Aural/Oral Histories of Pain and Trust in Satoshi Miyagi’s Révélation

Tomoka Tsukamoto* and Ted Motohashi**


Our essay analyzes Satoshi Miyagi’s production of Révélation, written by the Cameroon-born dramatist Léonora Miano, translated into Japanese by Akihito Hirano and staged first at La Colline—Théâtre national, Paris, in August 2018, and then in Shizuoka Arts Theatre, Japan in January 2019. The analysis investigates the dimensions of speech, sound and bodily movement characteristic of Miyagi’s directorial approach as an example of an aural/oral dramaturgy that reconfigures the audience’s sensory adaptation. In this play, Miano uses a mythological framework to take up the controversial question of the African complicity in the slave trade and the complex relationship between victim and perpetrator in this historically sensitive issue. The play dramatizes the judiciary court in which the Goddess Inyi presides to hear testimonies from the African people who cooperated with the European slave traders. This hearing is conducted to give belated justice to Ubuntus, the lost souls of the perished slaves who have not been mourned, deprived of any opportunity to talk or listen. Through an analysis of Miyagi’s production, we aim to argue that oral histories can become viable in theatre by way of aural histories, particularly in dealing with controversial historical incidents like the slave trade—in which most of the victims have been deprived of their verbal as well as auditory capabilities under brutal and inhuman circumstances. A theatrical representation which pays attention to the intricate relationship between our capacities to speak and hear within a prehistorical framework of African mythologies could be an effective and innovative example of aural/oral dramaturgies, as elucidated by our analysis below.

Keywords: Aural/oral histories, revelation, Satoshi Miyagi, “two-in-one” method, Léonora Miano, African slave trade, testimony, judgement

African Slave Trade as a Historical Revelation

Léonora Miano was born in 1973, in Cameroon, and currently lives in France. Her works have centered upon the colonial histories of the African slave trade, particularly the controversial issues of collusive activities by African rulers in this operation. She received the Femina Prize in 2013 for her novel Seasons of Shadow, which deals with this issue in a narrative form. Révélation is one of her Red in Blue Trilogie of plays, with Sacrifices and Tombeau, published in 2015.

Léonora Miano. Photo: Wikipedia

The action of Révélation takes place on the “First Land,” where a group of Mayibuyes, representing human souls before birth, are on strike, claiming to Goddess Inyi, the ultimate source of human lives, that they do not wish to enter the human world. The reason for their unnatural disobedience is that they have met Ubuntus, the deceased human souls as a result of the slave trade, who have died without being mourned and consequently unable to be reborn. Ubuntus have been screaming for a hearing for five hundred years, and, finally, their voices have reached the ears of Mayibuyes, who would plead Inyi to summon the perpetrators in the slave trade before her to confess, so that their testimonies will be heard by everyone concerned. Inyi, having granted Mayibuyes’ request, opens a court session to let the guilty testify, so that Ubuntus hear the circumstances of the defendants’ involvement in the slave trade.  

The slave trade deprived those captured of their histories—as their public means of self-expression—by displacing them into the realm of the unknown. Miano’s Révélation bravely tackles the thorny issue of African collusion in the slave trade, not in order to denounce it but to put trust in the African people’s capacity to take responsibility for this matter. As we argue below, the director Satoshi Miyagi’s dramaturgy foregrounds this historically controversial issue as an illustrative case for the viability of the oral/aural dimension of theatre to restore the victims’ vanquished voices hidden within the deep and multiple layers of history. While, on the one hand, conceptually as well as theatrically, the mise-en-scèneof the court hearing is in itself significant in the context of aural/oral dramaturgies because it entails oral and aural proceedings, on the other hand, the text creates an obstacle to a realistic approach as it also involves the mythological framework.

Miano’s play is a bold and arguably unprecedented attempt to excavate the historically annihilated voices and bodies of the victims and the perpetrators of the African slave trade, which could be presented as a “revelation” only through a particular kind of aural/oral dramaturgy. Miyagi’s unique directorial method solves this issue presented by the play which is at once politically sensitive and structurally mythological.

