There is a Shinto shrine across the road from the capsule apartments where we stay in Tokyo – ancient stone statues of local deities all pocked and weather-worn, topped with cherry red hats and bibs. Fresh flowers, fruit, and an opened plastic bottle of water adorns the altar and the bell clangs often as people pay respects as they pass.
Another Shinto shrine is on the single track road winding through the individual homes and a housing complex near to Babylon Theatre Tokyo, where we work. Each day walking to the theatre is a reminder of how close the ancient, spiritual and sacred is to the surface of this fast, digitalised, ostensibly modern life.
For the past three days Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group has been leading a workshop in his approach to actor training with Ami theatre, our hosts, and students from Sophia University. It is part of the cultural exchange supported by Daiwa and Wales Arts International between the two companies: we present ‘Told by the Wind’ later this week and then Okamura Yojiro of Ami Theatre will share some of his company’s process with us.
Zarrilli uses South and East Asian martial arts and yoga to train actors, starting the workshops with breathing exercises focussing on initiation, process, and completion.
The first non-Indian to be honoured with master status in Kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, Zarrilli claims good martial arts practitioners and actors are similar, in having 360 degrees awareness and a sense of everyone in the room. He quotes a Malayalam folk term about the practice: ‘the body becomes all eyes,’ which goes some way to explaining why he uses the training with actors to start initiating this awareness.
His work is all about activation, awareness, the active imagination, and focus – and one of the first of many parallels between West and East approaches to performance appears: he quotes Zeami, the fourteenth century co-creator of Noh Theatre, encouraging the students to take the opportunity to get inside their bodies through the work and not just in their heads. Such training and body awareness allows respite from the ‘squirrel-like minds’ – busy, busy – of the young actor; a wonderful energy, but totally unfocused and a mess. Okamura San listens quietly to the translation, smiles at the mention of Zeami, then nods his head.