Artist Interview アーティストインタビュー
Hironori Naito talks about 30 years of theater projects with the mentally challenged
On Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, some 230 handicapped people (primarily mentally handicapped) had gathered to perform a production of Robin Hood—Rakuen no Boken (Robin Hood—Adventure in Paradise) as part of the Kazuo Itoga Memorial Performing Arts Festival at the Ritto Center for Fine Arts, Sakira in Shiga Prefecture. Some of the handicapped were accompanied by care-givers. The performance they had participated was the production of a “stage performance” program that had been held once every five years since 1979 at the Azami Momiji Ryo facility for the mentally challenged people in Shiga Prefecture and the program had gradually spread to other facilities throughout the prefecture. This would be the first stage production of its type to bring together eight groups of mentally challenged people from around the prefecture that had been working separately on percussion, chorus-rhythm, dance and acting parts.
The theater had been greatly modified, with all the seats removed from the front third of the theater to make a large area for wheelchairs, and a slope had been installed at the front of the stage to enable easy access onto the stage. The director had set a place for himself at the center of the front row of the wheelchair space to direct the play from. The handicapped performers in the play were seated up on the stage facing the audience in a stand-by position so that they could watch the play with the audience until it was their turn to stand up and act out their part or participate at times from the stand-by position.
Borrowing a story about a group of penguins that have forgotten what they were supposed to be looking for and end up going on an adventurous journey in a play that the mentally challenged players and audience could enjoy along with the normal audience, laughing, enjoying the games and in the end celebrating the joy of being alive. To find out how such a lively, enjoyable play could have been put together even though the eight performer groups had only performed together on the same stage for the first time at the previous day’s dress rehearsal, we talked with the play’s director, Hironori Naito.
Interviewer: Norio Koyama