Extract from Satoshi Miyagi’s Révélation
Satoshi Miyagi’s Aural/Oral Dramaturgy and Révélation’s Mythological Framework

Born in 1959, in Tokyo, Satoshi Miyagi founded the Ku Na’uka Theatre Company in 1990. Before then, while he was still at the University of Tokyo, where he studied literature and drama, he created a company called the Meifū Kagekidan, whose members formed a core of Ku Na’uka and have continued collaborating with Miyagi in throughout his career. With Ku Na’uka, Miyagi developed innovative directorial strategies by fusing a political interpretation of texts with distinctive physical acting techniques, which we will discuss later. In 2007, he succeeded Tadashi Suzuki to become the general artistic director of Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Reflecting their broad cultural interests, SPAC has produced a wide range of classical and contemporary plays, from the West as well as the rest of the world. As well as being the recipient of numerous prizes, SPAC has been invited to perform in many international theatre festivals, including the Festival d’Avignon, where in 2017 Miyagi was the first non-European director to open the Festival with Sophocles’ Antigone at the Cour d’honneur du Palais des Papes.

Satoshi Miyagi. Photo: The Japan Foundation. Performing Arts Network Japan

To discuss the aural/oral dimension of the theatrical performances, we should first of all explain Miyagi’s unique dramaturgical method of “two actors in one role (two-in-one),” which effectively separates linguistic speech and bodily action. Miano’s Révélation, which deals with the 500-year history of the slave trade in Africa, is here chosen for exploring the aporias that lie between thought, words and action, testimony and responsibility, crime and reconciliation. As we will discuss below, Miyagi’s distinct dramaturgy is arguably effective in dramatically staging the spiritual and ethical issues raised by Miano’s specific representation of the history of the slave trade.

In the “Director’s Note” for his The Winter’s Tale (2017), Miyagi explains his original motives in having devised the “two-in-one” method, where one theatrical character is represented by two performers, a speaker, and a mover:

I think words will bring a tremendous feeling of disjunction into human bodies: words cut apart the natural flow which bodies desire, and consequently become the enemy of physiological pleasure. . . . Human beings are vessels in which bodies and words fight against each other. If that is the case, the actor on the stage should reveal that struggle rather than conceal it, I thought. That is why I came upon the idea of the “two actors in one role” method.[1]

According to Miyagi, words and actions seem to be at war with one another, particularly in a modern context, where there is no single God-figure that apparently transcends that disjunction. And theatre should function to disclose this gap rather than contain it. Miyagi’s trademark “two-in-one” dramaturgy which highlights the schism between words and actions is partly informed by bunraku or ningyō jōruri, where gidayū singers chant narratives called jōruri, accompanied by shamisen music. Jōruri narrate the whole story including sceneries, histories and sentiment of the characters, and ningyō (puppets) are skillfully manipulated by silent puppeteers.

From early on in his career with Ku Na’uka, Miyagi separated action and language by the dual use of mute, doll-like movers, on one hand, and eloquent and motionless speakers providing the dialogue and narration, on the other. However, there is a crucial difference between bunraku and Miyagi’s “two-in-one” method because Miyagi’s “two-in-one” approach is conceptually a two-part reconfiguration of the bunraku tripartite performance principle. In bunraku, the production of voice and action are divided by a distinct distribution of labor among puppets, puppeteers and chanters, with the stable relationship between these three separate practitioners. By contrast, Miyagi’s “two-in-one” method, lacking any puppetry, reconfigures the relationship between movement and speech/sound, which makes the audiences’ recognition of correspondence between action and speech/sound disturbingly unstable.

Moreover, the percussion music played by other actors further proclaims rather than conceals the gap between the silent mover and immobile speaker. As Miyagi expects his actors to train themselves into being proficient in three roles ―mover, speaker and musician―there is no clear distribution of labor among them, and this strengthens the impression on the audience’s part that the tripartite cooperation among the mover, speaker and musician becomes one whole entity that contains, rather than conceals, the disjunctions within the audience’s aural/oral/visual sensory capacities.

