Aichi’s thriving drama grassroots

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

This year is set to be a good one for English theater in Japan, from Shakespearean comedy to original works, from intimate black-box stagings to a rock’n'roll musical. It’s not Tokyo or even Osaka serving up this feast, though — but Nagoya, which is home to three thriving companies: The Nagoya Players, KPB Theatre and Nameless Theatre.

Although each has its own niche in the wider community of Aichi Prefecture, as Anthony Gilmore, director of Nameless Theatre, noted, “All the groups very much support each other; we all see each other’s shows and the actors move between companies.”

Yet for all they have in common, it’s what sets them apart that ensures each company continues to succeed.

Founded in 1975, The Nagoya Players is the area’s oldest community theater. With more than 50 active members, both Japanese and foreign, it is often regarded as the entry-level drama portal for English speakers. As Will Taylor, who directs the April 5-12 Theatre Moon production of “Anger” by Reginald Rose, as adapted by Shawn Mahler, explained: “There are a lot of musicians and performers and there’s a fairly diverse foreign presence here, and it has just gelled surprisingly to offer great community theater.” Describing The Nagoya Players as a classic example of such groups, relying on volunteers and local support, Taylor added, “Community theater in Nagoya has united a wide swath of people from all over — from multinationals to Japanese nationals.”

In contrast, KPB Theatre’s niche is to present original works in English. Started in 2005 as a film production company when writer Gary Beaubouef joined forces with musician Steve Pottinger — who was born in Japan but raised in England (his mother was from Nagoya) — the duo’s first full-length film, “The Composer,” led to other work — “and that’s where KPB Studios started,” Pottinger said. “Building the equipment for the film meant we could start helping other people with their dreams — and we went from there.” KPB’s next production will be “Churchill in Love,” an original work by Beaubouef being staged in September.

Meanwhile, what distinguishes Nameless Theatre is the chance it gives to “audiences, the community, cast and crew to experience ‘hybrid’ theater,” as its director, Gilmore, put it. Hence, for their next production in June, of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Performing Arts Center in Nagoya, they have hired a professional theater designer, London-based Max Jones, to further that aim.

As Gilmore explained, “By bringing in Max to work with our volunteers we’re giving our cast, crew and audience the chance to experience a completely new kind of community theater. Among our amateurs we have a wealth of talent, so that combined with Max’s years of West End experience should make for a really exciting production.”

In fact, this is wholly in line with one of Nameless Theatre’s chief aims, which Gilmore explained as being “to create an environment that supports training and growth in the theater arts. For example, to join us as a lighting operator for one of our shows means you will learn the ins and outs of the craft, then teach the next volunteer — while our costume and props volunteers on ‘Much Ado’ are working with and learning from a professional. We hold regular acting workshops to ensure that our actors receive real training. All this eventually translates into a more enjoyable show for the audience — but we hope it gives real value to those who have given up their time as well.”

In their diversity, all three Nagoya companies reveal a deep commitment to community theater; as Pottinger attests: “With passion and good friends can come great adventure and great success in being able to put on shows for audiences to bring us all happiness. That’s the main goal: To do good stuff and have fun doing it.”

For more details about the companies and their schedules, visit www.nagoyaplayers.info (The Nagoya Players); kpbtheatre.com/en (KPB Theatre); and namelesstheatre.org (Nameless Theatre).