Spotlight on Hiroshi Takahagi, Deputy Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre
Friday, September 18, 2020
Tell us about you and your organization’s experience since you’ve reopened the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre (after being closed for two months) at half capacity.
The theatre reopened on June 8. However, many performances were canceled from March to August. These include both domestic and international contracts (they were supposed to mark the year of the Olympics) such as RSC’s The Taming of the Shrew, a Romanian company’s “Scarlet Princess,” originated by KABUKI, and the 20th ASSITEJ world congress.
Up until June 19th, indoor performances had to be limited to 100 people, so we held a pipe organ concert on June 18th in the 2,000-seat concert hall with an audience of 100 people. The hour-long performance was met with loud applause and I was moved to tears.
At the end of July, we started presenting performances which require over a month of rehearsal time. The Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Hideki Noda staged his own work entitled, "Akaoni = Red Demon" with local and young artists. It took place in Theater East, where we set the stage in the center and placed about 250 seats in a circle. We have been asked to keep a distance of 2 meters between the stage and auditorium. However, the number of audience members was halved, and a transparent curtain was placed between the acting area and the seats.
In September, we were only allowed to have 50% capacity, but performances are scheduled to be held almost every day. On Friday, September 11, the government announced that it would lift the 50% regulation on indoor events with less than 5,000 people who do not speak or shout in the auditorium. At the same time, indoor events where people may scream or shout in the audience must remain at 50% capacity and all events, both indoors and outdoors with audiences over 5,000 are allowed to sell up to half capacity.
As of September 19, all theaters and concert halls will be able to sell tickets at 100% occupancy, but even with the full capacity, it is necessary to have a distance of 2 meters between the stage and the audience seats, so 100% cannot be accommodated.
What kinds of precautions do you have in place to ensure your artists, staff and audience members feel safe?
First of all, on the website, we have asked audience members to refrain from attending the theatre if they have a fever. Thus far, we are offering refunds, but in the future, these will be only be offered up until a certain date in advance of a performance.
The opening time is one hour before show time and audience members must wear masks both inside the auditorium and in the lobby of the theatre. A monitor at the entrance of the theatre monitors the temperature of the faces of audience members, and people above 37.5 degrees will not be allowed to enter. The ticket will be visually checked by the person in charge, then people will be asked to put the stub in the box. Upon exiting the theatre, people will be asked to leave in order of seat row, starting with those nearest the exit. The cleaning staff are also frequently cleaning sections of the theatre that are regularly touched by audience members.
Has this new reality affected your programming choices?
So far, I haven't changed the program. We have had to either cancel a performance or perform it carefully. Starting next year, I would like to choose performances with a small number of artists and a shorter performance time. However, I think that will need to be in consultation with the artists.
One concern many venues have is whether reopening at a limited capacity is economically viable. Can you address this concern?
Currently, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is subsidizing half the cost for producers whose performances have been canceled due to COVID-19. I don't know when this subsidy expires, but if it disappears, it will be a big problem.
How have audiences been reacting to returning to the Theatre?
For now, it seems that regulars definitely want to return. In this situation, it is necessary to retain our regular audience members, rather than work on developing a whole new audience. To that end, we're working hard to keep people updated about the cleanliness and safety of the theatre, to let them know what is happening and what we are thinking about, so that they feel that we're working together to support the performing arts world.
In Tokyo, a temporary organization called the Emergency Performing Arts Network has been created, and it is a wide network from small theaters to commercial plays and 2.5-dimensional plays. This network has been working hard to lobby the government to support the whole performing arts sector.