SCOT Suzuki Company Of TOGA

SUZUKI’s Philosophy
of Theatre
  • The Theatre’s Mission Ⅰ
  • The Theatre’s Mission Ⅱ
  • Culture is the Body
  • Theory of Acting
  • The Promise of Theatre

Culture is the Body

In my opinion, a cultured society is one in which the perceptive and expressive abilities of its people are cultivated through the use of their innate animal energy. Such animal energy fosters the sense of security and trust needed for healthy communication in human relationships and the communities they form. The distinguishing characteristics of an animal-energy-based society essentially differ from those of a society sustained by non-animal energy, such as electricity, petroleum and nuclear power. Most people would automatically consider this society reliant on non-animal energy to be the more civilized. For me, however, a civilized society is not necessarily a cultured one.

If we consider the origins of civilization, we can see that its rise was intrinsically tied to the bodily functions. Its development may even be interpreted as the gradual sensory expansion of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Inventions like the telescope and microscope, for example, arose from the human aspiration and endeavor to see more, radicalizing the sense of sight. Over time, the accumulation of such achievements has come to be called civilization.

Consequently, when we analyze the kind of energy required to realize such aspirations, the issue of modernization inevitably surfaces. In fact, a criterion some sociologists in the United States apply to differentiate modernized from pre-modernized societies is the ratio of animal to non-animal energy employed in production processes. Animal-energy here refers to the organic physical energy supplied by human beings, horses, oxen and the like; while non-animal energy again refers to electricity, petroleum, nuclear power, etc. According to the theory, one way of determining a country’s level of modernization is to calculate the amount of non-animal energy it consumes. In many countries of the Near East and Africa, for example, the amount of non-animal energy consumed is very low compared with such countries as the United States and Japan, where non-animal energy predominates in virtually all production processes.

If we apply this criterion to the theatre, we notice that most contemporary stage productions are modernized and rely heavily on non-animal energy. Electricity powers the lighting, sound equipment, stage lifts and turntables; while the theatre building itself is the end product of various industrial activities powered by non-animal energy, from the laying of the concrete foundation to the creation of props and scenery.

Japanese Noh, on the other hand, survives as a form of pre-modern theatre that employs almost no non-animal energy. In the case of music, for example, most modern theatre utilizes digital equipment to electronically reproduce pre-recorded or live sound through amplifiers and loudspeakers, whereas in the Noh, the voices of the principle actors and the chorus, as well as the sound of the instruments played on stage are projected directly to the audience. Noh costumes and masks are made by hand, and the stage itself is built according to pre-modern carpentry techniques. Although electric lights now illuminate the Noh stage (which I still object to—in the old days it was done with tapers), this is kept to a minimum and never resembles the elaborate, multi-colored light designs of the modern theatre. In its essence, Noh is pervaded by the spirit of creating something purely out of human skill and effort—so much so that it can be thought of as an epitome of the pre-modern theatre. It is an endeavor driven by animal energy.

In both Europe and Japan, the theatre has developed along with the times and thus, in an effort to increase its audience appeal, has employed non-animal energy in nearly every facet of production. Paradoxically, this shift to non-animal energy has caused considerable damage to the art form. Just as the eyes’ natural capacity to see has been diminished through the invention and use of the microscope, etc., modernization has severed our natural organs from our essential selves, entrusting an increasingly larger portion of their workload to non-animal energy. The automobile replaces the act of walking. The computer takes the place of directly seeing and hearing. In vitro fertilization eliminates the need for sexual contact. In truth, all innovations created for the sake of civilization’s progress are the material result of efforts to minimize the use of animal energy. As a consequence, the potential of the human body and its various functions has undergone a dramatic downsizing, weakening the communication between people that is based on animal energy. Regrettably, this trend has also taken its toll on the expressive skills of the actor.

To counter this debilitating modernization of the actor’s craft, I have strived to restore the wholeness of the human body in performance, not simply by creating variants of such forms as the Noh and kabuki, but by employing the universal virtues of these and other pre-modern traditions. By harnessing and developing these enduring virtues, we create an opportunity to re-consolidate our currently dismembered physical faculties and revive the body’s perceptive and expressive capacity. Only by committing to do so can we ensure the flourishing of culture within civilization.