Written by Teruto Soejima
Shingo Kimura, the stage director of the theatrical group Store House Company, explains why his troupe became to perform non-verbal plays.
"Before, I had an occasion to watch a play performed by a Korean theatrical company although I have completely no understanding towards Korean. Talking extremely, when watching a stage performed by a Japanese company, I would be able to understand the story line with my eyes shut and only listening to the dialogs. However, as I do not understand any Korean, I needed to deeply concentrate on each actor's moves to somehow understand the scenario of the play. And this experience made me conscious about how eloquent messages from the actor's body can be."
With this finding by the stage director, the Store House Company had entered the world of non-verbal plays. By applying this tentative method of performances, this theatrical group has definitely bended their steps forward to the path that leads to a dimension of meta-dramas. The struggle between the actors (human beings) and the properties (material objects) on the stage, reveals "another drama" underlying the scenario.
When viewing a meta-drama, the sensoriums of the audiences would be unbounded from the subjectivity of the scenario and each viewer would be able to appreciate the stage through their personal image. Each viewer creates there own fictional interspaces of the drama, just like the performers does on stage. Needless to mention, all the meta-dramas created by the interpretation of each individual differs, and therefore we can find numerous hetero-phased meta-dramas fledging in the auditorium. The theatrical message of the plays by the Store House Company is not only created by the performers, but the audience's free interpretations greatly contribute in establishing the meaning of the play as well. Rather than just being a passive recipient, the audiences will play a role as an "accomplice." This is a report of how those meta-dramas turns off.
Seven actors step in to the simple stage where there is nothing else but hundreds of ropes piled up like a hump. They all look discomforted, and they seem to be looking for a way to escape from their unpleasant daily life. After a moment, they suddenly start to walk around the stage as if they have lost control. First, their moves are unsynchronized and each walks on their own, but gradually they start to form a cascaded line. Their steps become faster and faster as if they are hung up on something, and their footsteps tap out a square rhythm. Similar as a prelude of a dramatic orchestra, this mise en scene foreshadows that this drama is going to enter a pandemonium. As the actors walk around, one or two people stray from the line but somehow manage themselves to come back to the line. Although they are not strictly bounded in the line, they naturally form a well organized formation, just like a flight of birds.
Inadvertently, one of the members of the flight realizes that ropes are lying on the stage. He carefully picks it up and continues walking around, wondering what this rope is. The rope might be something that will help him escape from his dull daily life, or else, it might just be a rope of voodoo. Other members start to pick up the rope as well, and carefully verify if it is something that could help them. As they seem to be confident that the rope is something useful, they pick up the ropes lying on the stage one after another. Not knowing how to use the rope, they pick up the ropes as much as they can carry. However, although they are still not "using" the ropes, by just wandering around with a load of ropes in their hand, they have already stepped out from the normal life and entered the "dimension of ropes."
The ropes that the actors carry around start to entwine and binds each actor's moves. In the "world of ropes" the ropes are not only an object, but are a subject with a great resolution. It gets harder and harder to judge if it is the ropes, or the people that are wandering around. Actors get trapped in the tangle of ropes, and fall down to the floor. The actor's tumbling in the trap seems to be the prey for the ropes. Absolutely terrifying.
The actors somehow mange themselves to escape from the trap of the ropes, but they realize that they have already entered a dimension that there is no turning back. They all face the fear of entering an uncharted territory. The scene had rapidly changed ever since they started walking around the stage. However, the speed of procession of this play does not seem to slow down.
One actor picks up a rope and raises it up and then creeps under that limbo. This scene makes me remind the intro of "The Menace from Earth," a classic SF novel about time paradox written by Robert A. Heinlein. Every time the actors limbo the ropes they will face an altered world that is different from the where they were before. Can they return to where they were by going back through the rope limbo? Maybe not. Time is progressing, the world is changing, and nothing is like it was before. The actors try to find a way to get back, and they decided to go through a different rope loop. However the loop was, again, another entrance to a new dimension. No matter how strong the actors wish, they have no chance to escape from this illusion, but still they continue limboing the numerous loops on the stage.
On the stage, the actors never jump over the loops of ropes, but always go "under" the ropes. By this stage manor, it is indicated that the "world of ropes" is a kingdom of the underworld, where the people are never aloud to go "over" the objects.
