And so it is that I find myself flying back to London. The last month or so has been a fast moving – collectively propelled – vibrantly tangled mass of ideas, plans, schedules, Japanese, English, Jap-lish, meetings, workshops, creativity, games, slight stress, greater joy – and finally, a performance. We have been moving between rehearsal rooms, hostels and hotels, states of panic and relief, without many boundaries between work and rest. Consequently, there haven’t been many gaps to reflect, or much mind space to devote to it. But, as I edge further from away Japan and closer to London – my inflight entertainment systems informs me that I have five hours left – the gaps are slowly starting to appear.
At the culmination of any idea, it’s always tempting to go back to its roots – to think of the first forays into trying to make something happen and how the seed was initially planted. In this case, the thing that got us moving was a Daiwa Foundation deadline – and a feeling that, if this project was ever going to happen – this was the time to do it. There seemed to be nothing to lose and everything to gain. Fortunately, we got this grant and the seed was duly sown. From there, we hoped that by starting the project and beginning to make the work, we would be in a better position to bring in the funding that we needed– stage by stage. Thankfully, that is how it worked out and thankfully, it felt like a genuinely good investment of money and an important, necessary piece of work.
So, why and how it is necessary? Have we managed to change anything, to help anything grow, added anything to the story of Hiroshima and to peoples’ lives? A more formal response to these questions will soon emerge from a beautiful, spreadsheet-based chrysalis of quotes and statistics, aims and outcomes; but that particular life form is still growing. Whilst it is being hatched, I would say this.
The people of Hiroshima, and any visitors to the city, were not seeing a fictionalized piece of work, nor were they seeing a singular version of history through one account/testimony/interview – but that they were an active part of an interwoven portrait of real people, real voices real experiences and real histories. The and children that were in front of the audience – embodying the stories of the children that lived through the bombing – were not children in 1945, but they easily could have been. The voices of elders summoned younger version of themselves and put these selves in front of us. The feint thread of time between the “then” and “now” grew turned into an infinitely more tangible line; moments from long ago landed in the space in a tumble of plaster falling onto a young girl, a teenager being trapped under a roof, a young boy racing around the city to see his mother die in front of him.
In the day-to-day living of life, there are not many opportunities to fully engage with and consider the foundations of what our lives are based on, or to consider a set of circumstances linked to our lives – but so vastly different from them. We may get these chances remotely – through television or books – but it seems rarer to come across them through a physical, shared relationship between people. The notion of remembering the past and learning from what has gone before, can be flippantly referenced and given much lip service, but to actually be present in a space devoted to creating these opportunities, feels important.
Whilst I am obviously not a Hiroshima citizen and cannot speak on their behalf – we’ll have to wait for the chrysalis to crack to get a full pictures of responses – from the conversations that I did have with audience members after the performance, it felt like they were able to be very present in the experiences of those who lived through that day; that the link connecting themselves with their descendants felt much stronger. Why is this important? Perhaps because as humans it is our job to gain information from the past and to use it to help us evolve; whether it is our cells doing that job at a molecular level, or our thoughts and actions – the notion of progress is central to our existence. It seems that whenever we brush up meaningfully against the monolithic enormity of the past to gain courage/understanding/context, in whatever small way, positive things happen.
The 20 people that performed in the play, all of different ages, with varying amounts of experience, referenced the fact that the play felt more “real” than most things they had been involved with. Fiction in theatre obviously has its’ place, but trading in reality did define the form, style and dimensions of the performance. Perhaps this is because the story had equal relevance to the performers and the audiences – they were sharing in a narrative that defined all their lives. Through this fact, the audience was implicated as a major part of the production – no less important than the actors or scenography.
So, we did it. I think the general consensus was that we were all very glad that we did. Now, the question is – as it always is in the case of trying to forge progress – what next?