Taishu Engeki Japanese theatre for the masses

Taishu Engeki (“theatre of the masses”)

A rare opportunity and unique privilege to visit ‘behind the scenes’ the theatre group, Hana Fubuku (Flowers blowing in the wind). Taishu Engeki is a dying art form; perhaps best described as vaudeville and panto rolled into one; whilst also being steeped in the rich Kibuki theatre culture.

I am spending six hours behind stage watching them prepare & perform. The group is strongly led by the two core male actors, Cherry Blossom Haru no Jyo ( Cherry Blossom Peak of Spring) and Sakura Kyounosuke. (Cherry blossom of Kyoto). Initially I’m feeling hugely on edge – not only am I truly exhausted by touring the tsunami region,but this is a closed world. No one gets behind the scenes – certainly not an Englishman who knows no Japanese nor about their traditions. Generous people have cashed in their personal ‘credits’ in order to get me in, and I feel the pressure and a great responsibility towards them.

These days only old ladies come to the show, the young don’t care for it. The plays and skits last nearly 5 hours. It is chaos and order rolled into one. Actors changing in seconds, tempers on the edge of fraying, people running onto the stage & performing. The energy behind the stage is tangible. For myself – no water, no pee, no stopping for what seems forever. I am sweating outwardly and shaking inside; hoping to do everyone proud – a very uncomfortable first 2 hours, and then quite suddenly as if the sun had come out, I’m accepted.

Everyone apologising and bowing when I’m the one blocking the eaves, and they are trying to get on stage! We are forever apologising to each other, but always now with big smiles. After every act, I make a point of finding the actor and say “bravo” – they know this phrase.

At the end of the play, the two lead actors tell audience about this strange English photographer who keeps saying “wonderful and bravo” but he doesn’t speak Japanese!! The audience laughs. Outside in the street, after the show, old ladies come up and thank me…or maybe they don’t; everyone is talking and I suspect I am making up entirely new Japanese words; albeit ones full of positivity. Nonetheless there are lots of smiles and bowing from them and me.

This art form deserves to survive. It is inspirational and outrageously funny.