Unexpected Lessons

Last Sunday I went to a show by a Japanese theater company: Egg, by Hideki Noda. It was over 2 hours of intense live drama, tragedy, comedy, dance, pop songs and noise special effects. I had prepared myself by reading the program, but the real experience came as a complete surprise (I rarely go to live performances, maybe that’s why it had such an impact on me).

It is difficult to sum the story up, but it revolves around an imaginary sport, Egg, and its Japanese team vying for Olympic qualification. Yet as the play unfolds, we are left to wonder if the story takes place for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, or the 1964 games, that marked the return of the country on the international scene, or the 1940 games, that were cancelled due to World War 2. In the end, we are reaching the real roots of the Egg, which is not a sport at all, but a coverup for biological warfare experiments by Japanese soldiers in China’s Manchuria. From the euphoria of sport games we are transported into a dark and blood-chilling denunciation of real historical events, crimes that Japan has still difficulty to look in the eye.

The play resonated with me as I am always interested by individual destinies caught into the turmoil of history, and at what point a person takes a stand on a particular event, to confront it or to adjust to it.

I have been mesmerized by the creativity and the energy of the performance, and it has made me think about what I can take out of it for myself, beyond this particular show.

My thoughts are quite messy, but here are the key ideas I had after leaving the theater.

> Don’t stay on the surface, dig deeper into the story and into the characters’ emotions. The plot was full of surprises. Every time I got my footing again, the floor was dropped from below and the plot went literally elsewhere. (This reminds me of the excellent podcast This American Life, whose best stories have different levels, raising new questions at every step)

> Don’t be afraid to dare and experiment. It might clash sometimes, but perhaps not so. Kawai songs with black-and-white propaganda movies. Off-color, outré jokes paired up with a reflexion about freedom, responsibility and terror. In real life, I am a quiet person, but on page, I can be loud if need be. Creation is not the place to be shy. I can write something quiet and low-key and unassuming, but it should just be the prelude to something interesting, otherwise the reader’s interest will wane.

> Don’t insult your public’s intelligence. On top of being in Japanese language with subtitles, the show I attended had an incredibly complex plot structure. Flashbacks intricate into flashbacks. Characters substitutions. People turning out to be different from expected. Contrary to my fears in just reading the program, on stage it was flawless. I could not explain it to you in details, but as I saw it unravelling before my eyes I understood it all and it made perfect sense.

> Do your best at every instant. The actors gave their maximum during the whole show, running across stage at full speed, shouting and fighting and crying. I was energized just by looking at them. I have set myself a target of writing every day, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality in the end. It means that at the editing stage, I will have a big job to cut and re-densify the story.

> Set up some devices and use them at tricks along the story. The decor was very simple, but every object on stage had multiple uses and possible meanings (boxes morphed into ruins, sports lockers, showers, walls, corridors, tribunes, even train waggons during the show). Director Noda used time and space ruptures and sudden changes of pace, that certainly gave me food for thought.

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