According to Miyagi, there is a disjunction between human desire and language as a means of expressing what is inside the human body, and the “two-in-one” method serves to illuminate this rupture. This breach is highlighted as well as contained by the percussion music played by the actors. Within Miyagi’s method, while the speaker and the mover never exchange parts in a particular production, the musician occasionally gets involved in doubling up as either the speaker or mover as well as accompanying the mover/speaker, making the whole process far more cooperative and coordinated than in a mere ensemble piece. The percussion music (composed by Hiroko Tanagawa, who has been closely working with Miyagi since the Ku Na’uka period), significantly reveals not only the disjunctive gap between body and speech but also the reciprocal interaction between the two.

In Miyagi’s “two-in-one” method, music provides another layer of communication as a kind of aurally transmitted language. As far as the actors (movers as well as speakers) are concerned, music playing offers an aural strategy through enhancing bodily expressions as well as voicing non-linguistic utterances, as the audience would be able to perceive the entangled network of spoken words, moving bodies and heard sounds. We could, therefore, compare this method to a triangulation among orally spoken words, physically acting bodies and aurally heard sounds. Otherwise said, within Miyagi’s “two-in-one” dramaturgy the percussion represents a social collectivity that enables the individual human entity to be identified as one and whole, as any human agent can only assert his or her unique integrity (which itself contains and overrides the gap between speech and action) by relating him/herself with the others. Music in Miyagi’s dramaturgy is a sign of otherness, indicating that the human selfhood cannot exist without the presence of otherness.

While the audience watch the proceedings on stage, tightly controlled by the “two-in-one” method, they become more aware than they might in a usual “one-in-one” method of the limitations to their own capacity for comprehension through hearing and watching alone. As Miyagi adopts and reconfigures the triad of puppet/puppeteer/chanter in bunraku through working with the mover, speaker and musical actor, the “two-in-one” in the latter method at once highlights the isolation and coordination between the actors.

From the audience’s standpoint, the “two-in-one” method renders the relationship between seeing and listening ambivalently obscure, as if it casts the action into the otological realm of auscultation, and speech into the optical sphere of witnessing. Through the incessant exchanges of fragmentation and integration overriding our hearing and eyesight, we are led to be more aware of the friction, the fault-line, or noise that we are not conscious of in our daily lives, making the overall theatrical experience uncannily vibrant.

Furthermore, Miyagi’s dramaturgical strategy goes much deeper than mere exploitation and reconfiguration of the traditional Japanese theatre, as its overall aim is to deconstruct and reinvestigate the 2500-years-long tradition of Western theatre in which a certain coordination between physical condition and mental psyche has been taken for granted. For instance, Miyagi often refers to Othello’s death scene: it has been the norm of realistic representation of Othello’s suicide that the actor playing Othello unveils one of his most eloquent moments to realize a catharsis through his strong linguistic posture. However, from a biological viewpoint, this must be a moment when Othello feels the most vulnerable with his absolute despair of mistakenly having murdered Desdemona: how can someone be most dramatically self-buoyant when he feels so powerless and forlorn? The feebler the character is the more exhibitionistic the actor is required to be—this philosophy is what has produced the dominant tradition of illustrious performance for most of the Western theatrical history, which Miyagi takes issue with through his aural/oral dramaturgy.

The “two-in-one method” vis à vis the triad of speech/sound/movement liberates neither the speaker from the action nor the mover from the speech. For when the speaker and the mover are forced to respectively endure immobility and silence, they bear a more substantial burden than actors that follow the conventional “one actor in one role (one-in-one)” method in modern European theatre. When the “two-in-one” method functions on the stage, the audience will detect a stronger physical drive within the speech and observe more linguistically complex logic in the movement, both of which get intimately engaged with the rhythmic sound of percussion music.

