A new collective space, a new “commons,” in the city: welcome to Theater Commons Tokyo. Expect theater, lecture performances, workshops and dialogues, held over three weeks across Minato ward!

Theater Commons Tokyo is a project to create a collective space for society that harnesses the collective wisdom of theater. By using theater – that is, by applying theatrical ideas – in the context of everyday life and the urban space, it aims to propose a model for theater(s) to come. Theater Commons Tokyo and its artists use the imagination of theater to create experiences in which diverging elements and time periods intersect, and the ordinary is defamiliarized through dialogue and discovery. This means that, as well as theatrical productions, it also hosts lecture-style performances, workshops in which participants share in the creative process, dialogues featuring a range of different voices, and more.

Theater Commons Tokyo is held in venues across Minato ward as part of the Minato Cooperation Project for Cultural Program. The executive committee is composed of Arts Commons Tokyo and the following international cultural institutions based in the ward: Taiwan Cultural Center (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan), Goethe-Institut Tokyo, Institut français du Japon, and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Japan.

Director's note

How to see the nuance in the worldChiaki Soma (Director of Theater Commons Tokyo)

The world is currently undergoing a terrible “theatricalization.” Terms like “Trump theater” and “theatrical elections” pepper the Japanese media, and engrossing videos spread the extremism of hate speech and terrorism across the internet. Bombastic language, over-the-top gestures that rewrite global rules in an instant: people go mad for these things, and are frightened by them too, seeming to take an interest only in the narratives that are endlessly posted and disseminated on social networks. Loud voices bombard us with simple language that rouses our emotions and appeals to our sympathies. Whether or not these voices speak the truth is no longer important: if anything, the more their script articulates people’s latent desires, the more it satisfies their raw curiosities, the more intensely people demand “theater”… Such is the age we now live in.

But is this what theater is about in the first place? Tragic scripts, over-the-top language and gestures, serve to stir the audience’s emotions, to elicit a sense of sympathy and identification. At the end they experience the relief of a catharsis, which chips away at their desire to change things in the real world outside the theater. This was how Bertolt Brecht, who lived through the rise of Nazism, criticized theater up to that point. Given that we all too easily fall prey to empathy and manipulation in the theater, how are we to maintain a critical distance? Brecht posited that the theater is a place for observing and discussing objects from a distance, before changing society.

It is easy to get annoyed at how the word “theater” is now being bandied about in the Japanese media, in a new political context that does not exactly flatter the history of theater. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this reflects the average person’s perception of theater.

Those who have the privilege of a platform to speak from impose their overblown language and grand gestures upon us, simplifying and polarizing our complex world. And so, in order to see the world in all its complexity, surely we must go the other way and commit to expressing ourselves subtly – which anyone is capable of doing. As a result, we can disrupt the boundaries drawn with sweeping gestures and see the nuance in the world. More than ever, we need theater(s) that perform these functions.

Theater Commons Tokyo is conceived as a project to present ways – modest, effective ways – of seeing the world in all its gradations, while returning to the origins of theater(s). As its name suggests, it harnesses the “common” or “collective” wisdom of theater, restoring the theater as a “collective space” to the heart of society. It is too small to be called a festival, too disparate to be called a theater. At first glance, it may appear to be no more than a bunch of performances, screenings, workshops, lectures and dialogues held in one part of the city. However, once the sum total of the experiences they generate is given the label “Theater Commons Tokyo,” the project becomes apparent.

Popping up in an area of Minato ward, the temporary collective space will play host to different times over the course of three weeks. Tokyo time will intersect with the time flowing through an old port in economically devastated Greece. Or perhaps the year 2020 that Malaysia once dreamed of will overlap with the year 2020 for which Tokyo is manically preparing. And it is not just us humans, us adults, who are invited to the collective space. The artists will channel the voices of children, of history’s dead, of nature, of animals. In order to see the world in all its gradations, one must increase the resolution. Listen closely. Straddle different axes of time. See those experiences as processes, incomplete. Pick up all these tools and deploy them with subtle gestures.

Theater Commons Tokyo aims to create a new experience of theater out of all these experiments, and to share them with every participant. This may all be rather hard to follow, but we live in an age where we must guard against simple words and easy emotions. I look forward to seeing you there.

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  • Theater Commons Tokyo ’18
  • February 22nd – March 11th, 2018
  • Venues: Various places in Minato ward, Tokyo
  • Organized by Theater Commons Tokyo Executive Committee
  • Taiwan Cultural Center, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan
  • Goethe-Institut Tokyo
  • Embassy of France in Japan / Institut français du Japon
  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Japan
  • Arts Commons Tokyo
  • Co-organized by

    Minato City FY2017 Minato Cooperation Project for Cultural Program
    Keio University Art Center

  • In partnership with SHIBAURA HOUSE
  • Supported by Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture)
  • Scene/Asia supported by The Japan Foundation Asia Center Grant Program for Promotion of Cultural Collaboration and The Saison Foundation
  • Theater Commons Tokyo Executive Committee
  • Chairperson | Chiaki Soma (Representative Director, Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Vice-chairman | Peter Anders (Institutsleiter, Goethe-Institut Tokyo)
  • Member | Thierry Bayle (Embassy of France in Japan / Attaché culturel, Institut français du Japon)
  • CHU Wen-Ching (Taiwan Cultural Center, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan)
  • Bas Valckx (Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Japan)
  • Natsuko Odate (Board Director, Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Auditor | Yohei Suda (Lawyer)
  • Theater Commons Tokyo Staff
  • Executive Director | Chiaki Soma (Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Production Manager and Coordinater | Fumiko Toda (Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Project Coordinator | Natsuko Odate (Arts Commons Tokyo), Satomi Shimizu, Saki Tanaka, Sayuri Fujii (Arts Commons Tokyo), Asami Hori
  • Editor / PR | Satoko Shibahara, Mai Hashiba
  • Translation | Alex Dudok de Wit, Nobuko Aiso (Arts Translators Collective)
  • Booking System | Asuka Tomita (quinada)
  • Art Direction / Design | Kensaku Kato (LABORATORIES)
  • Web Design | Kensaku Kato, Hiroki Ito (LABORATORIES)
  • Interns | Haruka Shibata, Mutsuki Jujo, Mana Shoji, Daiki Shiratori, Yoshiki Masuda, Atsuko Yamaguchi, Chiaki Yamamoto
  • Legal Adviser | Yohei Suda (Lawyer / Arts Commons Tokyo)