- Night on the Milky Way Traindir. by Nouso Masao
Night on the Milky Way Train, based on the classic fiction [written in 1927 by Miyazawa Kenji (1896–1933) as a reaction to the death of his sister] and billed as Nouso Masao's musical reader's theatre, was put together in nine days in the 2017 Tainan Arts Festival and aroused wide attention. For one thing, unlike those flagship productions sponsored by the National Theater and Concert Hall that bring together high-profile professional talents from Taiwan and aboard, this cross-national production complicatedly involves more different groups, including adaptor and director Nouso Masao's team from Japan, students from Department of Drama Creation and Application at the National University of Tainan (NUTN), local artists, and above all, people of various occupations. For another, audience members were curious about the unfamiliar form (群讀音樂劇, literally, "group stage reading musical") rather than simply a "stage reading."
Nouso invented the unique form of Night on the Milky Way Trainand the model of a short intensive period of preparation in 2007 from the necessity of limited rehearsal time, while giving a high-quality performance, since his audition in Tokyo was open to the public from all walks of life. Nouso's concept was to make theatre for and by the people, and thus bring his student actors from J.F. Oberlin University together with the Japanese community. Nouso produced Night on the Milky Way Trainfor nine years, with 200 auditioning for the limited roles every summer. In 2014, Taiwanese playwright-director Hsu Rey-fang, who had already done much participatory community theatre in Taiwan, saw the production, and, after one year's planning, with financial support from the Tainan City Cultural Affairs Bureau, the project was presented in Taiwan.
Nouso brought with him his professional Japanese team, including lighting designer Kim Young Su, stage designer Hamazaki Kenji, and one dancer/actor Inoue Daisuke, who played an egret, while locals became costume designer, two musicians, technical crew, and twenty-three additional performers, aged twelve to fifty-eight years, selected from the 120 people who auditioned. Among those cast were ten NUTN students, with three of them playing major roles, Giovanni (the protagonist), Campanella (his friend), and Zanelli (another schoolmate). In this production, for the first time, Campanella was portrayed as a girl, while the gender of Zanelli (played by a girl) was [End Page 211]ambiguous. Before the nine-day rehearsal with Nouso started (longer than the six days normal in the Japanese production), producer Hsu arranged a lecture on Miyazawa and did two acting workshops. The ensemble, as reviews indicated, was impressive given the limited rehearsal. In one conversation with local artists and officials on 12 April 2017, Hsu said Masao even considered the quality of this cross-national production better than in Japan.
The two-hour performance worked powerfully. The plot centers on Giovanni, a poor boy teased by his classmates. On the evening of the Star Festival in China (Tanabata in Japan based on Qixi in China; 7–7 when two lovers/stars meet from across the Milky Way), Giovanni must work and is unable to join his classmates. Falling asleep on a hill, he, in a dream, sets out a fantastical journey on the Milky Way train with his best friend, Campanella (Fig. 1). The audience, as Giovanni, will only later realize that the train transports the dead, and the wet Campanella has drowned while saving Zanelli. This journey explores what true happiness is and the world after death.
Actors perform on the single set's round wood platform around a pool of water, in the middle of which is another small platform. When actors sit on the chairs in a circle reading, they become the villagers, the students, and passengers on the train or a doomed ocean liner inspired by the Titanic. The water can be the Milky Way, the river, the...