In other words, the audience is overwhelmed by the sparking traffic of the independent yet intricately inter-connected theatrical means of movement, voice, silence and music, each of which can be more significantly highlighted orally as well as aurally than in the normal “one-in-one” method. To borrow Miyagi’s own words, “multiple languages are flying around one actor who speaks lines without moving, and another actor who moves without speaking”[2]: the two-in-one method is thus a radical attempt to negotiate between our oral and aural activities within the theatre, which makes the audience’s experience invigorating and self-reflexive. While in the “one-in-one” method actors utter their words as if they are in control of or in possession of their own utterances, within the two-in-one system the movers receive their words from the speaker as they dis/owned them, paradoxically establishing a real connection between words and bodies by forsaking their oral possessions and liberating them aurally.

In a traditional “one-in-one” method, orality tends to be prioritized vis à vis aurality since the former is regarded as the original source of meaningful utterance. Yet, in a theatrical exchange, the audience’s reception of the stage action should become viable only within the closed and sometimes conflicting relationship between their oral and aural recognition. We should note here that Miyagi has also directed many productions in the “one-in-one” method. Although a large portion of his plays during the Ku Na’uka period was performed in the two-in-one method, he has employed the “one-in-one” method since he assumed the General Artistic Directorship at SPAC (although he has recently started to again deploy the two-in-one method with some innovations).[3]

Miyagi’s dramaturgy, then, is deeply concerned with the aural/oral dimension of theatrical productions. It is also noteworthy how the mythological framework of Miano’s Révélation resonates with Miyagi’s directorial strategies since the production’s constant reconfiguration of the relationship between speech, sound and movement is particularly well suited to a play that tackles the impossible task of excavating historically vanquished voices. Indeed, the playwright Miano personally chose Miyagi to direct her play, commissioned by Artistic Director Wajdi Mouawad to open the 2018 season at La Colline—Théâtre national, because she had seen some of Miyagi’s previous productions, including The White Rabbit of Inaba and Navaho (2017) and Mahabarata (2014) that employed the two-in-one method.[4]

The principal guiding principle in Miyagi’s dramaturgy, whether or not he overtly adopts the “two-in-one” method in a particular production, is his belief that human utterances are not to be intended literally in relation to the performative act of elocution. In the triad of orality/aurality/physicality, reconnected and redefined as musicality, verbal characteristics of human expression are not reduced to literal meaning but open to multiple interpretations and resonances through the collective and conscious intermingling of words, bodies and sounds. During rehearsals, Miyagi sometimes asks actors to communicate with one another not by speaking but by drumming on percussion instruments, allowing them to become habitually sensitive in the aural/oral process of mutual listening/speaking, training themselves to use their entire bodily sensors.

The importance of music in Miyagi’s staging is further cemented by the fact that Tanagawa’s composition has no written score: the actors remember the percussive music as if they physically “re-member” the disjunctive sequence of its rhythm through their aural receptors as well as their bodily motions. Therefore, when we talk about the triangulation of orality/aurality/physicality in Miyagi’s production of Révélation, we must also consider musicality as a function of physically embodied listening/articulation, which is not given by melodic harmony but principally by a collectively generated rhythmic pulse.

The following section contains an analysis of some key scenes of Miyagi’s production of Miano’s play drawing on these theoretical considerations, which serve to illustrate how Miyagi’s particular aural/oral dramaturgy is particularly effective in conveying Miano’s vision of troubled history.

Can Ubuntu be Heard? Voices and Distances

The First Land, where this play is set, becomes a topos characterized by distances in time and space. Ubuntu and Mayibuye are not supposed to meet or communicate with each other since they are two different incarnations of a single soul. The guilty perpetrators in the slave trade, called the “Shadows,” are also naturally incommunicable with anyone, and only through Inyi’s intervention, can they re-appear in this court to make their testimonies. 

