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Demystifying the Role of Leaders in Contemporary Japanese Theatre: - the Case of Terayama Shūji’s Heretics and Directions to Servants

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paper

Publication date25/06/2021
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventTheatre and Performance Research in an Age of Conspiracy: TAPRA-SCUDD PG Symposium - Online, United Kingdom
Duration: 25/06/202125/06/2021


SymposiumTheatre and Performance Research in an Age of Conspiracy
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Much of the recent political situation around the globe has been conditioned not only by manipulation and empty rethorics, but also by the absence of leaders.

One of the most prolific Japanese angura (underground) theatre directors Shūji Terayama wrote and directed two highly controversial productions Heretics in 1971 and Directions to Servants in 1978. Heretics is a play about a young man who is manipulated by puppets until he murders them. At the performance in Belgrade, Heretics caused audience to panic and bloodshed due to play being partly performed in total darkness. In contrast, Directions to the Servants, loosely inspired by Jonathan Swift’s 1739 satirical essay and the famous Japanese poem Be Not Defeated by the Rain (Ame ni mo makezu), is a theatrical commentary about the lack of masters in contemporary society.

Terayama demands of a theatre process to be an event rooted in the now, but paradoxically also not a completely faithful representation of the present. As a result, Terayama’s productions often caused controversy with its unconventional stagings. From torture machines and loud music to rolling eyeballs and geometrically shaped lighting, Terayama uses the theatrical process of inflicting pain onto the performers’ bodies, and consequently, those of spectators.

Through a comparative and performance analysis, the paper will explore how Terayama’s performance strategies and audience manipulation demystify the role of leaders in our societies who often make reality seem like a fiction.