10 History of SPAC’s theatre

10 History of SPAC’s theatre

Intellectual game of architectural and theatrical language
Dissolution of language (protocol) and recombination through collision

 What is a theater? When you look at it as architecture, you may feel satisfied with an understanding such as “a theater is a combination of a physical space providing the best suited environment for representation and appreciation with a technical system including lighting and sound.” As shown by the words of Le Corbusier, “a house is a machine to live in” (1923), the simplest foothold of modern architecture, which broke away from traditional style, is functionalism. I suppose that many of those who visit this mini museum also share the simple idea that “theater is a box to create an environment where theatrical arts can be performed easily and can be viewed and heard well.” However, the group of theaters in SPAC is creating a relationship between architecture and theatrical plays that is slightly different from such idea based on functionalism. SUZUKI Tadashi chose ISOZAKI Arata as a partner for planning theatrical architecture to realize his theatrical philosophy.
 Although the areas of expertise of SUZUKI Tadashi and ISOZAKI Arata are completely different, they had something in common. That is, they were both trying to dissolve the languages (protocols) of architecture and theatrical plays, and trying to recreate them in their own arena. ISOZAKI Arata ran a series of “Kenchiku No Kaitai” (Dissolution of Architecture) in Bijutsu Techo in the early 1970s, and SUZUKI Tadashi presented his theory of theatrical art in Gekiteki Naru Mono Wo Megutte (Pertinent to What is Dramatic) (Kosakusha) in 1977. ISOZAKI cited the example of Mannerism (a style of art) that appeared in the Late Renaissance period and argued that what architects must do after a classic style is completed is to recreate the language thereof, and tried to dissolve the modern architectural theories of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. On the other hand, SUZUKI has been cultivating his dramatic method to dissolve and recreate the classic plays and dramatic protocols around the world. Suzuki Training Method, which recreated and theorized the lower body movement seen in classics such as noh theatre as a dramatic body representation, is used widely in the field of dramatic education throughout the world.
 It was imperative that SUZUKI and ISOZAKI met, and their collaborative works formed a sort of battlefield. We would like to draw your attention here to the theatrical space as the battlefield of the two men.

Inserting Japanese essences into the Renaissance-style theater
01 Elipse Theatre DAENDO

 Ellipse Theatre DAENDO is a notably compact theater, with 110 seats at maximum. ISOZAKI Arata was strongly interested in Renaissance buildings that recreated classic architecture. Upon designing a theater, he referred to Teatro Olimpico (see Panel 03), which is a masterpiece Renaissance architecture that regenerated Roman theater from a fresh perspective. Teatro Olimpico was first designed by maestro Palladio, and was completed thereafter by Scamozzi. ISOZAKI notes, “There is a drawing by Scamozzi estimating the drawing practice of the stage space of Teatro Olimpico (editor’s note: 1776). When you look at it, an ellipse is inscribed in the front-facing backdrop and orchestra, with the line of the anterior border as the major axis”*1, and he incorporated that in the design of DAENDO (Figure A).
 He added there some Japanese essences too. “The structure of DAENDO comprises only the wooden columns, beams, and rafters used in traditional Japanese architecture. Vertical features like natural light radiating from the rooftop have been newly added.”*1 Further, “The audience will reach the stage level via a dark staircase. It is a metaphor for descending underground.”*1 (Figure B) As such, a citation of a classical style, a citation of traditional Japanese architecture, and an invitation to the darkness of the theater along the strong vertical axis made of downward light and a staircase are prepared as an original setting to include but also confront the theatrical behavior.
 Such concept of architecture is prepared not merely for the sake of facilitating theatrical performance in terms of functionality. Rather, the architecture itself is provoking the theatrical performance that takes place there, as if asking, “Well, can you try? Can you take on this challenge?” Against this, SUZUKI Tadashi is accepting this challenge as follows: “It means, how can experts meet one another in a space waiting to be filled with physical energy.”*2 This shows the enduring battle between ISOZAKI Arata and SUZUKI Tadashi, carried over from Toga Sanbo 05.

01 Elipse Theatre DAENDO

Elements of ancient Greek theater, the Globe Theater, and the noh stage are fused
02 Open Air Theatre UDO