The scenography also contributes to the production’s symbolic framework: above the stage, there are two huge circles, one black the other white, suggesting a binary and reciprocal structure. These two circles move around as the play develops, projecting shadows onto the stage but also calling to mind the image of an eclipse. On both sides of the stage, hung ropes and wires evoke the arboreal environment of the African continent, or perhaps “strange fruits”: symbols of white violence against Africa’s black population.  The orchestra pit under the stage is designated as the “Valley of Shadows” where the guilty are confined; across these spaces, only Kalunga (Kazunori Abe) can move freely as the messenger of Inyi as well the play’s narrator. 

It is significant that in this production, only Inyi is presented in the “two-in-one” method (Speaker: Haruyo Suzuki, Mover: Mikari), for she is the Goddess, the ultimate source of all the lives and souls, voices and bodies. In the case of Inyi, talking is equivalent with hearing: her utterances are the revelation in themselves, universally omnipresent and pre-linguistically divine. It would be inappropriate for one actor to utter her words individually, as they are descending from heaven without her opening her mouth or moving her body. In fact, her mover Mikari is completely still almost all the time, and her exceptional movements look automatic, as if they were not guided by any bodily volition or impulse.

By contrast, all the other characters are presented in a conventional, “naturalistic” “one-in-one” method. In many instances, Ubuntus and Mayibuyes respectively speak in unison, and though the Shadows assume individual historical characters, they merely represent a fraction of those who were involved in the slave trade. We should note again that Miyagi’s dramaturgy, regardless of whether he adopts the “two-in-one” or “one-in-one” method, is principally un-naturalistic and non-realistic, as his method works against the naturalistic tradition of Western drama, to which it poses fundamental questions about the assumed equivalence of speech and movement, mobility and vocality.   

Ubuntus and Mayibuyes, being the contrastive manifestations of the same human soul, one after death, the other before birth, are prohibited to meet one another. Yet, after their initial hesitation, Mayibuyes, having realized a resemblance between themselves and Ubuntus, finally acknowledge the latter’s request to plead to Inyi to summon the Shadows so that they can hear their testimonies. Miyagi’s direction makes the two equivalent figures of the human soul, Mayibuye and Ubuntu quite disparate in their appearances (costume by Eri Fukazawa) as well as in their elocutionary modes. Whereas a group of Mayibuye (acted by 4 female actors, Maki Honda, Ayako Terauchi, Moemi Ishii, Miyuki Yamamoto), carrying head decorations like mobiles in a baby cot, speak in a high-pitched voice as if they were infants, a group of Ubuntu (acted by 4 male actors, Kōichi Ōtaka, Kenji Nagai, Ryō Yoshimi, Hisashi Yokoyama), burdened with black humps all over their bodies, move as if they were cursed creeping creatures. The apparent disparity between the hopeful souls before their births and the desperate souls after their un-mourned death cannot however conceal their spiritual resemblance.

Having listened to the Ubuntus’ plea, Mayibuyes, now in the form of baby souls, enter into the human world and become acquainted with the harsh realities that are evoked by distant sounds of gunshots and screams. Mayibuyes come back in wretched forms, and for them inclining their ears to Ubuntus’ voices are the first steps to face the tragic historical events including the slave trade. Under our present concern with the aural/oral dimension of this play, Miyagi then produces a wonderfully evocative scene of compassion and sharing of pain, when Mayibuyes re-encounter Ubuntus. The key point of this scene is the equivalence and reciprocity between hearing and keeping, between request and promise, between action and acceptance. Once Mayibuyes listen to Ubuntus and experience their sufferings first-hand, they cannot ignore the latter’s request anymore; and in exchange for Ubuntus’ safe-keeping of the afflicted colleagues, one of the Mayibuyes will carry out their promise of requesting Inyi to let the perpetrators speak before Ubuntus.

The present act of hearing, not only for the characters on the stage but for the audience, will open this mythological tale of retribution and atonement to the present tense, which involves those who witness this play five hundred years after the traumatic events surrounding the slave trade. One of the most remarkable characteristics of this aural/oral drama lies in the passing of the voices among these mythological characters, and the audience’s initiation of this reciprocal gift of the spoken (orality) and the heard (aurality).  

