Elizabeth Handover explains that when in 1989 she was instrumental in helping establish the Tokyo Actors Repertory Company, she was undertaking a commitment. That was to promote women’s theater, and to work toward bicultural understanding. With clear guiding principles, the company makes its presentations in both Japanese and English. It looks at cultural exchanges from the point of view of women. Elizabeth believes the venture has created a new genre of theater.
Elizabeth bestrides the cultures of England and Japan with the confidence of one who knows them both well. She acts, directs and presents with the aplomb of one who already has many years of varied dramatic experience. With the trilogy of plays called “Conversations in Time,” she is now emerging as competent playwright.
She is originally a Londoner, who studied acting and modern dance at the Dartington Hall College of Arts. That institution, known for its liberal views and encouragement of free spirits, provided an ideal environment for Elizabeth’s independence and ambition for innovation.
After graduation, she went to Rolle College of Education, where she took a teaching diploma in drama. In her acting life in the U.K., she played in straight dramas and musical shows, and was in the musical “Shylock,” which won an award in the Edinburgh Festival.
While she was living in Rome, she played in several Italian films. One of them was a Venice Film Festival entry. She went on tour with “The Rocky Horror Show,” which brought her to Japan in 1976. Japan gave her another language, marriage, a daughter and the continuance of her career in acting and narrating for documentary films. She also teaches drama courses and directs student productions at The International School of the Sacred Heart.
Elizabeth believed she could take advantage of Tokyo’s unusual circumstances and forge something new and different. She said: “In 1990 when Tokyo Actors performed in the UK90 Festival, I was already very interested in the idea of theater accessible to both English-speaking and Japanese-speaking audiences. We performed parallel English and Japanese productions of Michael Frayn’s ‘The Two of Us.’ But I hadn’t yet come up with an effective way of creating one play in which both languages could be integrated. Even more importantly, I was deeply fascinated by the concept of dramatizing the juxtaposition of two cultures as they impacted on each other.”
Elizabeth was already working with Keiko Katsukura, an actress with the Nakama Theater Company. Recipient of a scholarship from the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency, Katsukura had spent a year in the U.K. studying acting with the Royal National Theater. “As she had experienced living in a second culture, she was also very interested in the themes I had in mind. Then, by great good fortune, I made contact with Masako Miyazaki, another scholarship recipient who had spent two years in the U.K., studying theater directing with different British directors, one of the them Alan Ayckbourn.
“The working trio that we formed at that moment in 1994 was the real beginning of the theater trilogy now called ‘Conversation in Time,’ that we have been writing and performing since then.”
The first part of the trilogy, called “The Chrysanthemum and the Rose,” looks back to Japanese and British women’s relationships in the Meiji Era. “An interesting side benefit I gained from working on that play is the interest I developed in Japanese history, particularly of the Meiji Era,” Elizabeth said. “That led me to the Asiatic Society of Japan, that has continued to nurture my interest ever since with its monthly lectures.”
Part two of the trilogy, “Women and Socks,” advances to the immediate postwar era. “The inspiration for part two was provided by the College Women’s Association of Japan,” Elizabeth said. “CWAJ commissioned us to write a play for its 50th anniversary celebrations last year. Since then we have revised the play, and added a new prologue and epilogue. We hope to write part three of the trilogy, about international marriage, next year.”
The materialization of a theatrical concept has afforded Elizabeth considerable pleasure. “And I certainly feel enormous satisfaction at the journey in understanding that the three of us working on this project have traveled together,” she said. “Our own relationships reflect the dramas that we create on stage.”