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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pauley

Still Not Playing

I have been watching the theatre situation here in Japan hoping that someone will find a way to put on a performance that would be commercially viable for the small theatre companies I work with.

Our first problem is renting performance space. Most small theatres work out at around ¥1,000 ($9.41) per seat but I have not seen many reductions in the price of renting spaces. Given that we now have to reduce capicity to at least 50% this is doubling the seat cost. I have seen offers for booking at short notice, when other productions have been cancelled, but many theatres here are booked more than a year in advance and still have clients who are contracted to pay them 50% or more of their fees even if they cancel. Doubling the number of performances in a day is possible in some places, but doesn't really work if you have a full-length musical that can run for two and half hours. Doubling the cast has been a suggestion put forward to deal with how tiring it would be to have lots of extra performances, but this comes with its own set of extra costs.

The large professional companies are back in the theatre with a number of socially distanced measures. Shiki Theatre Company has reduced its audience to capacity to 50%. They have had to cancel many tickets, and have people re-book as the new seating arrangements have removed some of the front rows and have people sitting on every other seat. Other measures include:

  • Asking audience members to register for one of the contact tracing apps, such as the COCOA one being used in Tokyo

  • Asking people not to attend if they feel ill, or have been in contact with anyone who has covid-19 had in the past 14 days

  • Audience members must wear mask and sanitize their hands on entrance and be prepared to have their temperature checked

  • Staggered arrival and exit times for the audience

  • To refrain from unnecessary talking inside the theatre

  • To refrain from singing along with the music and to not singing during the curtain calls

  • To bring their own towels for the restrooms as the hand dryers are not in use

  • To make sure you bring clothing that will allow you to be comfortable with the ventilation

They are also closing their food and beverage services, the smoking areas, cloak check, blanket rentals, and subtitle equipment rentals. There are also not going to be meet and greets with the cast and they will not allow gifts or letters to be left for the performers. The theatre will also be well ventilated and cleaned between performances.

The most innovative socially distanced performance has to be Kowagarasetai — the Scare Squad — who are putting their audience members in coffins and using zombies and blood to provide stress-relief during this difficult time.

These measures have been put in place to protect the audience members. But I do wonder what people are doing to protect the cast and crew. I have heard that people are rehearsing in masks and visors, but I am still seeing rehearsal pictures of unmasked performers singing and dancing together. For now I will continue to wait, and hope that we can get back to rehearsal at some point this year.

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