Judgment and Acceptance

One of the ultimate goals of aural/oral dramaturgy here must lie in breaking the evil circle of violence. Miyagi’s dramaturgy does not rely on depicting violence, not because he wants to conceal it but because his ethical/aesthetic stance prevents us from desiring violence. When violence is represented on stage, it often incites the audience to merely consume those moments of violence, without examining the structure behind them. The testimonies in Révélation were historically impossible to be heard, for they were the voices evoked by the deceased on the seabed in the Middle Passage, and Miyagi’s aural/oral/musical presentation makes this impossible task viable theatrically. 

Ubuntus accepting Kongo’s testimony

When talking of “oral histories,” we usually assume a non-academic, non-archival style of historical documentation through a process of collecting the living memories of those who experienced and survived the past events. However, how can one realize an oral history of the slave trade of five hundred years ago that involved hundreds of millions of the dead in Africa and the Americas as well as during the Middle Passage? The SPAC production of Révélation theatrically realizes this logically impossible task by turning oral history into aural history; that is, the history not of individual events and personages but of collectively diverse memories universally shared by those who have a will and necessity to hear. Miyagi’s drama transforms these past events, which are impossible to be revived by oral means only, into the theatrically ever-present mythologies for the audience who are now aware of its own aural gift.

Summoned by Kalunga, the guilty collaborators in the slave trade, who have been confined in the Valley of Shadows for the term of one thousand years, come to the court presided on by Inyi and attended also by Mayibuyes and Ubuntus. Each of the defendants has to answer Ubuntu’s question about why they sold people to strangers coming from beyond the sea. In this court scene, except for Ofiri, each of the perpetrators wears a mask as big as his body, which will deteriorate to reveal their mental stress as their confessions progress.

The testifiers are Mueni Kongo Makaba (Nobuhiro Ōishi), Damel Bigue (Yukio Katō), Janea Big Chief (Yūdai Makiyama), real political leaders during the slave trade. They commonly insist that they had no choice but to collaborate with the Europeans for the safety of their community. At the end of Kongo’s testimony, Inyi asks one of the Ubuntus, “Do you accept his testimony?” to which he answers, “We have no choice.” It does not matter whether Ubuntus forgive or reconcile with Kongo: what matters is the fact that one hears the words of the other, initiating the process of restoring an oral/aural circuit between the victim and the perpetrator, which has been de-materialized for five hundred years.

There is another, rather unique, testifier, called Rascal (Daidōmumon Yūya). He was born as a son of a slave in one of those places that the inhabitants of the First Land called ‘the place where no one returned from’ (possibly America), and sent back to the First Land. With neither parents nor heritage to depend upon, the figure of Rascal illustrates the complex power relationships behind the slave trade:

Rascal: I didn’t have roots in their soil.
People didn’t know the name of my ancestors.

While Rascal utters these words, the tone of his voice is light, even jovial, beyond any sense of sorrow, anger or despair. While the oral content of this line testifies the complex historical circumstances in which the son of slaves turned into a slave trader himself, the aural reception of these words does not allow the audience to consume them as sentimental testimonies; instead of manipulating the audience or offering a clear-cut solution, the words become an invitation to reflect upon the complexities of history.

Another example highlighting the power structure within the slave trade is offered by Ofiri (Takii Miki), who was a priestess in the First Land, but her chagrin over her inability to bear children turned her to slave trading. Being a priestess, Ofiri should have been a messenger of the divine words:

Inyi: You were supposed to be a beacon in the night for all the
women of the Land.
That was your destiny.
But you did not embrace your destiny.

Against this destiny which made her childless, Ofiri took a kind of revenge to become an intermediary between the African women under her tutelage and the European traders, not a medium between Gods and their people:

Ofiri: I used my status to give women to men from the other side.
The ones who were pregnant.

