed, reopening can be difficult, and this can spell 'the death of theater.'

"Of course, I don't object to the fact that infectious diseases should be eradicated. But we shouldn't set a bad precedent for theater closures. At present, I'm worried that theater actors who are working hard even in this difficult situation will get a reputation as 'selfish artists.' Please remember that there are many theater-related people who make a living from their performance income. The cancellation of a theater performance should be the last and most bitter decision to make, and only after doing everything possible. 'The show must go on, no matter how difficult it is.' It's an overused expression, but I think it's the essence of theater."

His statement was lauded both within and without the Japanese theater community.

Musician Keralino Sandrovich: "Hideki Noda released a statement and Oriza Hirata (in a now deleted tweet) expressed his solidarity with him. I express mine too."

Playwright Kenichi Tani: "Hideki Noda released a statement wishing for theater to continue. Of course, I express my solidarity with him. However, the difficulty of the situation is apparent in the fact that Mr Noda, artistic director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater, chose to release his statement not on the theater's website but on NODA MAP. The Tokyo Met has canceled all shows. They probably had to, as a theater belonging to Tokyo municipality."

However, his position was also met with heavy criticism.

For example, Shu of Theater Unit Kyoshu, with permission from his friend Kyohei Suzuki, reposted his Facebook post which he strongly agreed with:

"To summarize, Suzuki says that various experts on coronavirus have yet to reach a consensus so he questions what criteria Noda has for judging the 'possible measures' to take. Furthermore, he feels Noda can't guarantee the health of his audience members and could subject them to the risk of infection. Finally, he says that 'there are surely many other alternatives (to keeping theaters open) and exploring these would help both audience members and society gain a better understanding.'

Essayist and playwright Shunichi Karasawa, in reaction to an Asahi Shimbun article reporting Noda's statement:

"As one of the theater people in the trenches, I really understand his feeling that he wants the show to go on. However, I also have the fear of 'what would happen if people got infected and severely ill from my own play?' That would really be 'the death of theater.' I worry that it's actually articles like this which will cause the reputation of 'selfish artists' to spread."

On the one hand, there is something to be said about "the show must go on." There is a real concern that "stopping the show" will not only mean a temporary cessation of art and personal income needed for survival, but also a risk that art itself will receive a blow from which it will not be able to recover. At the same time, the coronavirus has created a serious health crisis which must be addressed.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- Japanese musicians performing online due to coronavirus: archived and upcoming events

-- Sakura Aquarium Display in Tokyo Includes Penguin Performance and Cherry Blossom Digital Art by Naked

-- ‘Original’ Yellow Doraemon with Ears Features in Beloved Character’s 50th Anniversary Traditional Japanese Sweets

© grape Japan

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

8 Comments
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The extreme caution taken to limit the spread of coronavirus may or may not be an over-reaction; we can't know yet. This guy though? Definitely an over-reaction. Plenty of freelancers and small companies have lost work and are struggling. If they have savings, which of course a healthy business/worker ought to, they'll get by.

As for there being no alternatives - how about live streaming it for a charge?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I have a great sympathy for him. However, in the end, I cannot agree with him. He says "we will take all possible measures in consultation with infectious disease experts..." The problem with this is that THERE IS NO EXPERT ON THIS VIRUS. We are in the tunnel in which we cannot not see any light at the other end. Nobody knows anything for sure. We are in the complete darkness. We can only walk slowly, hoping there will be light at the end.

The only practical compromise may be to perform in an outdoor theater, keeping audience enough distance from one another.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Plenty of freelancers and small companies have lost work and are struggling. If they have savings, which of course a healthy business/worker ought to, they'll get by.

Are you not familiar with the state of the Japanese economy the past several years? Savings are a luxury. Many businesses and families will go under if this continues much longer. That may cause more deaths, ultimately, than this virus. But the economy will not be reported as the cause.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Keeping the theaters open is a recipe for disaster! How foolish can this guy be! The symptoms for corona virus doesn’t even show for up to two weeks and some infected person thinking he is not infected will definitely go to these performances and spread the virus. To make matters worse Japanese authorities aren’t testing even sick people ( some with corona virus symptoms ) for corona virus so we don’t even know the actual number of infected people in Japan!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Definitely feel sympathy with this guy. Some sensible suggestions above as to how performances could find a way forward, but after the lessons of the live Arc cluster debacle in Ōsaka, people will be less and less willing to stay in a confined space for any length of time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Will Abe pay the wages of the actors and crew who lost income from cancelled shows???

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The PM's "recommendation" is just that, not a legally binding executive order. The theater's own website currently shows that it will resume normal operations from March 16th, hardly a death sentence.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The climate of fear is apparent in Japan.

How is government really advocating civic centres and schools close yet at the same time have no guidelines about controlling the amount of people on a train or a bus?

The proximity of people on a crowded rush hour train is much more likely to aid viral infection than people doing yoga or similar.

And if just one employee in a building becomes symptomatic then the whole building will be closed!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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