International Theatre Festival expands Okinawa horizons

A Chinese puppet rendition of a folk tale.

The 2014 International Theatre Festival Okinawa for Young Audience is living proof that the theatre art form is far from fading, but actually growing as it expands to both Naha and Tokyo.

The nine-day festival kicks off Saturday at venues both in Okinawa City and Naha, bringing plays, comedy, puppets and shadow puppets, dance, musicals and even a circus to the stages.  Although there are a handful of free performances, most have an entry fee.

Puppet theater is well-represented in various programs.

All together, 29 different theatrical presentations are on tap, with foreign productions coming from Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Russia, Vietnam and Argentina, Okinawa City venues in Koza are the Okinawa Chamber of Commerce, the Okinawa City Civic Center Medium Hall, Okinawa City Civic Center Large Hall, the Central Community Center, the Central Community Center, and Ashibina Theater

In Naha, performances will take place at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum, the Welfare Center, Ameku Elementary School, Naha International High School, the Okinawa Times, the Outdoor Tent, and Mekaru Elementary School.  There’s also a pair of performances at the National Theatre – Small Theatre in Urasoe City on August 1st and 2nd.

The International Theatre Festival for Young Audience is also expanding to Tokyo for this 10th anniversary year.  The programs in Tokyo are being presented at the Olympic Center Medium Practice Room, and the Olympic Center Rehearsal Room.

This year’s festival theme is “Theater is Nuchigusui”, with Nuchigusui, an Okinawan dialect word meaning ‘healing of Heart’, at the center of all activities.  Under the host organizations that include ACO Okinawa, the Okinawa Prefecture Art Culture Advancement Association, ITF Okinawa and the Children’s Culture Association Aim Forest, as well as Okinawa media and business associations, ASSITEJ and the ASSITEJ Japan Center, the goal is to promote theatre as “not just a normal medicine, but a nutritional medicine for your life.”  Organizers explain that Nuchigusui is paired with the Okinawan proverb Nuchi du takara, meaning “Life itself is our treasure,” and “the energy with supports our precious treasure: life”.

Hisashi Shimoyama, the producer of the International Theater Festival Okinawa for Young Audience, calls this year’s event “a celebration of the performing arts for children and young people, but also a programme that can be equally enjoyed by grown-ups”.  The President of ASSITEJ, Yvette Hardie, echoes the belief, describing the festival “as a healing force or Nuchigusui in the lives of children, young people and their families.”