Quite remarkably, when Inyi’s speaker delivers her sentence to Ofiri, Ofiri moves her mouth without making any sound, in a kind of double “two-in-one” system: as if Inyi’s words aurally filled the void of Ofiri’s body. Ofiri’s following line is “We did not create evil in order for it to dwell in the world.” However, the theatrical exchange between Inyi’s silently eloquent mover and Ofiri indicates that “evil” in fact results from not listening. This apparent disequilibrium between Inyi and Ofiri—the former presented in the “two-in-one” method, the latter in the “one-in-one” method—dramatically highlights the fundamental schism between speech and action, crime and accountability, judgement and acceptance. In watching this scene, we are led to understand that evil is germinated when one displaces oneself from the listening topos through indifference and egoism.

Passing judgement on Ofiri

Before Inyi leaves the stage at the end of the court session, she asks Mayibuyes and Ubuntus whether they have heard the testimonies, and they silently agree with their palms lifted upward. It is as if they not only listened to all the words spoken with both hands but also finally released their resentment and anguish through the palms of their hands. Here, the act of hearing surpasses the ear and represents a human activity of opening one’s body to the others.

Mayibuye and Ubuntu accepting the testimonies at the end of the court session
Gift and Trust

In the last scene of the play, Inyi delivers her judgments to every defendant. She explains the reasons for the verdicts and adds her final messages to people living at present. Her final words are:

Inyi: We know where your wounds are.
We know how much you lost.
We know all you had to face.
But we gave back to you,
since our first breath of life,
all that is needed to rebuild.

This is where Miyagi’s “two-in-one” presentation of Inyi becomes most crucial as an aural/oral dramaturgy. Here, Inyi is speaking to the world: to us in the auditorium. However, the mover Mikari does not move her mouth at all, and from her entire posture—being open to the whole world—we sense that she is intently listening while she speaks. As she concludes her speech by saying, “Mayibuyes will bring this message to Earth,” they step down into the auditorium and strew flower-petals shaped like Japanese hiragana syllabary. As the written signs are turned into flower petals fluttering among the audience, we listen to these words not with our ears only but with the whole body. The literary signs are here translated into the aural/oral means of opening our existences to the others, who are first and foremost the victims of the slave trade from five hundred years ago, but possibly include the victims of the multiple forms of institutional violence still ravaging the world.

Inyi’s last words and Mayibuyes’ strewing flower-petals on the audience

Oral history (where listening to those who experienced historical events is vital) is perhaps viable for recent generations, but events such as the slave trade, dating from more than five hundred years ago, makes any attempt at oral history impossible. This is why and how an aural history, here so dramatically realized by SPAC, is necessary: because the social, economic and cultural structures behind it are still with us today.

Ubuntu is a Zulu word for “trust in others,” or “we are ourselves, hence, I am.” Miyagi’s Révélation, in its theatrical attempt to revitalize aural histories of pain and anguish, ultimately creates this trust (rather than retribution or judgment), as a gift from Inyi for us to “rebuild” our own future regardless of what our “wounds” are, or how much we “lost.”

Miyagi’s aural/oral dramaturgy proves crucial in creating a theatrical requiem for the repose of these dead souls, the voices of which have been annihilated by those histories. Appeasing the dead souls of the past will amount to moving forward again. If the distance is proportioned to time, Miano’s mythological work, Révélation, which tries to excavate the five hundred years of violent histories in the First Land, may only be theatrically presentable by a Japanese company that is sufficiently distanced from the First Land. And this must be another sign of a trusting network created among the playwright, the director, the actors, the audiences, the Goddess and the human beings, by aural/oral means.

Acknowledgments: All the video materials were recorded and provided by SPAC: we heartily thank its General Producer, Ms. Yoko Narushima for her generosity in giving permission for us to publish some clips for illustration. All the lines in this production of Révélation are taken from the stage script edited by Miyagi in three languages (French, English and Japanese), and we quote the English lines throughout this essay. The productions were presented in Japanese with French subtitles in Paris, and with English subtitles in Shizuoka.  We thank SPAC and particularly its producer, Ms. Takako Ōishi, who provided this script. 