 UDO is an open-air theater with 400 seats inside a park. SUZUKI Tadashi says, “The interesting thing about this Open Air Theatre UDO is that different styles are fused together. The format of audience seats resembles that of the Greek open theater, and the style of the roof is similar to that of the Globe Theater. The long, raised platform on the back of the stage is inspired by the traditional Japanese noh stage and hanamichi in kabuki theater. (Omitted) In other words, it intensively expresses that theatrical plays had been developed through the interaction and confrontation of nature and artifacts.”*1 (See Panel 01 for the Greek open theater, Panel 04 for the Globe Theater, and Panel 07 for noh stage and kabuki)
 As explained above, this open-air theater expressing the coexistence and harmony with nature borrows and incorporates the scenery of the dense green of Nihondaira plateau as the backdrop of the stage. Because the audience seats are enclosed inside the black-colored architectural wings stretching long on both sides, like an indoor theater it gives the impression of being inside a womb (Figures C and D). Since Toga Sanbo 05, ISOZAKI Arata has constructed a theatrical space based on darkness, and the idea is also effective here. This black, closed nature of the audience seats is released when the stage made of Wakakusa stone, which had been exposed at the time of completion, reflects light and shines white (Figures C and E). Currently, the stage is covered for the ease of performance, so you cannot see the surface using Wakakusa stone. However, the impression of the stone can be felt from the stairs of the audience seats. This superb balance between the stage and the audience seats is emphasized even stronger with the green leaves of the borrowed scenery, because the seats are made by using the slope of the original terrain, just like the ancient Greek and Roman theaters (see Panel 01). Even when a theatrical play is not being performed, UDO seems like it is performing a play of an empty space. But once a performance starts, the eyes from the audience seats inside a womb work to greatly heighten the concentration of the space, centering around the stage. This is the same even during nighttime performance, probably because the darkness of the forest behind reflects the gaze of the audience onto the stage. The space between the stage and audience seats naturally forms a melting pot that cooks well the multi-layered, diversified, juxtaposed, and critical nature of the theatrical plays of SPAC.

02 Open Air Theatre UDO

Elements of ancient Greek theater, the Globe Theater, and the noh stage are fused
03 BOX Theatre

 This is mainly used as a training space for the theater company, so you can say it is a “backstage” space. However, the building was made with about 110 seats so that it can also be used for small-scale performances. While other theaters by ISOZAKI Arata present a strong concept of the space, and try to confront theatrical plays, this theater is a simple black box. In a sense, it may be a safe space where theatrical plays do not need to go into attack mode against the architecture. Although the site of theatrical production tends to be filled with strong stress, it may also need some kind of relaxed mood.

03 Box Theatre

A theatrical space adding a twist to the base of a baroque theater
04 Shizuoka Arts Theatre

 Shizuoka Art Theater is a theater with 401 seats located within the Shizuoka Convention & Arts Center (GranShip), adjoining JR Higashi-Shizuoka Station. On the year this theater was built, “The Second Theater Olympics” was held.
 While DAENDO was modeled after Teatro Olimpico (see Panel 03) of the Renaissance period, this theater borrows the idea of the horseshoe-shaped audience seats of baroque theaters (see Panel 05) of the subsequent period. Horseshoe-shaped audience seats gives a feeling of being pocketed inside from a wide angle, and also allows people in the audience to feel each other’s expressions and breathing, so it tends to increase the density of the theatrical play.
 However, ISOZAKI and SUZUKI not only copied the style of baroque theaters, but also added a twist to it. They cleared away the proscenium arch (a frame-like divider between the stage and the audience seats). This original baroque theater is constructed to make the perspectival stage set invented in the Renaissance period (see Panel 03) work effectively. The perspective representation and the horseshoe-shaped audience seats of the baroque theater we introduced as one set. However, ISOZAKI and SUZUKI ventured to dissolve that set, and designed the theatre in such way that the audience seats are released toward the infinite darkness of the stage. The stage without a frame (proscenium arch) denies a comfortable staging that fits inside the frame, which means it is a rather difficult space to use. However, this must have been natural for SUZUKI, who aimed to dissolve and recreate modern theatrical plays.

04 Shizuoka Arts Theatre

Black space spreading the image from the noh stage
05 Toga Art Park TOGA SANBO

 An article by Asahi Shimbun in September 1982 includes an important description regarding the creation of space by ISOZAKI Arata and SUZUKI Tadashi. Toga Sanbo constructs a jet-black stage and audience seats inside a Gassho style building (characteristic for its triangular-shaped structure like praying hands assembled with logs and a steeply-sloped roof). Its base image is a noh stage (see Panel 07). Here, the noh stage is dressed in black. “The size of the stage is made close to that of a noh stage by using the original column, and the long, hallway-like side stage was constructed on both sides, (omission) and everything was painted black. The stage floor also uses black aluminum panels of a natural color appearance, so it seems as if darkness has fallen over the entire space”*1, writes ISOZAKI.
 The dissolution of architectural language responds to theatrical plays. “It sharply confronts the signals with many consensuses derived from the structure of Gassho style. (Omission) The confrontation becomes sharper and accentuated as the representation of the architectural structure of a private house with concreteness becomes stronger.”*1 The resulting effect is probably a unique space. Can the space be used by different theater companies? There were no worries. “Companies with completely different characteristics arrived from around the world. (Omission) A confrontational scene was generated, like a crack running in the space of darkness that Waseda Little Theater had become accustomed to.”*1 While dissolving the language of space, the theater exists there with dignity, generating a mechanism where a contrastive effect is given to a theatrical play, benefiting both the space and the performance. Because of this unique theatrical space, there was a contrastive effect of creation where the existence of such space stimulated theatrical plays, and theatrical plays gain performing power from there. ISOZAKI says, “The design of a stage becomes better by thoroughly focusing on a single feature. It became clear that the more characteristic the company, the better it can live deeply inside the unique stage space.”


