Culture is the Body

/, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 29/Culture is the Body

Culture is the Body

The main purpose of my method is to uncover and bring to the surface the physically perceptive sensibility which actors had originally, before the theatre acquired its various codified performing styles, and to heighten their innate expressive abilities. I first began to think of the method when 1 was trying to search for ways to examine the differences in physical perception among different peoples, such as are found while the actors on stage just stand still, or have an impulse, take some action. I wished to integrate these differences into something we humans could share as a common property, beyond all differences in race and nationality.
First of all, I felt the necessity of inspecting our human orientation, in sensibility or feeling, toward the ground or floor—the attraction for the ground which the lower half of the body feels. I extracted some basic ways of using the body as perceiving various nuances of feeling, and then arranging them to formulate my method.
Technically speaking, my method consists of training to learn to speak powerfully and with clear articulation, and also to learn to make the whole body speak, even when one keeps silent. It is thus that actors can learn the best way to exist on the stage. By applying this method, I want to make it possible for actors to develop their ability of physical expression and also to nourish a tenacity of concentration.
In short, this training is, so to speak, a grammar necessary to materialize the theatre that is in my mind. However, it is desirable that this “grammar” should be assimilated into the body as a second instinct, just as you cannot enjoy a lively conversation as long as you are always conscious of grammar in speaking. These techniques should be mastered, studied, until they serve as an “operational hypothesis,” so that the actors may truly feel themselves “fictional” on stage. For actors to realize the images they themselves pursue, they will have to develop at least this basic physical sensibility.

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In my opinion, a “cultured” society is one where the perceptive and expressive abilities of the human body are used to the full; where they provide the basic means of communication. A civilized country is not always a “cultured” society.
It is true that civilization originated in connection with the functions of the human body; it may be interpreted as the expansion of basic functions of the human body or the extension of the physical faculties—of the eyes, ears, tongue, the hands and feet. For example, the invention of such devices as the telescope and microscope is a result of human aspiration and endeavor to see more, radicalizing the faculty of sight. The accumulated effect of such endeavors is civilization—the product of the expansion and extension of physical faculties.
What we have to consider, then, is the kind of energy required to materialize such aspirations. That leads us to think about modernization. A criterion some sociologists in the United States apply to distinguish between modernized and pre-modernized societies is the ratio of animal-energy to non-animal-energy. Animal energy here refers to the physical energy supplied by human beings, horses or cattle, etc.; while non-animal-energy refers to electric power, nuclear power and the like. One way of showing whether a country is modernized is to calculate how much non-animal-energy is used. Roughly speaking, in African and Near Eastern countries, for example, the ratio of animal-energy used is very high, compared with such countries as the United States or Japan, where energy derived from oil, electricity, nuclear power is used in all processes of production.
If we apply this thinking to the theatre, we notice that most contemporary theatre is “modernized”; non-animal-energy is fully utilized. Lighting is done through electricity. Elevators and revolving stages are operated by electrical energy. The building of the theatre itself is the end-product of a variety of industrial activities from the concrete foundation to the props and scenery.
On the contrary, the Japanese Noh theatre is a surviving example of pre-modern theatre in which almost no non-animal-energy is used. Take music for example. In the modern theatre, it is recorded and reproduced through amplifiers and loud-speakers, whereas the voices of the dancer-actor and the chorus and the sound of the instruments played on stage in the Noh theatre are conveyed directly to the audience. Costumes and masks for Noh plays are made by hand, and the stage itself is built based on traditional principles of carpentry. Although electricity is used for lighting nowadays (which I still object to—in the old days it used to be done by candles and tapers), it is limited to the minimum, never like the elaborate and colorful lighting of the “modern” theatre. Noh theatre is pervaded by the spirit of creating something out of human skill and effort. So much so that the Noh can be said to be the epitome of pre-modern theatre! It is a creation of animal-energy.
As the theatre, either in Europe or in Japan, has kept up with the times and has come to use non-animal-energy in every facet of its activities, one of the resulting evils is that the faculties of the human body and physical sensibility have been overspecialized to the point of separation. Just as civilization has specialized the job of the eyes and created the microscope, modernization has “dismembered” our physical faculties from our essential selves.
What I am striving to do is to restore the wholeness of the human body in die theatrical context, not simply by going back to such traditional theatrical forms as Noh and Kabuki; but by employing their unique virtues, to create something transcending current practice in the modern theatre.
We need to bring together the physical functions once “dismembered”; to regain the perceptive and expressive abilities and powers of the human body. In doing so, we can maintain culture within civilization.
In my method of training actors, I place special emphasis on the feet, because I believe that consciousness of the body’s communication with the ground leads to a great awareness of all the physical junctions of the body.

AuthorTadashi Suzuki
2018-08-21T17:23:35+00:00 November 1st, 2002|Categories: Theory, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 29|0 Comments