While the play was going on, I was recollecting my memories of plating cat's cradle when I was a child. When plating cat's cradle, if you unguardedly take a wrong line, the strings will form an unexpected figure. The player will try to recover their miss, but their try might end up making the situation even more tangled. What I saw on the stage is very similar to that struggle.
On the stage, a huge loop had appeared. As a group, the seven actor's continuously dive through the loop. From this side to the other side. From the other side to this side. Imperceptibly the loop had altered its shape, and became to be a huge square frame. Slowly the frame changes its angle and turns upside down, and makes us realize that the "other side" and "this side" is nothing but an illusion. The "other side" and "this side" are not two different dimensions, but is a symmetrical set of visions that can be replaced by changing a point of view. And this facts reveals that the actors will never reach anywhere by diving into the loops. Now the frame seems to be like a mirror. Inspired by the scenes on the stage, my mind was wandering around images about two myths whish are stories about heroes crossing two dimensions. In the world of Jean Cocteau's movie "Orpheus," behind the mirror there is the land of death. In this myth Orpheus enters the dimension behind the mirror to search Eurydice. I also turned my thoughts towards "Izanami and Izanagi," which is a Japanese myth that has a similar story with "Orpheus." It is very interesting that a Greek myth and a Japanese myth have a parallel tale. Maybe the fact that Japan and Greece both have a polytheistic religion has something to do with this curios coincidence. Herewith, my thoughts continuously digressed during the play. This is probably because the stage of "Ropes" is not only a well done play, but is a true art that gives the audiences wings to flit around their imagination.
By the time I have returned from my short trip of imagination, the play was moving on to a new sequence. The seven actors were all encircled by the huge rope loop, and all of them were sprinting in that closed space. Running as hard as they can, they almost collide into each other. However, no matter how hard they run, they will be repelled by the rope, which is the rim of that closed dimension. The actors, who are physically and meta-physically trapped, run for their will of freedom, but the rope keeps on hindering their attempts. At first, the rope was a simple circle, but by the struggle by the actors trapped inside, the shape of the rim starts to morph like an ameba. After their fierce struggle, at last, one of the actors managed himself to get out of the rim. One after another, each actor succeeds to escape as well. The actors are all gasping, indicating how tough their struggle was.
Before even drawing their breath the actors start to wrap their faces with the ropes as if they are ashamed to be a human-being. Was this struggle a rite of passage that a human-being must go through when transforming into a rope? Seven actors are disappearing from the stage, and seven rope-beings are emerging instead. Metamorphose has already been completed. The rope-being whose face is completely "roped," steps into the light and demonstrate that he has completed his process of transformation. Even after demonstrating how "roped" they are, they continue to wrap ropes around their faces to enforce their "ropeness." In this scene, all the actions on the stage go very slow and gentle, which reminds me about the world of Kobo Abe.
Suddenly, a battle between the rope-beings started. They start tearing off the mask of ropes of the other's, as if each of them believes that they are the only true rope-being. Everybody is desperate to reveal that the other rope-beings are all fake-sters, which is because that is the only way to prove that they are the only true rope-being.
Tearing of the masks of rope-beings is something like striping off skin from a human's face. After the severe battle, all seven actors have lost their masks and their faces are revealed. The actors gaze at each others faces and weigh if they are ropes or human-beings or rope-beings. They find that it is hard to judge by only staring, so they start touching each other's hand. Ironically, the way that the seven actors nestled together looks very similar to ropes tangled up with each other.
Abruptly, above the tangled actors, spherical objects rolled up with ropes, rain from no where. It seems to be a spawn or an embryo of a rope-being. The actors carefully pickup the object and start to incubate that spawn of rope-beings (or starts to raise the embryo.) Just like feeding a baby, they provide ropes to the broods. Under the full treatment of their "parents," the spherical object grows up rapidly to be a rope-being. Innumerable rope-beings appears to the stage, marches around, falls down and then dies while another rope-being arrives. Time progression recklessly accelerates as if the clock has lost control over time. The repetition of death and birth is a simile, or a digest of the whole history of the rope-beings. By this sequence end, all the rope-beings die and the cycle of their history ends. The rope-beings have vanished forever. Giving the audience anxiety and a gloomy mood, the stage blackouts and this magnificent meta-drama ends.
Translated by Dai Omori