[1] Satoshi Miyagi, “A Director’s Note,” in Theatre Culture: The Winter’s Tale, SPAC Autumn-Spring, 2016-2017, pp.2-3 (Our translation of the Japanese original).

[2] In the post-performance talk, 12 February 2017, at Shizuoka Arts Theatre.

[3] For further discussion of Miyagi’s “two in one” dramaturgy, with a detailed analysis of his specific version of Othello, appropriating Japanese traditional theatrical format of “Noh,” see Tomoka Tsukamoto and Ted Motohashi (2021). Also see Carol Martin (2006).

[4] The White Rabbit of Inaba and Navaho was based on Claude Levi-Strauss’s hypothesis that there could be archetypal mythology centered around the trickster figure of a rabbit mediating between gods and human beings. In directing this piece, Miyagi exploited his two-in-one method to turn a theatrical image into an ethical myth in which the protagonist converts a weapon (an arrow) given by the gods into a musical instrument (a harp). Similarly in Mahabharata, Miyagi deliberately chose an exceptionally peaceful episode of “King Nara and Queen Damayanti” (quite contrary to Peter Brook’s choice of dynastic conflicts in his renowned The Mahabharata presented in the same venue, the legendary Boulbon quarry at Festival d’Avignon two decades before), which focused on the couple’s bravery and wisdom celebrated by gods and their creations. Therefore, it seems quite probable that Miano asked Miyagi to direct her play because she might have found some resonances with her own play in Miyagi’s approach not only using the triad of speech/sound/movement but also focusing on the theme of reconciliation and forgiveness.


Martin, Carol. “Divine Memory and Object Reality; Satoshi Miyagi’s Tenshū monogatari and Shimizu Shihjin’s Bye Bye: The New Primitive.” Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance, edited by David Jortner, Keiko McDonald, and Kevin Wetmore, Lexington Books, 2006, 225–36.

Miano, Léonora. Red in blue trilogie. L’Arche, 2015.

Miyagi, Satoshi. “A Director’s Note.” Theatre Culture: The Winter’s Tale, SPAC, Autumn-Spring, 2016–17, 2–3.

Motohashi, Ted, and Tomoka Tsukamoto. “Deconstructing the Saussurean System of Signification: Satoshi Miyagi and His Mimetic Dramaturgy in Miyagi-Noh Othello.” Shakespeare and Japan, special issue of Critical Survey, edited by Graham Holderness, vol. 33, no. 1, 2021, pp. 23–47. 

*Tomoka Tsukamoto is a theatre critic, as well as a member of IATC and the General Secretary of its Japanese section. She received her MA in Drama Studies from the Nihon University in 1996. Her publications include a book on Satoshi Miyagi’s theatre (in Japanese) and most recently two essays on Miyagi’s works, “Deconstructing the Saussurean System of Signification: Satoshi Miyagi and His Mimetic Dramaturgy in Miyagi-Noh Othello,” (with Ted Motohashi), Critical Survey, Vol. 33, Issue 1, Shakespeare and Japan, edited by Graham Holderness (Spring, 2021), 23–47; and “‘Our Perdita is Found’: Satoshi Miyagi and Translation in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale,Concentric, edited by Jonathan Hart, Shakespeare and Translation (forthcoming). 

**Ted Motohashi is Professor of Cultural Studies at the Tokyo University of Economics and the President of IATC’s Japanese section. He received his DPhil in Literature from the University of York, U.K., in 1995. His publications include several books on drama, cultural and postcolonial studies, and most recently he edited “All the World’s his Stage”: Asian Interventions in Global Shakespeare with Poonam Trivedi and Paromita Chakravarti (Routledge, 2020). 

Copyright © 2021 Tomoka Tsukamoto and Ted Motohashi
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