Internationally renowned Japanese theatre auteur Kurio Tanino and Executive Producer of Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (CAAP), Annette Shun Wah discuss The Dark Inn, and how theatre experiences are made mythical through ritual and metaphors.
Key Points (Updated Live)
Theatre was not Kuro’s first artistic passion, he paints and sculpts, he is also a working psychiatrist.
What is the significance of the theatre company name?
garden – gardening is similar to making theatre “as the sun rises the shadow moves and the winds create change in every moment.
and Kuro’s nickname in middle school – it is a combination of ‘penis’ and kuro’s family name
Where did the idea and inspiration come from?
the play is made for my Grandparents, who raised me as my parents worked as psychologists. In middle school I moved to Tokyo and lived alone, my relationship with my parents is “not great”. I never really returned home, until my grandfather passed 4 years ago, and my grandmother fell ill. On my return I noticed a change coming in the town, as in the play: due to the bullet train lines connecting Tokyo to the rest of japan faster.
now I’m based between my home town and Tokyo, and my base/home is basically a cheap inn like the one in The Dark Inn.
Do you see this as a story relative to all of Japan?
This play seems to also be a love letter to the past and the small communities that many old people still live in.
What do you think of the old people living in these places and standing in the way of progress?
This is a main theme of the play, and I have great sympathy for the things and people that are displaced or disappear… though slip away is a better discriptipion than disappear. I try to grab that moment of slipping and polish it into a beautiful moment. He is not interested in when things disappear, he is interested in the exact moment when something drops, or slips away; which can be a very subtle moment.
On the set (Kuro designed the set also)
The stage is a spinning stage with 4 different performance stage areas, this is a popular method for these days. It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle, as it spins and has 4 dimensions: you must fit the 4 dimensions essentially into 1. In the beginning of the rehearsal period the stage already had the 4 “faces”. As the rehearsal went on windows and doors were added to the space. Because the inn is a hot spring hotel; actors were almost living in the space, and adding their marks and scars on the set as a real inn would. Some of the set dressings were real antiques from his grandmother and other sources. Some of them 150 years old, these artefacts really lent their energy to the project
With some other projecs you begin by story boarding; did you begin this project with this a script?
it is very rare, but yes
How did you choose your actors, what came first the actor or the character?
I have known the actor who played the puppeteer for 10 years, his character is 74 years old: he is actually a magician, not an actor. He is now a successful actor, and has been in many shows, but as a small part; I have wanted to feature him as a main character for quite a while. There is some of his life in the play as well. I chose him for the part before the character.
What influence did he have on the play as it progressed?
I’ve had a long friendship with him, so he has influenced me and my play in many ways, consciously and unconsciously: perhaps I love him.
There are some Buddhist elements to the play, such as the old lady’s chant: how do they fit in?
Buddhism is right at the centre of the play: in Buddhism there are 12 uncertainties. Of course, not every character has these elements, but I wanted to show these elements of uncertainty in the play and the set. To speak about the puppet, it is modelled after a medical model used by doctors to highlight sensitive parts of the body.
It’s quite grotesque.
it is an actual model used by doctors in the academic field.
For some audiences, the slow pace was challenging: how deliberate and important is the sense of time in the theatre you make?
I am the sort of person who can sit in the garden even if nothing happens, but something always happens. I like to pay attention and observe the small changes, and when I try to express those details, the theatre becomes like a slow garden. It is the enjoyment of the separated time of the theatre.
I love the pace of the play and what it lent to the characters: was the script written with that sense of pace or was it born in the rehearsal process?
during the rehearsals the actors chose that pacing, but I directed towards it also. In the script there are a lot of directions, because I write from within the script.
What was the rehearsal process like? How do you take the moment of slipping away and stretch it out and use it?
It was very difficult to share my sense of time, and in some spots I decided down to the second a moment would take. For example actors were told to count to 20 seconds and then do something. As I already explained we almost lived in the set, therefor the actors became used to the pace of the play and the emptiness I wanted to share with them.
Your play gave me a new sense of pathos and eroticism and longing: do you think eroticism and sexuality is disappearing with progress of the modern?
I wanted to make eroticism like idealised notions in my play, so idealised feelings and notions came from the visitors and spread to others within the inn. It’s not necessarily tangible, but hidden and penetrates the others of the inn.
How was your play received in japan and internationally and do you make adjustments in other places?
The huge difference is translation. Because it has been translated, international audiences may understand things that a Japanese audience cannot. Obviously there is not a lot of conversation in this play, but the responses today are not something I’ve had from Japanese audiences. I think the premier really confused people, not often to characters get naked. The first production was in a studio for about 100 seats, rather than a theatre. Initially it was thought too strange and progressive, but my mother said it was her favourite.
There seems to be a lot of symbolism in the play that comes from a Jungian psychiatric perspective, do you feel that theatre explores/explains something that psychiatry cannot?
I worked as a doctor for about 8 years, though I was never a good one. If you look at a patient’s portfolio there are small details that create a dictionary of the person. My experience with this has helped me to write my stories. But I don’t know much about the medical field.
I felt more normal after your show
good, I think that’s right
What are the challenges of making theatre in Japan? For example in Australia audiences are older, and it is difficult to get young people to attend.
in japan there are three types of theatre: the traditional, more pulp performance like pop shows, and more artistic theatre. The audiences for theatre in japan are quite young, but work hours limit attendance for a lot of people, I think this is a huge issue.
What was the role of lighting for The Dark Inn?
We didn’t want to have light beaming from outside, we wanted light within the stage. The design was organic so the stage had its own light and it’s own smoke, and felt real.
What was the idea behind the narrator and a womans voice?
I wanted to make it like my grandmother enveloped the whole story.