Adding the Japanese-style borrowed scenery to the Greek and Roman theater
06 Toga Art Park Open Air Theatre

 The theater refers to a Roman theater. That said, it does not directly site the original ancient Roman theater, but is based on the theory that was reinterpreted in the Renaissance period (see Panels 01 and 03). “For the design of an open-air theater in Toga Village (1981), I used the drawing method of the Roman theater (1956) by Vitruvius, interpreted by Daniele Barbaro, which was drawn by Palladio”*1, says ISOZAKI. Here, one must note that ISOZAKI regards Roman and Greek theaters as a single group. SUZUKI’s repertoire of theatrical plays includes Greek plays, as can be seen in The Trojan Women (premiered in 1974) or Dionysus (premiered in 1978), and he considers Roman theater to be an extension of Greek theater. In such context, it can be interpreted that his understanding overlapped with the protocol of theater space by ISOZAKI.
 The second point is confrontation with a Japanese tradition. That is reflected on the view towards the style of borrowed scenery. “It is a semicircular theater with about 800 seats, having a stage opened toward the lake at the front. I tried to make the audience seats as close to those of the original Greek theater as possible. (Omission) Thus, the backdrop of the stage with borrowed scenery was generated.”*2 Borrowed scenery is a basic designing method for architecture and urban planning in Japan. Lake spreading at the back of the stage and the forest and mountain further away can resemble borrowed scenery viewed from the wide porch of the traditional Japanese Shoin style building, but while the scenery of a lake and the green that reflects onto its surface is static, the theatrical play performed at the front of such scene is stormy, repeating a dynamic destruction. Sometimes fireworks are set off from the opposite side of the lake, which are also a dramatic scramble of the space.
 “What I feel by creating the Japanese-style stage and western-style semicircular theater in the same place is that such a unique stage with abundant representation is full of potential for generating strong tension, in contrast to a lukewarm space called a multipurpose theater, which is a product of modernization.”*2 Contrastive tension between movement and stillness, darkness and light, or Japanese style and western style, generated from the clash between the theatrical play and architecture, makes this theater even more attractive. “Toga Festival,” the first international theatrical festival, was started in 1982, when this theater was newly constructed.

06 Toga Art Park Open Air Theatre

Strange coincidence between the Shakespeare theater and the noh stage
07 Art Tower Mito ACM theatre

 The ACM Theatre is an open-style theater with a basic plan view of semicircular three-storied audience seats and a stage inside the circular (dodecagonal) basic structure and the extended stage spreading at the side. The basic plan refers to the Globe Theater in the era of Shakespeare (see Panel 04). The number of seats can be varied from 320 to 580, and the theater transforms between a basic type, noh stage type, and yose type (see Panel 07.) The stage is 9.7m in depth and 17.5m wide, and the surface of the stage is 60cm high.
 The basic plan of the original Globe Theater was an icosahedron. The stage was about 8m in depth, 13m wide, and set at a height of 1.5m from the ground. Because the stalls of the Globe Theater only had room for standing, the surface of the stage was higher.
 As this theater assumes the noh stage-style as one of the usage models, the Shakespeare theater and noh stage shows a strange coincidence in terms of size. The main stage of the noh stage is 5.4m square, with a hashigakari (a diagonally-placed aisle) of about 11m to 13m long, and the substage with a depth of about 3m behind the main stage. That makes the stage depth about 8.4m, and the opening 16.4m to 18.4m. This means that the noh stage, including the hashigakari, generally fits inside the stage of the ACM Theater, which has an opening wider than the Globe Theater.
 In fact, I (the author) participated in the design of this theater as an advisor. It gave me valuable experience. Ordinary public cultural facilities (theaters) are made to meet multiple purposes and be available for various types of performances. Their designs are usually made in an additive style to make them compatible with this and that. I participated with such mindset at first. However, SUZUKI Tadashi cleared away the stage elements one by one, saying “You don’t need this, you don’t need that either.” It was precisely a subtractive style of designing. In the subtractive style of designing, the significance of the basic form is questioned to a large extent. That forms part of the representative language of space that upholds the stage, beyond the architecture. It is not merely a functional theater as a showcase, but it becomes a matrix for expressing the meaning of directly participating in a theatrical play. I guess such a designing approach is the secret of this theater.

07 Art Tower Mito ACM theatre

Text by SHIMIZU Hiroyuki

Back to the list