A new collective space, a new “commons,” in the city: welcome to Theater Commons Tokyo.
Expect theater, lecture performances, workshops and dialogues, held 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 FY2018 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 Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Theater as a Tool for Surviving the CityChiaki Soma (Theater Commons Tokyo Director)

What are the possibilities in present-day Tokyo? This is perhaps a question that everyone who lives in Tokyo keeps in the back of their mind, in some corner of their body. With developments for the Olympics advancing at a fever pitch, the landscape of the city will be undergoing dramatic changes. The parks and public spaces everyone could freely visit five years ago have suddenly, one day, turned into empty lots; the construction of hotels and building complexes are in full swing. The space of the city has been given over entirely to zoning and other forms of regulation based on the value of its real estate.

I do not, of course, intend to advocate for mere nostalgia. We residents reap the benefits of the city’s prosperity and cannot easily disavow its economic activities, nor the changes that come as their consequences. The activities and conduct permitted by the city’s structure and regulatory systems appear, however, more and more restricted. The city choreographs our conduct—the conduct of its players—in accordance with these structures; the patterns this choreography falls into are rapidly homogenized, producing a mounting uncanniness. This city rewards and engineers en masse humans who are able to live up to its astonishing speed and exactitude, its physical brilliance and cleanliness. It would seem, however, that the overwhelming modes of propriety to which the city compels us to conform may serve to render even more invisible that which has always lain in its peripheries, kept out of sight.

Now the eyes of the world are on Tokyo—and their gaze is not fixed only on the Olympics. Tokyo is currently being observed by an unprecedented number of tourists, by foreign laborers and students. How might this ever-expanding city make space for including and coexisting with a diversifying series of bodies, languages, behaviors, and memories? How, furthermore, might we approach the challenges and possibilities of being in solidarity with this diversity, opening the way for a public model for this pursuit?

We might begin this third edition of Theater Commons Tokyo by provisionally stating that theater is a tool for conceptualizing and testing these models. We will make use of the theater’s cultural commons to produce an urban commons within the city: this is the definition and the ethos of the “Theater Commons” project. What, then, do these cultural commons consist of? “Theater” refers to the activity wherein humans watch each other performing certain roles, as well as the form of the assembly that brings this activity into existence. A number of people come together, form a community, and amass a variety of techniques in order to exchange emotions and information through language, the body, and so forth. Today, by referencing the accumulated cultural commons of the theater and conceiving new practical applications for these communities, activities, and techniques, I believe it is possible to put them to use in this city as potent tools.

Travel, for example, through Tokyo’s neighborhoods from the perspective of its excluded others—travel through Tokyo together with foreigners, refugees, and the many more who live in this city but have been forced into an “othered” position. Experience Tokyo vicariously through a road movie born from a trip taken by actual people, and engage in discussion together (Koki Tanaka’s Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie)). Take a group tour of Tokyo as seen from Fukushima, pretending to be a student on a school excursion (Akira Takayama/Port B’s New Tokyo School Excursion Project: Fukushima Version). Join another group to embrace the music originally created by a Taiwanese composer and transpose it into a different shape (Hong-Kai Wang’s This is no country music). How might we physically experience the voices and memories rendered invisible in day-to-day Tokyo, facing up to the challenges and possibilities of being in solidarity with them?

In Ancient Greece, both theater and the Olympic Games originally figured as national festivals and religious rites intended to promote community solidarity, which was cemented through citizens’ engagement in competitions based on bodily excellence or the quality of their comedic/tragic theatrical techniques. Women, children, foreigners, and slaves, however, were precluded from participation, a well-known exclusion in which democracy itself is grounded. Are we able to put this form of political organization aside, as a thing of the past? Are we truly in solidarity with women, children, foreigners, those who labor in subordinate positions, and those who are discriminated against in any number of ways? Is there a form of theater capable of overcoming the discriminatory institutions that have been reinforced by modern times, as well as the structures to which they belong (Sankar Venkateswaran’s Criminal Tribes Act)? It may be necessary, perhaps, to displace the norms of Ancient Greece within Western theater and theaters by viewing them from non-Western perspectives, even while referencing their origin and structure (Maxime Kurvers’s The Birth of Tragedy).

