Seinenza Theater Company, one of the nation's leading presenters of shingeki modern plays, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Every long-standing shingeki company has its own unique qualities - the founders of the Bungakuza theatre company include playwright Kunio Kishida, and Haiyuza Theater Company has produced many great actors.
The Seinenza company is known for its commitment to staging original plays. The company has worked with various playwrights of the day, such as Seiichi Yashiro, Shuichiro Yagi and Ken Miyamoto. In recent years, it has put on new plays by Nozomi Makino, Ai Nagai, Satoshi Suzuki and others.
This anniversary year is a good opportunity to look back on the company's 60-year history.
Keiko Miyata, one of the leading theatre directors in the nation today, joined Seinenza in 1980. After being bitten by the underground theatre bug in her student days, she chose to enter Seinenza because "although it was a shingeki company, the company was doing new things that we found fun, too."
"There was not only water falling down from the ceiling but vegetables too, for some reason," she said, referring to one of the productions staged at the company's rehearsal studio, which the company has used since 1969. "It was crazy. The company was already calling people from underground theatre and [we were] making our own experiments."
"Young members were allowed to use the studio freely. All of them were doing what they liked," said Sukeyoshi Mizuyachi, now an executive at Seinenza, where he has worked solely in production.
"It was a nice lab for playwrights," Miyata said.
Seinenza was founded in 1954 by 10 actors who had been sub-members of the Haiyuza company. In the beginning, they would beg authors such as Rinzo Shiina to write plays for them.
The company's tepid reputation in its early days - people said things like "The play is good, but the acting is not" - started changing around 1970, when the company premiered such works as "Tomodachi" by Kobo Abe and "Sharaku-ko" by Yashiro. Toshiyuki Nishida, Atsuko Takahata, Naoto Takenaka and other now famous actors and actresses honed their skills at the company.
Seinenza's youthful flexibility worked to its advantage. "We weren't entrenched in any ideology. We were perfectly nonpolitical. We've always had a soft spot for the creation of new works," Mizuyachi said.
"At the end of the day, we are loose in a good way," Miyata said.
Since the company sticks to its policy of staging original plays, members have had to cope with various daunting problems.
When Miyata was in her late 20s, she was assigned to direct a new production of "Bunna yo, Ki kara Orite Koi" (Bunna, come down) by Tsutomu Mizukami, which was already one of the company's most famous works.