enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Online Exhibition

Lost in Pandemic―Theatre Adrift, Expression's New Horizons

Social Distancing

We now live in a world where social distancing rules are imposed in places where people gather. It is a world where physical contact is banned. The floor and chairs at various facilities and shops are marked with stickers and pieces of paper indicating safe distances while one-way signs separate the entrance from the exit. Acrylic plates and vinyl partitions separate people. We faithfully obey these signs as we pause and move. This is the case even as we face a contradictory situation where social distancing is impossible in commuter trains, which sometimes have a boarding rate of nearly 100%.
Theatres also continue to take thorough infection-control measures, such as asking people to take temperatures and disinfect their hands at the entrance, avoid crowding in the lobby, and exercise caution when speaking or having a conversation. When a 50% capacity limit was imposed, it became routine to have a staggered seating arrangement in which the front, rear, left, and right seats were left vacant, or an arrangement in which several rows were left vacant in the front to maintain distance from the stage. In small theatres where the chairs were not attached to the floor, an arrangement was made so that a space would be created between chairs.
We became used to such an arrangement. Thus, many people may have felt cramped after such restrictions were lifted and all the seats were again filled.
Of course, the problem was not limited to audience seats. It was requested that distance be maintained among performers and staff members on stage and off. At the PARCO Theatre, which reopened after the first state of emergency was lifted, Daichi (the vast land) (『大地』) written and directed by Mitani Koki was promoted as a ‘social distancing version’. The design plan for the stage equipment was quickly changed to ensure distance among performers. Measures were implemented to reduce the number of performers and staff members on many theatrical stages. Performances took the form of solo plays or musical concerts. The distribution of videos without a live audience also became important.
The theatrical space as we knew it would not return unless regulations on social distancing are fully lifted. However, attempts are always being made to transcend the transparent walls on the stage, between the stage and audience seats, and between audience seats. This may be precisely why the theatres that overcome all these difficulties and restrictions will have a tranquil sense of unity.

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