The author is a deputy popular culture team editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Toga Village in Nantoshi, Toyama Prefecture, Japan, is crowded with theater performers and visitors from around the world. The 9th Theater Olympics is held for a month for exchanges of Eastern and Western theaters. At the remote village 800 meters (0.5 miles) above sea level, 27 teams from 16 countries will present 30 plays through Sept. 23. The small village of 400 residents became a shrine of international theater thanks to the power of theater director Tadashi Suzuki. He founded Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT) in 1976 and is the creator of the Suzuki method of actor training. Aside from the theater festival, people come to Toga to learn the Suzuki method and connect with SCOT.
From Sept. 6 to 8, I visited Toga with Theater Jayu, which will present “Nameless Flowers Fall by Wind.” The city provides 70 million yen ($646,800) annually to the theater village. Mayor Mikio Tanaka said, “As a native of the village, I’ve watched it for a long time. It has made great contribution to the community.” Suzuki said that the government provides assistance but does not intervene, and the operation has been run by the artists. It is a win-win plan not possible without mutual trust and verification for years.
There were attempts to vitalize performing arts in non-capital regions in Korea as well, most notably in Geochang and Miryang in South Gyeongsang. But both locations recently experienced a serious crisis. The Geochang International Theater Festival, which has run for 30 years, was not held this year. The Geochang International Theater Promotion Committee and the county’s operation committee are in a legal battle over trademark rights. It is not likely to resume next year, as troubles have continued over budget execution since 2016.
The Miryang Summer Performing Arts Festival, which started in 2001, changed its name last year and downsized. That’s because its former artistic director Lee Youn-taek — who also ran his own Miryang Theater Village for 7 years — was caught up in a controversy. While the festival was revived this year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism cut the budget and did not restore it. The festivals started by passionate theater directors were vitalized with government funding, but they failed because they were not guided by a sense of responsibility, verification and evaluation.
Toga cannot be compared to Geochang and Miryang. Nevertheless, it is a loss of a public asset to lose the brand value of local theater festivals due to the problems associated with the operating entities. Suzuki said that the government invested tens of billions of yen. The private and government entities worked together to revive the community with theater and took responsibility for shared destiny.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 24