Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Sayonara" and "I, Worker". Japanese contemporary theatre in Toronto (2013)

"I, Worker" (Photo from the program by Tsukasa Aoki)

After some months without seeing any theatre performances (totally dedicated to publishing my plays, writing poems, training Butoh and editing photographs) I returned as a spectator of two short plays by Japanese playwright Oriza Hirata: "Sayonara" (さようなら) and "I, worker" (働く私) as part of the Robot Theatre Project. 

The performances were also part of a cultural festival around Japanese culture, Spotlight Japan, here in Toronto, Canada at the Berkeley Street Theatre

It was interesting to come back to the theatre not exactly because of the quality of the plays and performances but because of the performers: half of the cast were real robots. 

The program says the following about the project:

"Robot Theatre Project began four years ago at Osaka University. The initial goal of our project was to change the status of robots from being merely displays at expositions to becoming essential elements of theatre arts. At these expositions, where scientists gather to present their latest technologies, we saw that while robots "impressed" audiences, they never "moved" them - and we wanted to show that robots could really move people. We believe that our mission should be to help lead current research efforts that examine how robots can be part of the future of human society - how robots can be created so as not to alienate people, or scare children or the elderly."

Sayonara was in English and Japanese (with subtitles) and I, Worker totally in Japanese (with subtitles as well), so there was no problem in understanding what what was being said on stage.

Sayonara, as the name refers to directly, is a "Good bye" from the life of the real human, a lady, and of a kind of android which has served as her company. The play is full of poems and also some references to the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. 

I, Worker is the story of two couples, two humans and two robots and how they interact when one of the robots begins to refuse to work, like the man of the human couple did, it seems, some time before as well. 

Real robots in relationships with humans in an almost no science fiction imaginary. Interesting for the questions the plays provoke in the spectator's mind (not much, you will see), but I think still a little bit short-sighted about those kinds of relationships in a not so far future. 

Robots don't work in our houses yet, but they have been in fiction films for years, from the stupid ones in the sixties to the one in Kubrick's masterpiece, "2001, A Space Odyssey", and so on -Star Wars, Blade Runner, Terminator, etc.-, doing all we can ever imagine and more each time. So, we are trained to see those things as spectators, no doubt, but to our disappointment we only see on stage, first, one that almost has no movement and, afterwards, two more others which interact like those in those sixties series but without being really funny. So, where and what is the new thing here? Thinking about real relationships with real robots? But haven't the best films and novels about them done that now? Of courses, and very well! 

They only new thing I can see here is that real robots are coming to the theatrical stage too, as in novels and films, and the company gets a good promotion for working as a kind of artistic show of whatever happens in the industry, specializing in human interaction (like 'commercial happenings" in public relations or in advertising), and we'll have to wait many years to see real action with those robots live. Then we won't have to write short long-term fiction, and will see real problems in our relationship with them, we'll be impressed and actually moved by them, I hope.

Here the promotional video by the Japan Foundation:

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