Modeled on the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, the greatest festival in human history is the modern Olympics, which serves to reinforce the framework of the nation state. It is not a coincidence that the period of its invention and development spanned the end of the 19th century through the 20th, the era of colonialism and imperialism. It is difficult, within the confines of a rule stipulating that players act as representatives of some nation, to refuse the politics that would tie the excellence of these individual athletes to the superiority of nations or ethnic groups—as individuals, nevertheless, these athletes are “always running” (Ogutu Muraya’s Because I Always Feel Like Running). We must introduce potential micro-narratives into the periphery of these games, which are dominated by the mass media and have often been exploited for terrorism or propaganda purposes (Rabih Mroué’s Ode to Joy). The history of the Olympics in the 20th century was drenched in blood, sweat, and floodlights—it is our hope that the very act of recounting this history from the perspective of artists might act as a potent gesture in Tokyo today.

This year we will present Reading Performances for the first time, a series revolving around the question of what words might be effective in Tokyo today. Based on discussions with three directors (Takashi Shima, Yuko Nakamura, Yuta Hagiwara), we will launch the scripts for three plays into the city, with the audience-cum-participants themselves reading the words aloud, experiencing them physically. Susan Sontag, Pablo Picasso, Shogo Ota—all of whom lived in eras different from our own. When we summon the words of these three mediums to present-day Tokyo, what changes will our bodies undergo? In what manner will we find Tokyo redoubled in their expressions, and how might they interpose within the city alternative spaces and excluded others?

Theater Commons Tokyo itself, of course, cannot escape the rules and systems laid out by the city. We cannot claim to have no association with the bold signposts paving the road to 2020. This is precisely, I believe, why we must explore, from independent perspectives, ways of subverting and disrupting the unidirectional flow of these imposed systems from the inside. What kind of theater could we invent to place before us the major forces choreographing the actions and conduct of individuals, in order to remain individual players in the city in which we live? A different flow of time must emerge from its unidirectional progression, connecting the past and the future (Meiro Koizumi’s We Mourn the Dead of the Future). To view complex worlds in all their complexity, we all must clad our bodies and thoughts with small gestures that can easily be rejected and removed. We must cast about for evolved forms of theater and theaters that will act as apparatuses for making this possible. Theater Commons Tokyo is a space for expanding the possibilities of theater, while collectively experimenting with modest, effective methods for surviving this society. We would be delighted for you to join us here.

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  • Theater Commons Tokyo ’19
  • January 19th, 20th and February 22nd – 13th March, 2019
  • 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
  • Arts Commons Tokyo
  • Co-organized by

    FY2018 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
  • Theater Commons Tokyo Executive Committee
  • Chairperson | Chiaki Soma (Representative Director, Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Vice-chairman | WANG Shu-Fang (Taiwan Cultural Center, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan)
  • Member | Peter Anders (Institutsleiter, Goethe-Institut Tokyo)
  • Samson Sylvain (Embassy of France in Japan / Attaché culturel, Institut français du Japon)
  • 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 Coordinator | Fumiko Toda (Arts Commons Tokyo), Satomi Shimizu (Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Project Coordinator | Natsuko Odate (Arts Commons Tokyo), Taki Togashi, Yuko Tanabe
  • Assistant Project Coordinator | Makiko Yamazato
  • Project Advisor | Kyoko Iwaki (Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Editor / PR | Satoko Shibahara, Mai Hashiba
  • Translation | Lillian Canright (Art Translators Collective)
  • Art Direction / Design | Kensaku Kato (LABORATORIES)
  • Web Design | Kensaku Kato, Hiroki Ito (LABORATORIES)
  • Intern | Yusuke Ejiri, Tomoki Kurokawa, Kiyoka Kohashi, Kento Suzuki, Ayumi Seki, Yuki Nakaaze, Koshi Nakao, Kazuya Yukimura, Amy Tiffany Loo
  • Legal Adviser | Yohei Suda (Lawyer / Arts Commons Tokyo)
  • Accountant | Kotomi Matsushita
  • Theater Commons Tokyo '19 Technical Staff
  • Stage Manager | Lang Craighill
  • Lighting | Megumi Yamashita (RYU.Inc), Aria Hoashi (RYU.Inc), Keiji Oba (RYU.Inc)
  • Sound | Takeshi Inarimori, Hayato Ichimura
  • Movie | Shun Ishizuka
  • Documentation Video and Photography | Shun Sato